Opinion:Fraudulent constituency projects and Kwara corruption cases. By Jide Ojo

Date: 2019-11-27
"Corruption is the cause of many major problems in our country. It is a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of our society. This government is working hard to overcome such ills. Corruption generally and public sector corruption, in particular, inhibits the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people... It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1tn has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen."

-President Muhammadu Buhari

Again, as it happens from time to time, another can of worms on corrupt practices was opened by President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday, November 19, 2019. It was at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector, which was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, in conjunction with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. At the august event, Buhari said inter alia that there was little to show for over N1tn budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last decade.

The President called on the National Assembly to hasten work on the Special Crimes Court Bill, saying Nigerians had been agitating for it to handle corruption cases. He added that the ICPC report on constituency projects confirmed the fears that people at the grass roots had not benefited from the huge money that the National Assembly members had collected for the projects.

The ICPC chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye’s presentation at the conference could be tagged a “Book of Revelation”. The academic turned anti-corruption czar informed the public at the event that investigation revealed that federal universities and health institutions padded the personnel cost they presented to the Federal Government. Owasanoye said: "Part of our preliminary findings revealed gross abuse of personnel budget and inflation or padding of the nominal roll. As of the time we went to press, we had covered about 300 MDAs and the amount inflated was about N12bn. As of today, (November 19), we have discovered additional N6bn making a total of N18.624bn restrained by the ICPC".

The ICPC boss went further to name names of culpable institutions. According to him: "The exercise is still going on but we can confidently report that the MDAs are mostly academic and health institutions. For example, preliminary findings show that the University of Benin Teaching Hospital padded its budget by N1.1bn; the Federal Medical Centre, Bayelsa, N915m; the Nnamdi Azikwe University, N907m; University of Jos, N896m; University College Hospital, Ibadan N701m; Usman Dan Fodio University, N636m and University of Ibadan, N558m."

Owasanoye was not done. He revealed further that "some agencies of government are favorites for embedding of constituency projects irrespective of their core mandate and capacity of these agencies to deliver or supervise projects. Most notorious in this regard are Border Communities Development Agency and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria."

"Duplication of contracts with same description, narrative, amount, location awarded by the same MDA in order to bring the amount allocated within approval threshold of the executing agency or to expend allocation to sponsor of the constituency project. Many of the contracts were inflated yet poorly executed. Substandard items were used against specifications in the Bill of Engineering Measurements and Evaluation thus diminishing the value of the projects to the intended beneficiaries. Many projects were also not built to specifications."

"Empowerment and capacity building projects are very popular but are highly prone to abuse and very difficult to track. We find that almost 50 per cent of budgetary allocation to zonal intervention projects goes to these opaque activities. Empowerment items are sometimes stashed away by sponsors and not distributed till next budget cycle while in some cases same items are re-budgeted and duplicated. Many community members believe that sponsors pay for projects from their personal funds rather than from public treasury. Thus they are beholden to the sponsor rather than claim their rights."

Owasanoye also urged President Buhari not to release the sum of N3.9bn meant for projects in the 2019 budget because it was not allocated to particular states. The ICPC boss also said that 59 directors of the Ministry of Water Resources were being investigated over a claim that N3.3bn was paid out in about a month through their accounts. The head of the anti-corruption agency recommended that diversion or non-payment or remittance of tax, pension, health insurance or any statutory deduction should attract dismissal of head of the agency and immediate prosecution. Should government accept this recommendation, ICPC, he said, will furnish government with list of defaulting MDAs.

I commend the ICPC for embarking on the tracking of the constituency projects. I should say that this exercise is making the Nigerian public to feel the impact of the work of the anti-corruption agency established 18 years ago. Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had persistently objected to the insertion of constituency projects in our federal budgets by the National Assembly. On June 20, 2018 while signing the N9.12tn 2018 Appropriation Bill into law, Buhari lamented that it would be difficult to implement because the budget figures have been tampered with by the National Assembly. He accused the federal lawmakers of cutting N347bn from 4,700 critical projects and injecting 6,403 unnecessary projects at the cost of N578bn, stressing that the proposals introduced by the lawmakers were neither properly conceptualised, designed nor costed. The President noted that the projects were supposed to be carried out by states and local government areas.

In their defence to the allegation of misappropriation of the consistency project funds, the House of Representatives debunked receiving N1tn for the projects as appropriation was not equal to release. The lawmakers said only a fraction of what was appropriated for constituency projects were released by the executive. More so, they are not responsible for the implementation of the projects.

Just when you thought you had seen it all, corruption stories emerged from Kwara State where it was reported last week that the Ilorin zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had uncovered how 24 former members of the state House of Assembly, the immediate past Commissioner for Finance, Ademola Banu, and some companies allegedly shared about N5bn belonging to the state between 2015 and 2019. The commission’s investigation revealed that some cabinet members of former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed allegedly siphoned revenues generated by the state's tax agency, the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service. The EFCC sources said officials of the tax authority were forced to make monthly payments to the lawmakers "as a trade-off to secure easy approval of their appropriations and other requests."

Earlier in the month, precisely on Friday, November 1, 2019, the Kwara State Zonal Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arrested and detained 16 local government chairmen who were suspended by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. They allegedly misappropriated N4bn loan and 10 percent of the state's internally generated revenue.

Despite the endemic corruption challenge facing Nigeria, there are still many compatriots who are incorruptible. Two of them were honoured at the earlier referenced ICPC conference. They are Josephine Ugwu, a cleaner at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and a customs officer, Bashir Abubakar. Ugwu found and returned the sum of N10.2m, dollar equivalent of N8m, another dollar equivalent of N7m and $12,000 at various times. She was given a bungalow in Lagos bought by the ICPC and partners for her honesty. Customs Officer Abubakar was also rewarded for rejecting $412,000 bribe from a tramador importer.

I quite agree that the 'carrot and stick’ approach is the best way to fight corruption. Punish the corrupt severely so that it will deter others while reward to the upright will also motivate the others to emulate their exemplary conduct. I do hope the startling revelations made by ICPC will not be the end of story as I look forward to the full wrath of the law being brought on those found guilty after due process. It is imperative for the National Assembly to also heed the call by the President for the prompt passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill.

Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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