Lawyers, AGF

•Say politicians are advanced in criminality

We can’t fold arms, watch them steal our public resources

By Dayo Johnson;  Samuel Oyadongha; Rotimi Ojomoyela; Onozure Dania; Shina Abubakar;  Chioma Onuegbu; Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo & Ademola Adegbite

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, 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.

In the report, the ICPC 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.

Reacting to the latest report by the ICPC indicting the federal lawmakers for abusing their privileged positions, lawyers in the country have tasked the anti-graft agency to go ahead and prosecute the lawmakers it has identified to have shortchanged the people that voted them into office. They 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.

Seyi Sowemimo SAN

The first step is to prosecute them and their constituents can take steps to recall or remove them. The ICPC itself should go beyond publishing a report, it needs to follow up with the prosecution.

Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN

These are criminal acts. We don’t need more explanation. What we need is a will to hold them accountable for fraud, theft and embezzlement of treasury funds. That will come from the people and they must exercise the power one way or another.

Yemi Omodele

Budget padding has been on in the National Assembly for years. I think it is one of the reasons politicians are eager to contest for the office. If there are good and useful evidence, they could be prosecuted for such offence and conviction will serve as deterrent. But will they not be politically pardoned after they must have been convicted? We have a long way to go in Nigeria. Politicians are advanced in criminality. I know of the constitutional provision of recall of non-performing national assembly members. The constituencies should initiate such procedure for the corrupt national assembly members once it is discovered that money meant for the constituency projects are diverted.

Ige Asemudara

Yes the ICPC’s latest report has indicted the national assembly members of padding 2021 budget and with our constituencies projects that were never executed. The law frowns at it, it’s a form of corruption. When you divert public funds to what is not budgeted for, it’s a misappropriation in form of corruption that the ICPC itself can prosecute.

The ICPC should not just stop at reporting, it must proceed under its enabling act which empowers it to prosecute public officials, to prosecute such senators and members of the House of Representatives who have been found wanting in this regard.

There are many legislations that prohibit corruption in Nigeria, ranging from the Independent Corrupt Practices and Offences Act, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, and most importantly the Criminal Code Act.

All of these laws have provisions to empower the state to proceed against corrupt officials whether as law makers or as executive members or as anybody. Apart from that, part of the problem we have in Nigeria is that, we continue to cry wolves without taking steps to chase the wolves away or to kill the wolves. For instance, there is a provision in the constitution of the Federal Republic, for the recall of senators, members of the House of Representatives or even members of the State House of Assembly when they are found wanting in any respect. For instance, no constituency or senatorial district has ever done that in this country.

The only one we saw was the one orchestrated by the incumbent governor of Kogi state, against Senator Dino Melaye which did not succeed eventually. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a genuine process of recalling erring members of the legislature. And that’s one power that the law gives to Nigerians to deal with persons that they have voted into office who are not delivering on the mandate of that office in legislative capacity. We have a number of things that we can do. We can also report individually the constituent where projects were claimed to have been sited and executed, which are not in fact sited or executed. The constituents have the right to report either to the police or the ICPC or any other agency mandated to do so. So the law empowers us as individuals, as citizens to proceed against these people, we cannot just fold our hands and watch them steal our public resources.

Sonnie Elimihe

National Assembly members are not protected from prosecution. If any NASS member commits an infraction against his constituents, such NASS member can be recalled from the National Assembly by those he represents. There have always been laws in Nigeria to prosecute any offender but implementation of those laws has always been our problem. There are provisions for checks and balances for the three arms of government.

Babatunde Awe

We are a nation of laws. Interestingly, Nigeria is one of the most regulated environments on earth. Regrettably, in our country, there is a broad dichotomy between the existence of laws and the effectiveness of the existing laws.

Law must not merely exist, it must be effective. We have dozens of laws crafted to curb and punish corruption. We also have dozens of state funded anti-corruption agencies and teams in the police, EFCC, ICPC, etc. It is therefore very disturbing to me to find the ICPC blowing a trumpet of lamentations over this rather ubiquitous issue instead of tackling the matter head-on. The press has reported and published variously this issue of budget padding and various members of the two federal legislative houses have confessed and exposed the fact of padding budgets and diversion of constituency projects to private ventures. There is therefore no dearth of materials and witnesses for the purpose of investigation.

If the agency made independent by law and charged with the responsibility of detecting, preventing, tracking, and prosecution of corruption in official circles is weeping like a helpless orphan and lamenting like Jeremiah, then we have cause to worry about the so-called war against corruption. I think the Chairman of the ICPC should resign and let someone more competent and ready to do the job come onboard. Anti-corruption is a war for the bold and ready, not for persons carrying handkerchiefs and wiping tears.

Suleiman Abdul -Azeez, spokesperson, Coalition of Northern Groups ( CNG)

“This indictment has certainly cast serious aspersions on the integrity of those who pose as federal lawmakers today as well as on their commitment to oversight functions towards checking corruption in the country. Unfortunately, such accusations are not new. During the consideration of the 2005 Appropriation Bill, some senators were accused of having padded the budget of a ministry after receiving a bribe from the minister.

Other forms of reported misuse of legislative power of the purse include soliciting and accepting contracts from ministries, parastatals, government agencies/departments and private organisations using proxy companies. Another disturbing example is that although the legislature has the power to determine its own budget, the detail and operation of the budget lacks transparency. We believe that there is no provision stopping the prosecution of any federal legislator found wanting with regards to public financial discipline because they are not statutorily immune from prosecution.

