It is an open secret that there are lots of loopholes in Nigeria’s Presidential system of Government, and such loopholes are known to have been exploited by corrupt politicians in milking the nation dry. Countless cases of corruption have been heard in the country, quite unfortunately, none of those cases has served as a deterrent to others.
One of the loopholes that have remained unconsidered in the prosecution of offenders since the return of the country to democratic rule in 1999 is that of the “constituency project”. Street Journal’s findings revealed that each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives received N 40 million on Wednesday as the amount due to them as allocation for constituency project for the second quarter of 2012.
While each Rep gets N 40 million per quarter for constituency projects, thus making a total of N 160 million every year, each of the 109 Senator takes N 60 million as constituency project allocation for each quarter of the year.
Street Journal’s investigations have revealed that instead of the money going into projects that will better the life of people in the lawmakers’ constituencies, the bulk of it goes into equipping the lawmakers’ political war chests. This often happens in order to remain relevant in their various constituencies. At times, instead of whole communities benefitting, only “loyalists” of lawmakers enjoy part of the largesse.
Street Journal has also found out that a number of legislators who are indebted to banks have timed their repayment schemes to the quarterly period when the constituency project allocation will roll in.
Others who might have assumed certain levels of comfort channel such funds into other things. For instance, not a few people have been known to marry new wives after being elected into the National Assembly. Others erect architectural masterpieces in their hometowns and complement them with state of the art automobiles. Some of the lawmakers also have godfathers (political and spiritual) to settle and there goes the bulk of the money.
The remaining goes into “philanthropic” gestures such as paying school fees of children in the constituencies, settling medical bills of the underprivileged and other forms of financial helps. Most lawmakers do these in order to enhance their “electoral value”, as the ordinary people tend to consider what they have benefitted from politicians when elections are near. A former National Assembly member in Osun State had the habit of alighting from his vehicle anywhere they first hailed him within 20 minutes of his country home. He would get down, instruct his driver to go ahead and park the vehicle at home while he fraternised with the people. He had a favourite spot where he would stop for a game of draughts and palm wine under a tree in his town about 45 minutes from Osogbo.
Street Journal also found out that the most popular projects embraced by legislators include the provision of boreholes in some locations within their constituencies while some open and equip computer training centres or other skill acquisition centres. A number of legislators have also been known to buy GCE and JAMB forms for students in their constituencies while some others would distribute a number of motorcycles, hairdressing equipment, pepper grinding mills and even coolers as part of their empowerment programmes. It has been found out that most of the “projects” put in place are hardly commensurate with what they get as constituency project allocation.
Incidentally, most constituency projects are commissioned and celebrated with so much fanfare that even the politically blindfolded constituents feel their representatives have done them favours by bringing up such projects.
Unfortunately however, no one is asking if it is right for the legislature to collect money from the executive to execute constituency projects in a Presidential system of government. Though on paper, the system is believed to have a clear cut separation of powers, the constituency project issue has clearly shown that there is an obvious overlapping of functions, which allows lawmakers to handle projects through the constituency project scheme, thus usurping the powers of the executive.
Under normal conditions, lawmakers should not have any business handling projects, as that is the function of the executive. The primary duty of a lawmaker is to make laws, that has however been amended in the Nigerian context.
Though the noble idea was conceived to help lawmakers, as elected representatives to facilitate the development of their constituencies, thus impacting lives of the people positively, Street Journal found out that the fraudulent execution has changed the whole face of the scheme.
Checks from different constituencies in the country have revealed that if constituency projects are executed with all sincerity, hardly would there be complaints from anywhere in the country about developmental projects.
Sadly enough, in Nigeria, lawmakers are erroneously assessed based on the number of projects they have executed in their different constituencies. Meanwhile, such assessments of lawmakers should be based on how effectively each legislator has contributed to the country’s law making process, how many bills have been sponsored by such lawmaker and how many government projects he or she has been able to influence in his or her constituency.
Street Journal’s findings have revealed that in spire of the fact that a fixed amount accrues to each lawmaker on a quarterly basis for
constituency projects,the National Assembly does not have any organ that monitors and cross checks whether such projects were ever carried out.
Investigations have shown that many now see constituency project allocation as s “tax free bonus”. The Honourable representing the two Federal Constituencies that make up the Ondo State capital at the House of Reps once told some of his friends that if he “had known that there was this kind of free money in Nigerian politics, he would not have wasted many years in driving trucks in America”. His constituents on the other hand have complained that the Honourable has never spoken on the floor of the House, not to talk of sponsoring a bill. While the Honourable claimed he spent the first four years to “learn” the art of lawmaking, Akure people have been asking themselves if they will ever see the kind of vibrancy displayed by the late Olaiya Fagbamigbe in the Second Republic. The story is almost the same for most lawmakers. A lot of constituency offices remain under lock and key and are only opened when the lawmaker is in town.
While there have been cries for the review of the remuneration of members of the National Assembly, the issue of the legality or otherwise of the constituency allocations that accrues to legislators should be reviewed too as the aim is hardly ever met. The other probable solution being suggested in most parts of the country is to prevent lawmakers from handling the funds. They should only play supervisory roles while the House will deal directly with the contractors in the constituencies.
Another factor to be considered is that while many former Governors and former Ministers have been dragged before various courts for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, very few lawmakers have had the same treatment.