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­ICPC: Sustaining drive for constituency projects delivery with ‘My Constituency, My Project’ campaign

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Owasanoye

With ‘My Constituency, My Project’ campaign, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is sending a message to lawmakers that it will not relent on its efforts to ensure the delivery of constituency projects across the country.

In the last four days, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has sustained the pressure on Nigerian lawmakers to judiciously expend funds released to them for constituency projects through its ongoing ‘My Constituency, My Project’ campaign across the country. The initiative is a citizens’ awareness campaign for the monitoring and safeguarding of constituency and other government projects in the 36 states of the federation. The campaign, which was launched by ICPC in Abuja late last year in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), kicked off last Tuesday. Supported by ActionAid, it features town hall meetings, a documentary, radio jingles, printed information and enlightenment materials as well as other communication tools. States like Ondo, Nasarawa, Anambra, Cross River and Oyo, among others, have already played host to the campaign train.

The concept of constituency projects has been very controversial in the country, as many Nigerians perceive it as an avenue for lawmakers to siphon public funds. The perception is such that in November last year, the Presidency had very hot exchanges with lawmakers following President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments that there was little to show for over N1trillion budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.

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The ongoing campaign, according to a news release on the ICPC website, was set in motion to avoid such controversy and “to remediate observed lapses in the execution of constituency projects after the conclusion of the first phase of Constituency Projects Tracking Group exercise led by the commission.

“The result of that exercise revealed, besides other corruption-linked factors, a significant lack of awareness among community people of the fundamental objectives and principles behind constituency projects. This information gap has naturally led to misconceptions and lack of understanding of government’s role and intentions concerning constituency projects.

“The very concept and implementation of constituency projects is evidence of government’s good intentions for grassroots people. The aim is to spread development to all nooks and crannies of the country through the intervention of the people’s representatives in the legislature who expectedly should be in tune with their areas of need.

“ICPC and NOA, given their mutual mandate, which overlaps in mobilising citizens for good governance, are determined to alter the narrative and bring to fruition an active and committed citizenry desirous of ensuring the quality completion and protection of government projects in their communities,” the commission said.

It added: “The campaign is also designed to properly guide community people in the course of monitoring projects to avoid antagonising contractors and other persons who are in the chain of conception and execution. The goal is simply to ensure that both the government and the community receive value for money, and that ownership and sponsorship of such projects are not ascribed to the wrong entities.

“It is hoped that as the campaign progresses, the song in every community person’s heart will be ‘My Constituency, My Project’ which will lead to effective, efficient and quality delivery of all government projects across the land.”

Speaking with The Guardian, the Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisastion (CLO), Comrade Ohabuenyi Ibuchukwu Ezike, commended the campaign but stressed that the anti-graft agency needed to do more than just sensitising the masses so that Nigerians could get real value for funds released for constituency projects.

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He argued that poverty had rendered the masses vulnerable to the antics of politicians, saying they could easily be bought over even when they see their elected representatives plundering their common wealth.

His words: “I think that the awareness being created by the ICPC is in line and commendable but we must work beyond mere creation of awareness as anti-corruption agencies to the real business of emancipating Nigeria and Nigerians from the clutches of corrupt, insensitive, visionless and unpatriotic political class who have, since 1999, plundered Nigeria more than the terror military regimes had done.

“What will the hungry and poor peasants in the rural communities do? Can they investigate and prosecute the politicians in question? Have they got the resources with which to fight them or even resist the temptation to collect money from them when they come bribing?

“It may interest you to know that shortly after the town hall meetings are over, these politicians would return to the villages and share little of the stolen wealth among these poor citizens who will not only sing hallelujah songs for them but will offer prayers and fasting on their behalf for their ‘magnanimity or benevolence’ to beg God to bless the politicians more and protect them. This is the irony of this campaign.

“I think that what the anti-graft agencies should do would be to secretly investigate these members of parliament and indeed all other political office holders across the country, discover their malfeasance and after they have compiled their reports, head to the courts to prosecute them. This will make more meaning to the fight against corruption rather than these town hall conversations that may mean an ordinary massaging of the main issues at stake, which is to rid our country off corruption and abuse of due process and the rule of law. The resources ICPC is wasting on these meetings can achieve more meaningful objectives in the campaign against graft and impunity in Nigeria.”

