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Effiong: Lawmakers mismanaging constituency project funds are hardly prosecuted because anti-corruption agencies are partisan, compromised

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Effiong

Convener, Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD), Inibehe Effiong, in this interaction with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, says that fraud in constituency projects persists because anti-corruption agencies are partisan, compromised and selective in their fight. Effiong, who is also the Principal Counsel/Head of Chambers at Inibehe Effiong Chambers said that the perception is that the contractors also collude with the lawmakers to loot funds meant for these projects.

A robust sensitisation of communities on the concept, funding, and implementation of zonal intervention projects (ZIPs), also known as constituency projects is recommended to stem further corruption of the initiative. To what extent can this help matters since many politicians always allege politicisation of issues when called to account?
I am not sure whether a robust sensitisation is enough to stop corruption in constituency projects. Before we discuss sensitisation of local communities, we should address two fundamental questions. First, should constituency projects be allowed to continue? Second, what efforts is the government making to ensure that any lawmaker, contractor or agency that steals funds meant for constituency projects is duly prosecuted? Recall that President Buhari did complain about budget padding by federal lawmakers. Budget padding is carried out usually to introduce the so-called constituency projects into the annual budget. Unfortunately, the same President has continued to indulge this seeming criminal practice. The President also publicly defended the bogus allowances of federal lawmakers, which on the whole makes nonsense of his earlier position against constituency projects. There is a tripartite connection between budget padding, constituency projects and the bogus earnings of lawmakers.

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Sponsoring legislators tend to influence heavily, the emergence of preferred bidders in nearly all constituency projects. How can this influence be reduced and the bidding process strengthened?
The influence cannot be reduced when institutional integrity in this country continues to nosedive. As long as constituency projects are personalised, the lawmakers will continue to peddle influence in the choice of contractors.

Failure to jail defaulting lawmakers must be responsible for the woes besetting constituency projects. Isn’t it?
This is not peculiar to constituency projects. In this country, people in government get away with murder. There is always a vested interest that erodes accountability and probity. This has created a monstrous culture of impunity. Only a fraction of corrupt public officials in Nigeria end up in jail. The anti-corruption agencies are partisan, compromised and selective in their fight. That explains why lawmakers who are culpable in stealing constituency funds are hardly prosecuted.

In my home state, Akwa Ibom, a former governor who later became a lawmaker was accused of diverting medical equipment meant for his constituency by the ICPC. The equipment suddenly resurfaced following public outcry by the ICPC. Till date, the said lawmaker has neither been questioned, arrested nor prosecuted.

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Why most Nigerians see constituency projects as avenues for corruption?
It is essentially because Nigerians have seen over the years that the so-called constituency projects mostly exist on paper. People know that these projects are not usually deliverable. Also, some of these constituency projects do not sync with the needs of the communities where they are cited because the constituents are hardly consulted by their lawmakers before the projects are conceived, initiated and executed. We cannot deny the fact that lawmakers who propose these constituency projects have leverage on the choice of contractors, citing and award of contracts by the relevant executive agencies. The perception is that the contractors do collude with the lawmakers to loot the funds meant for constituency projects.

How can we track constituency projects to ensure their satisfactory execution, and for the country to obtain value for money released?
I commend what the civil society has been doing in this regard. Budgit, SERAP and other organisations have done a wonderful job in tracking constituency projects. There is also need for community tracking where members of benefiting communities can constitute a taskforce, or committee to track the release of funds meant for constituency projects and follow up to ensure that contractors execute the projects as prescribed.

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The Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG), recently alleged that lawmakers and government agencies are conniving to embezzle money meant for constituency projects. Why are such agencies not heavily sanctioned?
It is a case of fighting corruption. I do not believe that these anti-corruption agencies and the present administration is interested in fighting corruption. The lawmakers know this. The compromised agencies are manned by people with ties to power brokers. Recall that I earlier mentioned vested interests. If the President of the country is against corruption in all ramifications, he will promote discipline and meritocracy. But President Buhari has elevated nepotism to official state policy. Nepotism is corruption. When people are appointed into leadership positions primarily because of their tribal, religious, partisan or family ties, they tend to owe their loyalty to the factors that influenced their appointment. I am giving context to your question to underscore how pervasive nepotism by this President has encouraged institutional decay and corruption.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) recently admitted corruption in the handling of constituency projects. Why has it been such an arduous task for appropriate agencies to bark and bite? 
I have addressed this question earlier. I attributed this to the culture of impunity, nepotism and lack of institutional integrity.

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