by Ayodeji Rotinwa
On July 10th 2017, Honourable Abdussamad Dasuki of Nigeria’s lower legislative body, the House of Representatives, representing Kebbe/Tambuwal constituency, Sokoto, announced his “donation of laptops, printers and UPS to outstanding students” in his state.
He made this announcement at an interactive session with members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and students from tertiary institutions domiciled in Sokoto.
This ‘donation’ was reported in a number of newspapers including THIS DAY and Platform News where he was quoted saying, “This is just a token gift to these students as part of my commitment towards improving the capacity of our future leaders.”
Honourable Dasuki also recounted this event via his Twitter page with pictures of HP laptops and printers visible.
Budget documents and mined data obtained from public finance-focused civic tech organization, BudgIT suggest the provision of aforementioned equipment by Honourable Dasuki was not an act of benevolence.
According to the 2016 Nigerian budget, there is an allocation of N27, 922, 000 for the procurement of ICT equipment for Tambuwal Local Government Area, Sokoto; a provision Honourable Dasuki oversees as part of his constituency. The equipment was delivered under the Ministry of Trade, through the Nigerian Commodity Exchange, Nigeria’s second principal stock exchange.
According to Search CIO, a dedicated online portal for IT matters, ‘ICT’ is “generally accepted to mean all technologies, that combined allow people and organizations to interact in a digital world.” The portal further goes on to explain that components of ICT include hardware such as laptops, UPS machines.
Going by this expert definition then, what Honourable Dasuki gave to “outstanding students” in his state was ICT equipment which the budget made provisions for.
Why was it then given as a gift? Attempts to reach Honourable Dasuki for comment were fruitless. The mobile number given for his constituency office does not appear to receive calls. His Twitter page had not responded to several contact queries by press time.
There is a common misconception about constituency projects in Nigeria that might have emboldened the legislator to make such an inaccurate claim.
Unlike popularly believed, funds for constituency projects are not given directly to legislators. They are not in the National Assembly Budget. Investigations revealed that the monies set aside for these projects are drawn up by the Executive in its budget plan for the year. The only participation of the legislators when the Budget is being drawn up is to identify constituents’ needs and propose the projects that would meet them and therefore be budgeted for and how much it could cost. Whether this process is actually done with the consultation of constituents is anybody’s guess.
The Executive then adds the money to the budget of the ministry, department or agency that will implement the identified projects.
“Constituency projects started when legislators came under pressure to deliver ‘dividends of democracy’ to their constituency,” said Stanley Achonu, a data mining expert and Operations Lead at BudgIT said, of the allocation’s origins, over an email interview.
“After several disagreements with the Obasanjo government, a solution was found that allowed the legislators include a certain number of projects in the budget to tune of an agreed sum. As far as I can remember, senators were allowed to include projects worth N200m and House members included N100m worth of projects.”
However, the implementation of constituency projects by the Executive is a process in itself that is questionable. There is no transparency as to how contracts to implement are awarded: how competitive the bidding process is, what criteria bidding companies are judged by, if any, to prove their ability to deliver or if the entire process follows procurement laws.
“The contracts are awarded to fronts of the Legislators who use their oversight power to sometimes intimidate MDAs (Ministry, Department or Agency) or the MDAs are keen to award the contracts to companies with ties to the legislators as a way to get their favor on another matter.” Achonu reckons.
“So while we continue to encourage Nigerians to hold our lawmakers accountable for the implementation of constituency projects, the executive have questions to answer with respect to how lawmakers are able to corner contracts for projects in their constituency.”
This result of the opaqueness in this entire process is enduring underdevelopment and confusion.
It blinds – especially inadequately informed – citizens on how to hold their representatives accountable since there’s little to go on, on what they should be held accountable for in the first place. Citizens do not know what projects have been budgeted for and also have little input in same. They do not know how much the projects are to cost. They do not know what timelines said projects are to be completed by. They usually do not have recourse to question the standard of the work done by the implementing MDA contractors.
So a trend has since started across the country where senators and representatives misrepresent constituency projects as personal alms, rather than citizen entitlements to the commonwealth as taxpayers.
In 2016, Tracka, a capital projects tracking platform founded by BudgIT discovered that in Surulere Federal Constituency 1, Lagos: the supply of 14 Kia Rio and 1 of Kia Serato cars for N50 million; supply of three medical ambulances for N51 million; empowerment and job creation through agricultural training and skills acquisition for women and youth for N40 million – were all labelled as ‘donations’ by the representative legislator, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila.
In the Kebbi South Senatorial District, its representative, Senator Ibn Na’Allah Bala installed a motorized borehole meant for his community, inside his own private property. Citizens who require and are entitled access to potable water will have to knock on the Senator’s gates, be allowed access into his compound before they can reach this crucial daily need.
“We have seen a situation where a contractor acquired poverty alleviation equipment but it was supplied to the legislator whose constituency was supposed to benefit from the project,” Achonu revealed, of his BudgIT experience tracking capital projects.
“The equipment was then stored in a warehouse to be used for campaign purposes.”
It is generally understood that legislators are elected to speak, act for the interests of the people by whose endorsement they assumed office but it appears Nigerian Senators and Honourables do not understand this agreement.
Nigerian citizens will be well advised to offer some illumination when next they go to the ballot
Rotinwa is a writer, journalist and an communications specialist.
*This report was produced with the support of the 2017 BudgIT Media Fellowship