Amaebi Clarkson, former Spokesman of Movement for Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in Niger Delta Delta, MOSIEND

“We are a bizarre country where a criminal action is seen as normal, particularly if it’s from the political class. Budget padding by legislators has been elevated to an acceptable annual ritual by our society. The executive arm most times instigates and induces the legislators to pad their budgetary allocations. But the most annoying one is including non existing projects with huge allocations that are never accounted for. Unfortunately, the president who prided himself as an anti corruption czar is in limbo. Security agencies are either frustrated with lack of adequate support or are simply overwhelmed by the general Nigerian “factor” and cannot stem the tide. However, diversion of constituency projects by lawmakers can be checked. The government should publish in the news media the approved projects in each of the constituencies, the contractors and the locations of the projects. This will enable members of the constituencies to track the execution of such projects and hold both the contractor and the lawmaker responsible for non execution of the project meant for the constituencies.”

Wale Obanigba

“In my opinion, the National Assembly cannot pad budget since by the combined provisions of sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it has the powers to alter, amend or adjust the budget estimates as submitted by the President. However, the funding or spending of any funds appropriated by the National Assembly is exclusively that of the Executive. So, it will be difficult for any member of the National Assembly to divert any money designed for any project without the connivance of the Executive through the Ministry, Department or Agency(MDA). For the purpose of clarity, the Constituency Project is an agreement between the National Assembly and the Presidency to allocate certain amount in the budget to allow lawmakers nominate certain projects in their constituencies or Senatorial District so that every part of the country is not left out in the budget year. This amount which ranges from N100b or more in recent times, is distributed accordingly among the members of the National Assembly, for each member to nominate projects to the tune of what is allocated to him/her from the envelope. Unfortunately, this has been a conduit pipe by the lawmakers, in connivance with the MDAs during the process of implementation of the budget.

In many cases, the lawmakers directly awarded the contracts to themselves or contractors of their choice, to have access to such funds, and so, an avenue to siphon public funds for personal gains. To checkmate diversion of public funds for personal use, the Executive should henceforth publish the amount allocated to, and projects nominated by each of the lawmakers for the attention of the various constituencies and Senatorial District. Secondly, the awards, implementation, supervision and monitoring of these projects should be done exclusively by the Executive through the MDAs. Thirdly, members of various constituencies should do follow up, by tracking the amount released, and the level of implementation, and report any discrepancies to the appropriate agency of government especially the ICPC.

Zadok Akintoye, Public Affairs Analyst

“It has become quite worrisome that citizens do not see the link between bad representation and the the constant challenges we have with corruption. On the matter of budget padding, we are almost helpless, considering the fact that our political landscape is such that citizens demand huge and unimaginable funds from their representatives, who in turn have to find ways to get access to funds to satiate the appetite of their constituencies. I dare say that there is no way to mitigate this issue. We live in a complex web created to fund corruption; from the leaders to the led and vice versa.

Iyanu Olumuagun, Ekiti

National Assembly Members could nominate projects into the budget while money is released to the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to perform the project, not the NASS members. However, whoever among NASS members that have been awarded a contract but did not implement it, should be held accountable. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, is helping us to raise the alarm about how NASS members diverted money meant for their districts project to non-existing projects. Since the legislators cannot be arrested while in their position as lawmakers, such NASS members can be prosecuted after their tenure.

The ICPC can compile evidence against them and the contractors can be prosecuted at anytime. We believe that most of the NASS members owned the companies that the contracts were awarded to. And to curb this trend, the constituents can write petitions to the appropriate authorities such as the ICPC and the EFCC. The lawmakers can be prosecuted under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended; Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offence Act, 2000; Public Procurement Act, 2007 as well as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act (Establishment)2004.

Mr Mike Abidolu

“The lawmakers can be prosecuted if thorough investigations are carried out that indict the lawmakers. Their constituents can recall them. We have enough laws to curb the menace through the established agencies. The laws are always there but we lack the political will.”

Mr Inibehe Effiong Uyo

Human rights lawyer from Akwa Ibom State,  Mr Inibehe Effiong urged the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commissíon, ICPC, to invite, interrogate and prosecute National Assembly members it indicted of infractions. Effiong regretted that Nigeria government lacked the political will and commitment to fight corruption, stressing that the only way Nigerians would take the ICPC seriously was by prosecuting the indicted federal lawmakers, as one of the agencies established by law to fight corruption.

His words: “Of course the National Assembly members can be prosecuted. The challenge is that there is no political will on the part of the government to fight corruption, whether it is corruption arising from budget padding or corruption arising from diversion of money. And it doesn’t even make sense that ICPC would issue a report indicting NASS members, why have they not invited the lawmakers that are concerned. The ICPC should invite them, interrogate them, and if they have a case against them, they should be made to have their day in court. That is the responsible way of going about it.

There are agencies that have been established by law to fight corruption. The ICPC Act is there, the EFCC Act is there, there’s also the Code of Conduct Bureau. The laws are there but they are not being enforced because there is no political will on the part of the government. The ICPC should therefore go ahead and file charges against the lawmakers, that is when we will take them seriously. Nigerians should expose the criminality of people in government who steal the resources of the country. We have been hearing about this constituency project of the National Assembly. The constituents can start by stigmatizing them (Lawmakers). They should name and shame them, they should vote them out of offices. Voters have the right to punish people they voted for who are not delivering on their promises”.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.