Constituency Projects: Easy Money for Leeches and Economic Saboteurs, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Who, or what, can lead Nigeria out of this sour patch of misgovernance? Who will help us educate the leeches in the National Assembly? Who will help protect our future by making sure we plan for this and future generation of Nigerians?.. There is a raging difference of opinion between those who want to build for us and those who want to steal from us.
In April, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki inspected erosion control projects at Oja-Gboro, Ubandawaki/Oloje/Ajikobi and Abata Baba-Oyo. These are his constituency projects for which he collected hundreds of millions of naira. These are rural plains. He is neither constructing dykes nor levees, as Kwara State is not below the sea leavel. The total cost of all his constituency projects is a tiny fraction of what he pocketed from the treasury “legally”. He is unaccountable for this money, he owes us no explanation on how this money was spent. It is authority stealing, made legal! Ranking senators like Saraki often get as high as half a billion naira annually for constituency projects. Free, easy money!
Nigerians should look no where else for economic saboteurs outside the legislative chambers. It is scandalous that the National Assembly will cut funds for the completion of life saving infrastructural projects in favour of boreholes and culverts! Everyday, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway claims a lot of lives and our elected officers do not care! Because they wanted money for themselves, they discounted the boost that a completed Bodo-Bonny road, Kano-Maiduguri road, the Second Niger Bridge and the Mambilla Hydropower Project could bring to the economy. They care not about the hundreds of jobs the construction of these projects will create and the jobs and revenue that could accrue from them on completion.
Constituency projects are often a farce, a kind of ponzi scheme designed to cream off taxpayers. These phony projects are inserted during the process of reviewing the proposed budget submitted by the president. Once the budget is signed, the money is released by the executive to the contractors, who are usually from front companies incorporated by the legislator who initiated and inserted the project to be funded into the budget. They do not care about the conflict of interest involved nor the ethics. It is about the money. After the approval and release of funds, the money meant for the project is usually shared between the contractors and the parties that agreed to the insertion. The process is repeated yearly as each budget is submitted to the legislature.
It is a crying shame that representatives are loading the budget with pork and increasing their own expenditure, while ordinary Nigerians are losing jobs and purchasing power.
Money earmarked for constituency projects is stolen by legal means. The projects are often local, serving special interests, never competitively awarded and not subject to review. Giving money to legislators is wrong, it is a circumvention of established budgetary procedures. Given the lack of due process, transparency and accountability, it creates a few winners and a great many losers. Constituency projects corrupt democracy by eclipsing more important developments in favour of dubious schemes designed to enrich legislators and promote majoritarian patronage.
It is a crying shame that representatives are loading the budget with pork and increasing their own expenditure, while ordinary Nigerians are losing jobs and purchasing power. While the country groans under an infrastructure deficit, elected officials who are supposed to champion development are cutting allocations to vital projects under the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and other Ministries. It bothers them not that Nigeria is embroiled in an economic and fiscal crisis requiring judicious and expert disbursement and management of resources at all tiers of government. They care more about what the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs and Excise wears to work than advancing Nigeria’s fare.
The spat between Governor Fashola and the Senate showed the difference between his farsightedness and notorious short-termism that our leaders are known for, as exemplified by the leeches in the Senate. In his words: “In any event, allegations of half truth is only a flawed response to the constitutional and developmental issues that have plagued Nigeria from 1999 about how to budget for the critical infrastructure in Nigeria. It shows the conflict between the Executive that wants to build big federal highways, bridges, power plants, rail and dams on one hand and the parliament that wants to do small things like bore holes, health centres, street lights and supplying grinding machines”. It is obvious that we lack thinking men and women in the Senate. The distortions introduced into the budget are discouraging. Why the mindless duplication? The local government exists to do the same things the legislators are fighting to do, so they can enrich themselves at our expence. Their demonstrated lack of understanding of budgetary provisions, concession and counterpart funding is laughable! It goes to show that this country needs knowledgeable and forward thinking patriots who will adhere to the policies, laws and the constitution to put Nigeria on the path of development.
The minister must not allow this to stand. He should head to court to stop the leeches before our anemic bodies succumb to the vagaries of their parasitic feeding. Let the courts help us. Can they?
For the avoidance of doubt, the funds they are trying so hard to steal is borrowed money, for which the public will pay interest, with the likely scenario of keeping future generation of Nigerians indebted. Again Fashola is right! “As long as budgets planned to deliver life changing infrastructure are cut into small pieces, Nigeria will continue to have small projects that are not life changing, and big projects that have not been completed in 17 years. If a project would cost N15 billion and the contractor gets only a fraction of that, then things won’t move. Success should be defined by how many projects an administration is able to complete or set on the path of irreversible completion and not how many poorly funded contracts are awarded”.
Who, or what, can lead Nigeria out of this sour patch of misgovernance? Who will help us educate the leeches in the National Assembly? Who will help protect our future by making sure we plan for this and future generation of Nigerians? There is a conflict on how best to serve the long suffering Nigerian people. There is a raging difference of opinion between those who want to build for us and those who want to steal from us. The minister must not allow this to stand. He should head to court to stop the leeches before our anemic bodies succumb to the vagaries of their parasitic feeding. Let the courts help us. Can they?