Was Obasanjo right to say constituency project is corruption? - News and More

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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Was Obasanjo right to say constituency project is corruption?

  • Mr. Tunde Olomu (Principal partner, Tunde Olomu and Co, Legal Chambers)
I do not agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo that constituency project, embarked upon by lawmakers, is corruption. It must have been deliberated upon and approved before it became a policy over which billions of taxpayers’ money is being spent.

If the intention of our policymakers at the time was for even distribution of projects across every political constituency, that would be fine. If any member of the National Assembly collects the money and uses it for anything, other than for projects, then it is corruption.
Constituency project has been there right from the tenure of Chief Obasanjo as President; he did not describe it as corruption then, why is he making that comment now?  He approved allocations of money for such projects. It is true that some members of the National Assembly have misappropriated money meant for constituency project, but that doesn’t make the entire thing an act of corruption.
I, however, agree with opinions expressed by other Nigerians that ideally, it is not the responsibility of lawmakers to execute such projects.  Rather, they should make laws and perform oversight functions, while the executive should concentrate on execution of projects.  But something must have necessitated the policy of constituency project execution by lawmakers, and some people must have deliberated on it.
  • Alhaji Rasak Ayinde (An Osun-based surveyor)
I agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo that giving lawmakers the power to execute projects in the name of constituency project is a way of encouraging corruption. The role of lawmakers is to make laws and carry out oversight functions by ensuring that projects budgeted for are well executed. Legislators should not be allowed to dabble into project execution because that is the role of the executive. There should be separation of power to allow for checks and balances.
If lawmakers are allowed to make laws and execute projects at the same time, who will check them? This will encourage corruption and the present government, which is fighting corruption, should not encourage that. It is not right.
The executive and the legislature have different functions to carry out and these should not be mixed so that the two organs can function effectively. Lawmakers are not saddled with the responsibilities of executing projects in advanced democracies, so Nigeria’s case must not be different.
Those aspiring to become lawmakers should know their roles and should be satisfied with it. If they don’t like to make laws, then they should contest for executive posts. The role of lawmakers is to make laws, while the executive is the one saddled with the responsibility of executing projects.
The truth is that our lawmakers want to be executing projects in the name of constituency project in order to corruptly enrich themselves. It is not because they love their constituents. Lawmakers should work and lobby to ensure that any project they want for their constituencies is included in the budget by the executive.
  • Mr. Eteng Williams (Member, Cross River State House of Assembly)
I do not agree with what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said. If you look at it from the real content in which the constituency project is being appropriated and put in the budget, you will discover that Obasanjo’s insinuation is wrong and it means that he does not understand the meaning of constituency project.
Let’s start with Cross River State, where we do not have constituency project. I appreciate the fact that other states have them. Constituency project is not about giving the money for the project to the lawmaker; it is about the lawmaker influencing a project in his constituency.
When you campaign, you do that with projects, and by the time the budget is out and your people do not see the projects you promised, it becomes a burden on you. The National Assembly came out with a policy that every lawmaker must have a project which he/she must influence, and by extension, it should be in the budget.
These projects are being executed by the ministries. As a lawmaker, you do not appropriate and at the same time turn out to be the contractor. So, former President Obasanjo does not understand it from this context, which we do.
  • Abdullahi Jalo (A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party)
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a highly respected Nigerian who was a founding member of our great party. I am not in a position to join issues with him.
First, he is one Nigerian that has held the highest office in the land and definitely has access to information that ordinary people do not and may not have access to. We can also not deny the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party government, which he headed, did a lot to fight corruption. It was under his administration that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission were established. This is a fact nobody can deny.
Having said that, I believe the issue of constituency project was borne out of a need and pressure put on lawmakers by their constituents, who are Nigerians. However, if something was designed to improve the lives of people and that thing is abused, then that abuse can be referred to as an act of corruption.
We must admit that there are projects which some of these lawmakers attracted to their constituencies that people are benefitting from today.  Some of these projects may not have come to communities located in remote constituencies if not for the intervention of these lawmakers; in such cases, such people deserve credit. I would prefer a situation where our lawmakers work together with the executive to ensure that every federal constituency is carried along. There is no initiative of government that cannot be improved upon.  We all as Nigerians can use our offices as citizens to demand that things are done properly; that is the only way for us to build our nation for generations yet unborn.
  • Auwual Musa-Rafsanjani (Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre/ Head, Transparency International)
You may not call it corruption, but it is a distraction for lawmakers. I say so because it is really a distraction for lawmakers, who ordinarily should concentrate on their core mandate of making laws for the good governance of the country and performing oversight functions. Sadly, the issue of constituency project, which has become competitive and personalised, is taking the shine off their duties. It is also sad that, most times, the projects are not carried out based on needs assessment and there is little or no quality control. This could also be a demonstration of the failure of the Ministry of National Planning.
I want to believe that if the proper things are done and projects are fairly and justifiably distributed, the cry of marginalisation will be drastically reduced.
I will also suggest that lawmakers increase the tempo of interface with the Ministry of Finance; and that of Budget and Planning, before the appropriation process ends. By so doing, they will drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the mutual suspicion that exists between the National Assembly and the Executive over the issue of the budget.
Don’t forget that constituency project gained currency under the same President Olusegun Obasanjo as a democratic leader from 1999 to 2007. He may know a thing or two about it that the rest of us don’t know; one would have expected that if he noticed a problem with the system he would have addressed it before he left office.

( Punch)

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