MANY Nigerians have not yet come to terms with whatever makes controversy a constant factor in current democratic dispensation. From inception on May 29, 1999, it has been controversy all the way despite batons or reins of office changing hands among the three tiers and arms of government.
This is why, perhaps, not many shuddered when President Muhammadu Buhari recently indicted members of National Assembly (NASS)’s handling of constituency projects across the federation.
PRESIDENT Buhari dropped the bombshell in Abuja while speaking in a workshop organised by Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Office of Secretary to Government of the Federation under the theme ‘National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector.’
ACCORDING to the president, there is far too little to show for over N1trillion that was budgeted for constituency projects of NASS members in the last 10 years.
“THE first phase report of tracking these projects by ICPC confirms Nigerians’ worst fears that people at the grassroots have not reaped commensurate dividends from the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since the inception of the initiative.
It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects. Yet the impact of such huge spending on lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen,” President Buhari said.
BUT this indictment did not go down well with federal legislators who quickly hit back within 24 hours.
WHILE lawmakers such as Sen Ali Ndume blamed amount and mode of releasing funds to finance budget by the executive arm of government for poor execution of projects, others in the same camp with Deputy Majority Leader of House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason, faulted the information that up to N1 trillion was spent on constituency projects in 10 years.
For those grappling with the issue from his prism, the buck should go with current spate of low release of budgeted funds which led to underperformance across board.
“BUHARI did not say that there are no results for them; what he said was that results are not commensurate with budgets. I will be surprised if anybody is surprised about that. That is the tradition in Nigeria.
The entire budget is not always commensurate with expenditure. What people get to know is that. If you say N1 trillion was budgeted, is it the same as N1 trillion spent? How much was released? ”Akpatason queried.
PUT IN one sentence, Akpatason is saying that despite having been appropriated, N1 trillion was not released for constituency projects.
PERHAPS, the late afro beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s line argument… argu…” should be dusted up to spot the truth between the presidency and NASS members on constituency project.
BUT that merely scratches the surface of this anagram that grows each passing day. For if Nigerians commit more energy to probing whether N1 trillion was appropriated or released, more undercurrents may bury the bigger picture in a blame game to make getting at the real issue a mirage.
THIS is why it is apt to fact-check the recriminations in three posers. Is constituency projects provided for in Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to make it legitimate?
Did the executive arm of government provide for constituency projects in their budget estimates over the 10 years in issue? Did the lawmakers pass same in the respective years’ Appropriation Bills together with the funds allotted and released for the projects?
OF COURSE, no matter where anyone stands on the issue, the three foregoing questions have one plausible, ‘yes’. answer. That is why NASS members have not infringed any law by executing constituency projects.
That is why the presidency may not be faulted for saying that what Nigerians got as dividends is not commensurate with what was appropriated for the said projects. But the third limb, which scores the bull’s eye in this anagram, is what everyone knows: corruption.
REMOVE corruption from the picture and there will be landmark projects everywhere, each with direct bearing on people’s living standard. But leave corruption untracked and it will still be recrimination all the way, everyone striving to pass the buck.
THAT is why in deferring to it as catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services as well as many other ills of Nigerian society, we hold corruption equally accountable for the differential in budgetary input and final output on constituency projects. But it bears no saying that more dithering on necessary action to backtrack this malaise will do the country further damage.
THEREFORE, while we commend ICPC’s mechanism of tracking constituency projects –through which President Buhari discovered the yawning gap in its appropriation and execution – we call on federal government to redouble at overcoming this national ill, particularly corruption in public sector which continues to inhibit delivery of social infrastructure and basic services to the people.
ONLY this can launch Nigeria onto an irreversible journey to attainment of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets with attendant socio-economic transformation that will give the country a voice in the global community.
WE THEREFORE join the president in calling for the creation of Special Crimes Court. It is curious that despite consistent agitation by Nigerians on this count, it is trapped in the pipeline.
WE URGE NASS to expedite action and fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill presently pending before its two chambers.