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Kolawole: Constituency projects, not initiated for wellbeing of Nigerians

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Kolawole

Deputy Director, Socio Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) Oluwadare A. Kolawole, told ENO-ABASI SUNDAY that funds for constituency project are diverted, mismanaged and misapplied for personal gains because lawmakers see it as executive’s largesse to them. He regrets that there is no nexus between the huge allocation to constituency projects and infrastructural development at the grassroots.

It Should Be Scrapped, For Being Unlawful And An Avenue For Corruption

Since zonal intervention projects (ZIPs), also known as constituency projects are funded with public money, it means that they are not gifts or donations to communities by their political representatives, but are fruits of national resources and government responsibility to the people. How can would-be beneficiaries ensure that politicians don’t compromise these projects or play a fast one on them?
In line with SERAP’s advocacy on participatory governance, we continue to push and advocate for citizens’ engagement and participation in the fight against corruption, including involving constituency projects, so that they can directly demand for accountability and transparency in governance, and in management of constituency projects, in particular.

SERAP has trained hundreds of citizen groups on how to use Freedom of Information requests to demand accountability and transparency from public officers in the allocation of public funds.

Some of the laudable initiatives by civil society partners like SERAP and BudgIT under ICPC’s Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG) encourage citizens’ reportage and follow up of allocations, disbursement and project implementation in their constituencies.

Why does the average Nigerian see constituency project as conduits for corruption?
Because experience has shown Nigerians that these huge allocations in figures have not positively impacted on infrastructural development at the grassroots. Nigerians have for many years not been able to access basic and affordable and efficient healthcare, education, clean water and sanitation in their communities, and they are also witnesses to the huge pay and affluent lifestyles of the members of the National Assembly. Basically, Nigerians have seen no real value for money because of grand corruption.

It would be recalled that the concept of constituency projects by the legislature, which has no constitutional basis, is itself a product of executive ‘largesse’ to the legislature, though packaged in the guise of legislative contribution to infrastructural development. It is therefore no surprise that constituency project funds are diverted, mismanaged and misapplied for personal gain. From the onset, Zonal Intervention Projects were not initiated for the benefit and wellbeing of the Nigerian people.
Over the years, several lawmakers have been found wanting in the execution of their chosen constituency projects. How does their failure to end up in jail ensure that this criminality thrives?

Unfortunately, there is massive impunity for corruption in constituency projects, although the ICPC is now trying to address this. Corruption is deep-rooted and widespread here because lawmakers are profiting from stealing from the poor and they’re getting away with it. Until recently, anti-corruption agencies have not really been involved as actively as they should in tracking and investigating this aspect of public malfeasance since 1999, and that is why ICPC’s initiative is laudable and must be sustained. The lack of investigation and prosecution is largely due to the absence of political will, rather than the much-touted limited funding of the anti-corruption agencies.

Generally, when the crime of corruption is not punished, it encourages more people to engage in it. So, in this instance, anti-corruption agencies, that’s the ICPC and EFCC will do well to promptly address our petition calling on them to invite senators Godswill Akpabio and Isa Misau for interrogation and further questioning over alleged diversion of constituency projects. Inviting those suspected to be involved for interrogation and further questioning, and prosecuting them if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, would show the agencies’ willingness to exert their authorities and act as a deterrent against breaches of Nigeria’s anti-corruption legislation and international standards.

Only recently, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) admitted there was grand corruption in the handling of these constituency projects, and also expressed worry at the level of sleaze that has rocked them. Why has it been such an arduous task for appropriate agencies to bark and bite?

The lack of investigation and prosecution is largely due to absence of political will rather than the much-touted limited funding of the anti-corruption agencies. Why did it take the new leadership of the ICPC to look into corruption in constituency projects in spite of available public evidence of corruption in the system since 1999?
As part of our anti-corruption advocacy initiatives, SERAP has petitioned EFCC and ICPC to investigate allegations of corruption against legislators fingered in constituency project funds diversion. But we are still waiting for the EFCC and ICPC to take action on our petitions.

What are the best ways to monitor these projects to ensure they are duly implemented?
Constituency Projects should be scrapped, for being unlawful and an avenue for corruption. In the alternative, appropriate legal framework, backed by constitutional provisions (amendment) may be formulated to regulate funding and implementation of constituency projects.

In the meantime, existing agencies of government (Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, CAC) should be strengthened to regulate, monitor and apply regulations (like the Public Procurement Act) to bidding, disbursement and implementation of constituency projects. MDAs should promptly and regularly submit audited reports to the Auditor General’s office for review.

Civil society collaborative involvement, like ICPC’s CPTG should be fully and effectively utilised to drive active citizen participation in monitoring project implementation across the federation.

Anti-corruption agencies should leverage on civil society-led citizens’ participation initiatives to promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate and prosecute erring public officers as a deterrent to others.


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