It is wrong for lawmakers to label constituency projects which they facilitated for their constituents donation. FRANK IKPEFAN writes that it is honourable for them to tell their constituents that such a project was built with the taxpayers’ money, their money.

On May 30, 2020, Garba Abdullahi, a community champion with BudgIT Foundation, stirred the hornets’ nest when he shared a post tweeted by Tracka – a platform used by BudgIT to engage citizens on good governance, on his Facebook wall.

The post, which was initially published by Tracka on its Twitter handle in May called out the Senator representing the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in the National Assembly, Philip Aduda and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources for allegedly mismanaging public resources to the tune of N225 million and converting a public project into a personal one.

The Constituency Project or Zonal Intervention Project (ZIP) as it is also known which gulped N100 million in 2016; N75 million in 2017 and N50 million in 2019, totalling N225 million, has now been renamed the Jumma/Aduda Youth Centre with an engraved picture of the Senator’s mother on the front of the building.

The Senator received flak from Nigerians on social media when pictures of the constituency project executed with taxpayers’ money appeared on social media after the Senator had turned it into a personal project.

Abdullahi’s sin, as it later turned out to be with series of threats to his life was that he shared the “fraud alert” post allegedly perpetrated by the People’s Democratic Party Senate Minority Whip in the National Assembly, Aduda.

As a community champion for Tracka, Abdullahi’s job is to track projects being implemented with public funds in the six area councils in the FCT.

He said: “As a community champion, we track abandoned projects and report to Tracka. We do research on the budget allocation and the money released for such projects then Tracka will publish it on its domain.

“This particular project is supposed to be Karu Town Hall. What they used in getting the funds from the Federal Government was Karu Town Hall, not Jumma/Aduda Youth Centre as it has been renamed now.

“I shared the post on my Facebook wall as a community champion working for Tracka.

“Some minutes later I began to receive a series of calls from some unknown people and threats from people I don’t really know. They threatened to deal with me. It became something that I needed to hide for some days.

“I was frightened by the series of threats that I received so I had to hide and stay low for a while. I was not myself during those moments, I told my father and other people around me about the threats I received.

“It was not funny. Even my body reaction changed at that time and I had to be in hiding for a while.”

Constituency projects as “donation”

Constituency projects are nominated by representatives either at the federal or state level for the benefit of indigenes at the grassroots. It is also a means for citizens to feel the impact of governance in their communities. These projects are implemented using taxpayers’ money.

Nigerians have a right to know how their tax contributions are being utilised. However, recent findings have shown that representatives at the National Assembly have formed the habit of labelling projects funded with public resources as “donations.”

Such “fraudulent appellation”, many have argued, should not be allowed to continue since the funds for these projects are released by the Federal Government. The Federal Government spends N100 billion yearly on constituency projects nominated by members of the National Assembly.

Recently, Aduda joined a list of federal lawmakers who have made it a habit of turning projects executed with taxpayers’ money into a personal donation, giving the impression to their constituents and the public that the project(s) were implemented using their personal funds.

Pictures of a former governor from the east distributing motorcycles as empowerment scheme to his constituents were shared by Tracka on its handle recently. The sum of N20 million was allocated in the 2020 Budget for the supply of those motorcycles to the senatorial district which the former governor represents.

Like Aduda, the lawmaker turned the empowerment scheme into “donation,” thereby giving the impression to his constituents that the empowerment scheme was implemented using the lawmaker’s personal funds.

Another example of renaming public project into donation happened in Kebbi State. The 2019 ZIP provided for the repairs/rehabilitation and furnishing of some select classrooms in a senatorial district in Kebbi State value at N60 million.

Although the supplies were made at Dundaye Model Primary School in Kwaido District, Augie Local Government Area, the chairs were tagged as “donation.”

Uadamen Ilevbaoje, Head of Tracka for BudgIT Foundation stated that constituency projects should not be labelled as donations by community representatives in the National Assembly.

Ilevbaoje explained that the labelling of constituency projects as a donation by lawmakers is a malicious attempt to deliberately misinform their constituents for selfish political interests.

He urged lawmakers to stop the pervasive trend which he said was fast becoming a habit among them.

He said: “Constituency projects should not be labelled as donations by community representatives in the National Assembly. This is a malicious attempt by lawmakers at deliberately misinforming their constituents for selfish political interests.

“Lawmakers should not label tax-funded projects as a personal donation. It is a way of misinforming their constituents of the government’s efforts to taxpayers’ contribution. Such action has to stop.

“The word ‘donation’ means using your personal funds to execute projects, but taxpayers’ funded projects should not be tagged as ‘donations’. It is wrong for lawmakers to continue with this fraud.”

Labelling of constituency projects as a donation a malicious attempt to deliberately misinform constituents for selfish political gains – Yiaga

Ilevbaoje’s position that the renaming of constituency projects as a personal donation is a fraud meant to deceive constituents were re-echoed by the Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo.

The head of Yiaga noted that the act is an attempt by lawmakers to deceive their constituents.

Itodo stated that the action raises questions about the integrity of the lawmakers involved.

He stated: “It has been a practice for legislators to name projects facilitated by them as ‘donation’ to their constituents. When you use the title ‘donated’ it appears you are only distributing patronage as well as providing support to your constituents from your own pocket.

“What legislators do is facilitate projects but not donate projects. But sometimes when the concept donation is used it is just used oftentimes to deceive constituents and that can also be used as a way of justifying constituency allowances that legislators have to attract projects to their constituencies.

“So they are not the ones funding the projects because they are not using their money, it is not their money. It is taxpayers’ money and it is the money for the country.

“If you attract projects (to your constituency) let it be clearly stated there. It is just part of integrity, accountability and transparency to say that you facilitated this, these are the clients, these are the contractors and it is based on what is provided in the budget but not to claim; claiming that you donated when in actual fact you only facilitated the project raises questions about integrity.”

Way forward

Although the Chairman, House Committee on Constituency Outreach, Bello Kaoje, did not return calls and text messages sent to his phone, it was learnt that lawmakers during a two-day retreat in Owerri, Imo State in March this year agreed to stop using “donation” in place of “facilitated” for constituency projects nominated by them.

Their decision was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of the retreat organised for House of Representatives members and signed by Kaoje and his Deputy, Kani Abubakar Faggo.

Part of the communiqué reads: “To encourage lawmakers to monitor and ensure the successful implementation of their constituency projects and for ease of identification appropriated constituency projects should be labelled as ‘facilitated by’ in place of ‘donated by.’”

  • Reporting done as part of Civic Hive Media Fellowship 2020 and supported by BudgIT Foundation.

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