One of the unique features of our democratic journey is the concept of ‘constituency projects’. Simply defined, these are projects that are conceptualised and executed on the behalf of legislators in their respective constituencies by contractors. Several theories abound on how it was introduced into our political lexicon. Former senator, Olorunnimbe Mamora, claimed that it was the Lagos State House of Assembly that gave Nigerians the novel concept. Mamora should know, as he was the speaker of that Assembly between 1999 and 2003.
But constituency projects have gone beyond states. They are huge projects across the federation supposedly under the watch of our National Assembly members. As at 2013, a total sum of N900 billion has so far been appropriated for constituency projects of our 109 senators and 360 representatives since 2004. By the way, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals, Senator Alli Ndume, gave this figure at a one-day stakeholders’ forum on implementation of constituency projects organised by the Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs in Abuja last year. A senator of the Federal republic of Nigeria willingly supplied the figure without any Freedom of information request last year. Ndume added that the projects usually come to the National Assembly as an Executive Act Special Intervention Fund. He said that the choice of contractors by legislators themselves was to ensure accountability and employment generation.
If you are not squirming in your seat reading this, I wonder what else will galvanise you into demanding accountability in our country. This anomaly or illegal act, as there is no legal backing for it till date. We can also not discountenance the flagrant abuse of separation of powers, a major kernel of democracy. Legislators are supposed to appropriate while the executive executei projects.
This was the subject of discussion at a town hall meeting of activists, political parties members, journalists, religious leaders, academics, students, women rights activists, and lawyers among others at Excellence Hotel, Ikeja on Thursday, August 21 by Media Support Centre, a non-governmental organisation an organisation that uses the collective information of Nigerians – through the various social media platforms – to advocate social justice issues and those of good governance and one that I am proud to be associated with.
The meeting was part of activities of Media Support Centre current project called ‘They Work For You: Campaign to Reform The Constituency Projects in Nigeria’ which is designed to bring attention of Nigerians to the murky allocation of the billions of naira that are budgeted yearly to our lawmakers to execute special projects in their constituencies. The project is being carried out in six states – Lagos, Nasarawa, Rivers, Bauchi, Kano, and Enugu representing the six geopolitical zones and the major political parties of All Progressives Congress, Labour Party, and Peoples Democratic Party.
In a society that many of us do not even know those who are representing us at the National Assembly, it was not surprising that many at the meeting could not point at any constituency project in their areas. Ask a Lagos resident who is your senator or representative member, and he or she is likely to ask, ‘here or at home’. Home refers to the home state, but you will be shocked that he might not remember either. In fairness though to some National Assembly members, there are projects like renovation of school buildings, provision of drugs to some hospitals, construction of roads with the attendant bridges and culverts, and so-called ‘empowerment programmes’ where constituents are usually given items like sewing machines, hair dryer, grinding machines, motorcycles, and tricycles but there is a preponderance of borehole construction across the land. A senator last year gave cash gifts as his constituency projects.
Attendees at the meeting agreed that there is actually a dearth of quality infrastructure in Nigeria but it is doubtful if the National Assembly members are in the best position to remedy this anomaly even with the usual excuse of ‘we are closest to the people’. Beyond complaining and agonizing, so what can we do as citizens who want value for our money? First, identify your senator and representative and their constituency offices. Ask for a list of the projects they are executing in your area, with the cost and location, take pictures and mobilise other residents to do the same. You can also like Media Support Centre on facebook and follow on twitter for this project at #assembly projects. Remember, they claim that they are executing these projects on your behalf and so we must demand accountability.