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Nevertheless, as the commission explained, the ‘My Constituency, My Project’ campaign was an offshoot of the Constituency Projects Tracking Group it launched in April 2019 in partnership with civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media as a proactive measure to prevent and eradicate the diversion of public funds by any public officer or collaborator.

The commission’s Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, had during the launch of the initiative, lamented that constituency projects were intended for development of the society but had been enmeshed in controversy and corruption.

“Over the years, constituency projects have become enmeshed in controversy between non-state actors, the promoters of the projects and the communities that are supposed to benefit from the projects. The concern is that in Nigeria, rather than address the needs of constituents, many constituency projects have become avenues for corruption.
“Reports of internal bickering amongst legislators and revelations of haphazard allocation of projects reveal the underbelly of the entire process. For 2017, a total of 1,228 in the 2017 budget for constituency projects were tracked for performance as at June 2018. Out of these, 478 were completed, 173 in unspecified location, 200 ongoing, 13 abandoned, while 364 were not started (Tracka.ng),” he said.

Owasanoye had explained that the level of delivery necessitated the formation of the Constituency Projects Tracking Group.

“The formation of a Constituency Projects Tracking Group will enhance the commission’s ability to proactively prevent and eradicate the diversion of public funds by any public officer or collaborator. Any public officer, legislator or civil servant that attempts to sabotage the projects can also be quickly identified and investigated/prosecuted, if violations of the ICPC Act 2000 or any other law prohibiting corruption are established,” he added.

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Through the tracking group, the commission has recorded some successes in ensuring the completion of constituency projects. For instance, in August last year, the agency announced the recovery of items worth N117 million from Senator Chukwuka Utazi representing Enugu North Senatorial District in the Senate. The recovered items included 228 motorcycles, 51 tricycles, 203 grinding machines and five transformers.

“They were stashed away in a compound in Mkpologu town of Uzo-Nwani Local Government Area, believed to be owned by the Senator. The tricycles, motorcycles and grinding machines were meant to be distributed to the lawmaker’s constituents to empower them as part of the Federal Government’s efforts to alleviate poverty,” the commission said.

Before then, the commission had also recovered constituency projects items from two former senators, Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom Northwest) and Isa Misau (Bauchi Central Senatorial District), through the CPTG team.

Despite the skepticisms surrounding its current effort, officials of the commission appeared upbeat that it would yield the desired result.

Addressing stakeholders at the Awka town hall meeting, the agency’s Zonal Commissioner in charge of Anambra, Enugu and Delta states, Amedu Sule, advised constituents to always monitor projects for their constituencies by seeking information on them in addition to showing keen interest in how they were being executed.

He pointed out that graft subsists because the beneficiaries fail to show sufficient interest in the process of initiating, locating and implementing the projects as a way of taking ownership of them.

At the Calabar town hall meeting, the Commissioner for Cross River/Akwa Ibom states, Shola Shodipo, stated the commission would continue to track constituency projects across the country, saying the scope has been widened to include projects initiated by the executive arm of government.

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“The initiative, which started with the first phase in 2019, commenced with the tracking of 12 states to determine whether constituency projects were executed and done satisfactorily. This year, the commission will continue tracking projects, as the second phase is about to commence. Importantly, the scope of the exercise has now been widened to include projects specifically developed and implemented by the executive arm of government.

“The policy of constituency and other projects for communities is valid evidence that government means well for the people and it is through these projects that government touches their lives. For this reason, beneficiaries need to show interest in the selection, execution and use of these projects. In order words, you need to take ownership of the projects for sustainability in the long term.

“We wish to emphasise that government funds constituency and other projects with public money. This means the projects are not gifts or donations to your community by political representatives. They belong to the people as fruits of national resources and government responsibility,” he stressed.

As the campaign continues, whether it will secure a buy-in from Nigerians remains to be seen. What is clear now is that the ICPC, to the benefit of the masses, is not ready to rest on its oars towards ensuring the delivery of constituency projects across the country.

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