Lawyers in the country have tasked the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to go ahead and prosecute the lawmakers it has identified to have shortchanged the people that voted them into office.
The Lawyers argued that the nation must hold the legislators accountable for fraud, theft and embezzlement. They also want the executive to publish the project nominated by each lawmaker and the amount allocated to it in order to halt diversion of public funds for personal use.
Recall that ICPC in its 2021 Constituency and Executive Projects Tracking Initiative (CEPTI) report released few days ago, indicted members of the National Assembly for padding annual budgets with constituency projects which were never executed while the budgetary provisions were shared among themselves.
In the report signed by the chairman of the commission, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, the commission exposed how several lawmakers from both chambers of the National Assembly diverted the money designed for their constituencies to other non existing projects and appropriating contracts for projects to companies directly or indirectly owned by them, their families or associates.
According to the ICPC, the additional projects which the National Assembly embedded into the 2021 budget of MDAs has in a long way affected budget performance as well as distorting developmental planning and implementation in the 2021 fiscal year.
It said although with the collaboration of the Ministry of Finance, implementation actions were restrained, it was however concerned about the practice as it has become a norm that “even legislative aides and National Assembly staff serving in the appropriation committees also insert projects in the capital budgets of agencies without the knowledge of the legislators or the agencies.
The ICPC in the report, cited examples of infractions it discovered against the lawmakers. According to the commission, “analysing the 2021 National Budget alone across key sectors of education, water resources, health, power, science and technology, environment, works and agriculture, we found duplication to the tune of over N20 billion. Contract for the construction and renovation of Blocks of Classroom at the Federal University Staff School, Wakuri, Taraba South Senatorial District was executed by a company owned and operated directly by a Senator, which was haphazardly nominated, appropriated and executed in locations that have no need for such projects”.
It discovered another contract infraction in the supply of water rigs to Taraba South as funding for the project was made to the company owned by the sponsoring legislator while the rigs which were never distributed were later found in the custody of the sponsor, commercialised, and the proceeds paid into the sponsor’s personal bank account.
The commission was also able to track a contract for the supply of 686 water pumping machines to Kebbi Central Senatorial District awarded to a particular company owned by the children of the lawmaker representing the District. Various other projects were awarded and executed in Kebbi Central by three other companies owned and operated by the biological children of the sponsor.
Similarly, the project for the training and empowerment of women and youths in Abaji, Kwali Federal Constituency valued at N149m was awarded to a relative of the sponsoring legislator and was also replicated in Kastina Central Federal Constituency where the sponsor single-handedly executed the contract after which the project said to have valued at N49m was changed from its form and devalued by the lawmaker.
There was another case of the supply of tricycles to Rivers West Senatorial District as empowerment project, where the sponsor allegedly used one of her cronies (a boy) as the contractor. The Commission alleged that “while the contract was never performed, the sum (N30m) was fully paid and shared.
The ICPC further revealed that some sponsoring legislators sometimes site projects on their personal properties, which technically vests legal possession and ownership to them. An example was cited from an agricultural empowerment project in Osun West Senatorial District which was meant to be a training programme for cattle rearing and 250 cattle to be procured and distributed to beneficiaries. While the intended beneficiaries were trained, no cattle was given to them, instead the lawmaker established a private ranch using the cattle procured with government’s fund.”
In Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, the Commission alleged that investigation led it to another youth empowerment scam carried out by the sponsoring lawmaker. The Commission alleged that some of the beneficiaries found in the list were randomly contacted, even as none of them acknowledged ever receiving any grant.
This fraudulent enterprise by members of the National Assembly using constituency projects to corruptly enrich themselves to the detriment of their constituents has become an annual ritual. President Muhammadu Buhari, had a couple of times raised the alarm on how the National Assembly inflated the budget figures which he forwarded to them.