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Friday, 9 September 2011


Unfolding factual scenarios playing themselves out in recent period shows that Nigeria is indeed a nation whose people are passing through grueling, traumatic and agonizing times but these same people at the same time are not showing signs that they are willing to take popular actions to overthrow the reactionary forces bent on oppressing the citizenry in perpetuity.

What makes the Nigerian story distinctively unique globally is that it is only in Nigeria that those who are largely responsible for wrecking the economy while in government are the ones that become turn-coat and fair- weather advocates of transparency and good governance once they are out of political offices.

Take the case of most of our past national leaders both during the military era and the ongoing democratic dispensation, these dictators in military and civilian gowns are collectively responsible for ruining our national economy through corrupt practices and have visited a seemingly unending regime of mass hunger, mass illiteracy, mass unemployment and widespread crimes on the Nigerian society. These same corrupt former leaders are dominating the public space with their hypocritical pontifications and lectures on how Nigeria can become a corrupt free nation. What an irony?

Writing in the book; “Corruption and Economic Development; How Nigeria was underdeveloped by its elites”, Akin Olaniyan succinctly and graphically captured the current Nigerian situation thus; “To see how Nigeria’s development has been badly held back by the actions of the corrupt elite, we only have to think of billions of naira in public funds that some have either channeled into private accounts or caused to be mismanaged”.

Renowned Economist, Professor Sam Aluko in December 1990 captured the Nigerian situation thus; “Income distribution has been skewed, and is still skewed, in favour of the rich and the powerful who gain by illegitimate means and who also contribute to capital flight and gross misappropriation of public funds in the absence of adequate systemic checks and balances”.

To underscore the facts as sufficiently demonstrated above by both Professor Aluko and Mr. Olaniyan, the present crop of National Assembly legislators have come up with a very clever scheme whereby several billions of public funds are stolen in the name of executing what they call constituency projects.

Even former president Olusegun Obasanjo widely criticized for several corrupt practices during his eight year reign from 1999 to 2007 could not hold back tears when he lamented recently at a public forum that the National legislators are corrupt and are indeed the worst drain pipes on the nation’s economy.

His words; “We should look closely at the legislature so that they can be more open and transparent in the way they do their work. Nobody knows in detail how much it costs us to maintain a senator. I believe it is more than N250 Million. Compare what it cost in 1999 and 2000; it cost about $1.7 Million”.
“Compare to a quarter of a million in America. You must understand the power that each of us has. They came up and say something is constituency project, what is this constituency project? “They insert it in the budget, they would find the contractor and the contractor would work for them, that is constituency project? They then accuse some people of corruption, who are not corrupt.
“Now let us talk truly to ourselves seriously. We can’t continue to have a National Assembly that is consuming a disproportional part of our resources and then expect that we would be able to make progress. They pass budget that can’t be implemented, because it has to be beefed up to satisfy their whims and caprices. Even what the ministries did not ask for they put it”.
Interestingly, the senate president David Mark who is seen as a political son of Olusegun Obasanjo has maintained a studied silence even as the cantankerous and loquacious speaker of the Federal House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole has also uncharacteristically maintained a studied silence. Some members of the Assembly have fired back accusing Obasanjo of same corrupt practices.
Come to think of it, why are we attacking the messenger but overlooking the message? Whose Constituency projects are these constituency projects that only exists in the figments of the imagination of the members of the National and State legislators?
As rightly observed by Obasanjo these constituency projects are contraptions and cesspool of corruption for which the anti-graft commissions must dispassionately investigate and prosecute all these so-called law makers who are hiding under the constituency project scheme to defraud Nigeria of monumental sums of public funds.
Writing in her recent book; “The Challenge for Africa” the Noble peace prize winner Mrs. Wangari Maathai vividly narrated how the Kenyan government introduced what they call the constituency Development Fund through an Act of parliament in 2003. She wrote thus; “The constituency development fund would provide direct funding for local development initiatives, particularly targeting those that would combat poverty, to be decided on by the citizens themselves. The total amount dispensed was 2.5 percent of the tax revenues the government collected. The Act stated that each of the 210 parliamentary constituencies would receive an equal portion of 75 percent of the funds, while the remaining 25 percent was allocated according to the poverty levels in each constituency, with those with higher poverty levels receiving more. The Act also mandated that up to 10 percent of the Constituency Development fund be allotted to bursaries-grants-for education. It was indeed an effort toward the equitable distribution of resources in all communities”.
Wangari Maathai whose nation’s parliament is the first in Africa to introduce the concept of constituency projects recalled that during her time as the representative of her people of Tetu Constituency, she worked to ensure that the Constituency Development fund’s allocation that belongs to her people are so well utilized to empower communities to undertake their own development and learn to assume responsibilities as well as assert their rights.
But the opposite is the case in Nigeria because as a bonafide constituent of Onu-Imo in Imo state I have never come across any constituency development project for which my representatives in both the Federal House of Representatives and the senate have been paid several millions of tax payers’ money over the last three years. In Abuja where I reside, I cannot remember seeing any visible constituency project.
This is calling on Nigeria’s near-moribund anti-graft agencies to wake up from slumber and thoroughly investigate the allegations of diversions of constituency development fund by the National and state legislators.

·                    Onwubiko is with Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.     


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