- ICPC should do a thorough job of probing how constituency project funds have been expended in the past 20 years
Federal lawmakers in Nigeria have, since 1999, been devising various ingenious ways of boosting their income or standing. One of such means is the constituency projects they have always injected into the annual budget under the guise of ensuring even spread of facilities and amenities.
It has become a source of rift between the executive and the legislative arms of government.
While the executive lays claim to the exclusive responsibility of executing projects duly appropriated by the lawmakers, the legislators insist that, by virtue of section 162 of the 1999 constitution as amended, the power of appropriation lies in them. They contend that, as such, the executive, and indeed the public, is wrong to charge them with padding the budget or introducing fresh items into the Appropriation Bill.
The constituency projects are regularly inserted into the budget to allow for projects of agreed sum in all senatorial districts and federal constituencies. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s stiff opposition to the practice, about N200billion has been released for the projects since 2015. This undoubtedly negates the principle of Separation of Powers as enunciated by the French philosopher Montesquieu, and developed over the centuries. While the legislature has the duty to make laws for good order of the society, the executive ensures that the laws are given effect, while the judiciary, insulated from partisan consideration interprets the law and adjudicates disputes between the two politically active branches, and among institutions of state, political parties, tiers of government and citizens. The principle of Separation of Powers was propounded to act as checks and balances and thus prevent a descent into authoritarianism.
All eyes are on the 9th National Assembly to handle the tango, given the seeming smooth relationship between the assembly’s principal officers and the presidency. We are convinced that all arguments advanced by lawmakers in the past are specious. The President has the whole country as his constituency and is elected to ensure that every citizen gets his or her due. Where he fails, by way of motions and resolutions, this may be brought to the court of the public at plenary. Besides, the two arms are not in watertight compartments. Through lobby and engagements, interests of lawmakers can always be incorporated into government plans. Besides, the leaderships belong to the same party, ran on the basis of the same manifesto and their interests and electoral destinies are thus tied. Even if they are not, as it might sometimes be, the overall public interests should be the overriding concern of all elected officials. There are many useful projects that cut across senatorial districts. The small projects dotting the landscape stand in the way of speedy completion of the major projects.
It is good that the Independent Corrupt Practices (and other related) Offences Commission has embarked on investigation of how public funds have been expended on the projects. Have they, as the federal lawmakers have contended, been exclusively executed by relevant ministries and agencies without the involvement of the legislators beyond deciding the project and location? Who has, in the various states, been dispensing the funds? As the ICPC moves to 12 of the 36 states, we hope all the questions will be answered. But, beyond the questions, there is no basis for the constituency projects, it is a strange concept in a democracy and should be halted immediately. Many of those for which fund had been disbursed in the past 20 years stand as monuments for waste as they were abandoned by the legislators who have since been voted out of the chamber.
Nigerians must get serious if we are to accomplish the task at hand. All the arms and tiers of government, corporate citizens, the civil society, traditional rulers and religious leaders owe this generation and the coming ones the duty of restoring the country’s pride.