Federal lawmakers are spending billions on constituency projects statutorily meant to be executed by various government agencies.
Daily Trust findings show that contrary to popular belief, the constituency projects are actually the lawmakers’ “bribes” of mostly their party executives and ardent supporters at the local levels to curry political favours. This explains the lawmakers’ struggle to appropriate government projects and present them as theirs to their localities. They also obtain bank loans to execute them before the constituency funds are paid. There are several dozen agencies at the federal, state and local government levels saddled with the responsibilities being usurped now by the lawmakers. The 469 senators and House of Representatives members have at least spent about N50 million, amounting to over N4.6 billion since the inauguration of the National Assembly in June last year. Daily Trust findings showed that a lawmaker spends as much as N200 million in buying items that included transformers, air-conditioned vehicles, tricycles, motorbikes, sewing machines and tractors for distribution to their supporters. Other projects by the lawmakers include free medical services, scholarships, provision of small scale business start ups, generating sets, skill acquisition centres, addressing environmental challenges by planting trees, health facilities upgrades. A senator gets about N12 million, while a Rep receives N7 million monthly, totalling N47 billion for the National Assembly lawmakers as running costs annually, according to the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), 2009. How it started Investigations show that N100 billion was budgeted for “zonal intervention funds /constituency projects” in the 2016 budget. The six geopolitical zones are allocated N10 billion each. The N10 billion is further shared among the states in the zone on 40 percent for senators and 60 percent for House of Representative members. The balance of N40 billion of the constituency project budget is shared equally by the leadership of the Senate and that of the House of Representatives. Dr Haruna Yerima, a member of the House of Representatives from 2003-2007, said the concept of the constituency projects had been “bastardised and should be scrapped.” He said at the beginning, the lawmakers were not involved in the cost of the projects and who the contractors were “but only suggest where the projects would be cited.” “The lawmakers only ensure that the projects are executed. But they now either select the contractors or even execute the projects themselves,” he said. The former lawmaker from Borno State said “most of the lawmakers now connive with the agencies to inflate the contracts or siphon the money without doing anything at all.” He said sometimes the agencies buy these “items which the lawmakers appropriate and distribute to their party loyalties as if they were the ones buying them.” Another lawmaker who chaired the senate committee on rules and business in the 5th Senate (2003-2007), Senator Umaru Tsauri said constituency project was conceived to ensure the spread of federal projects in all the 774 local government areas of the country. “In our time, you select projects and it would be executed in your constituency. That’s all. The contractor will pursue his or her money. I don’t know whether or not the contractor that executed project in my constituency in 2004/2005 has been paid or not,” he said. Bribes for party executives The constituency projects are nothing but bribes for party executives, a serving senator from the northwest told Daily Trust in confidence for fear of backlash from his colleagues. “I’m in support of its scrap because it does not benefit the masses. It only benefits our party executives. The projects are shared to them in order to curry their favours,” he said. “If we are scrapping it, the masses should be sensitized so that they will zero their minds on it. Nigerians are yet to differentiate between legislature and executives,” he said. When asked why they personalise the projects, the senator said: “If a state governor executes a project, you will say El-Rufai, Ganduje or Ambode has done this and that. And you know the projects were executed with government money and not theirs. So, what is wrong if I do same?” “Because of pressure from our people, we went to banks to collect loans to execute projects in anticipation of the release of constituency project funds.” The senator said a lawmaker from Kaduna state was in trouble because of the N120 million bank loan over the same project. Another lawmaker was beaten by his constituents in Jigawa state last week for “not executing any projects for them,” he said. Who spend what? Senate president Bukola Saraki, in the last few months, flagged-off a N300 million water and road intervention projects for his constituency projects. The Senate Leader Ali Ndume (APC, Borno) months ago distributed nine tractors to each of the nine local government areas of his senatorial district. The tractors which were disbursed to enable the people of his constituency return to farms gulped over N200 million, according to one of his aides. Another senator whose constituency projects attracted attention was Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna). He reportedly spent about N150 million on the provision of power transformers and hospital equipment. Also, in the Southwest, Senator Duro Faseyi (PDP, Ekiti) in May this year distributed 250 sewing machines, 150 motorcycles, 10 cars, 100 tricycles and 200 grinding machines to his constituents. Also, Senator Malam Ali Wakili of (APC, Bauchi) had provided mobile science laboratories to 25 schools, two ICT centres, land for Police station, 200 motorcycles, 50 cars, hundreds of tricycles and scholarship to his constituents. Senator Rose Oko (PDP, Cross River) spent about N10 million on the provision of health care services to the people of her senatorial district. In Abuja last week, Senator Philip Tanimu Aduda (PDP, FCT) announced the disbursement of N40 million as scholarships to students of the territory institutions across the country. In the House of Reps, Speaker Yakubu Dogara (APC, Bauchi) had in April organized free medical treatment for about 5,000 people in Bauchi State. The Deputy Speaker Yussuf Suleiman Lasun (APC, Osun), in April launched an empowerment scheme through which he distributed items worth N50 million to his constituents. Items distributed at the occasion include 100 tricycles, 100 sewing machines, 100 grinding machines and N6 million to some beneficiaries, among whom were the aged. Also, House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), recently distributed tricycles, grinding machines, sewing machines, motorbikes worth millions of naira to his constituents. Early November, the suspended former chairman of the House committee on appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC, Kano), empowered his constituents with items worth N100 million. Daily Trust further gathered that some of the lawmakers, especially the new ones, only enjoyed the un-executed constituency projects of their predecessors provided in the 2015 budget. Diversion of legislative priority The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Idayat Hassan has said the constituency projects “are a cesspool of corruption.” She said after the budget padding allegations, the projects are now questionable. “It is questionable in the sense that very few members get more than the majority, that there is no equity in sharing but just another cesspool of corruption,” Hassan said. “Some have even alleged that the monies are shared between the MDAs and members with no visible project sighted in the constituency,” she said. She said the challenges had to do with the constituents not knowing the actual duties of legislators, which drive the lawmakers to make promises during campaigns and also force them to overreach themselves to attract projects at all cost to their constituencies. The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said, “Constituency projects allocation to lawmakers has no constitutional backing. What’s happening is diversion of legislative priority.” “There is no policy legitimizing giving public funds to individual lawmakers to carry out constituency projects. They were elected to legislate for the good governance of the country. Introducing this to their work is not proper,” he said. The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) executive director Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi called for the probe of constituency projects previously executed.