Billboards bearing the inscription; ‘This project was funded by senator/honourable XYZ,’ are familiar sights in Nigeria. Planting those kinds of signboards is the common method federal lawmakers use in communicating how they are supposedly using funds allocated to them under the zonal intervention project system.
Such messages, usually left near ongoing, abandoned or completed projects, derive financial strength from a special fund earmarked for zonal intervention projects of federal lawmakers in Nigeria’s appropriation act.
The intention of the scheme is to ensure equity in the allocation of projects nationwide. In achieving this, the National Assembly yearly budgets an amount of which portions are ceded to lawmakers to execute projects in their constituencies.
In recent times, the budget for zonal intervention projects has been N100 billion annually.
However, the whole process of sharing the N100 billion has been shrouded in secrecy since the introduction of the scheme.
PREMIUM TIMES in this analysis beams search light on how the 109 senators and 360 reps members share the fund.
Constituency or zonal intervention projects in Nigeria refers to developmental projects sited in the constituencies of members of the state Houses of Assembly, members of the House of Representatives or Senators by various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies( MDAs) of government as appropriated in the budgets of the federation or state.
The idea of constituency intervention projects was first introduced during the early administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. The leadership of the National Assembly had approached the executive (under Obasanjo) for approval of constituency projects claiming it was in response to frequent demands of their constituents for the dividends of democracy.
The Executive saw reasons with the legislators and approved constituency funds for them. However, from the start, Senators received N5million each, while each member of the House of Representatives got N3million as constituency allowance.
For this demand and subsequently, the lawmakers premised their arguments on the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, as provided in Section 14(3) that: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity..” Often times. They cite Section 15(4), section 16 (1) (2) , Section 13(1) and other sections of the constitution to justify that it is a significant constitutional duty and responsibility of a legislator to ensure that projects are evenly distributed to all federal constituencies in Nigeria.
To further accede to the lawmakers’ demands, the Obasanjo administration agreed to embedding projects selected by legislators into the federal budget for implementation.
In the beginning, the projects were mostly restricted to water and rural electrification. However, as the years go by, and new administrations revisit the issue, the projects have leap-frogged cutting across all sectors while the funding has now sky-rocketed to about 4000 per cent increase.
HOW 469 FEDERAL LAWMAKERS SHARE 100 BILLION
In recent years, the budget of the Zonal Intervention Projects has been N100 billion, shared among the 469 senators and members of the House of Representatives in the six geo-political zones. Specific details on the projects, including project type, cost, and target sector have been kept secret in the past because lawmakers engage in self-enriching deals in the implementation of the projects. Thus constituents hardly know what should statutorily accrue to them.
For many constituencies, there has never been transparency around which projects were budgeted for, the funds released, or the estimated completion time for them. Often times, constituents ‘worship’ their lawmakers whenever a project is completed with the believe that they used their personal funds in executing the projects. In reality however, this is not the case.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered from reliable sources that the annual N100 billion is always shared on an agreed 60:40 per cent ratio by the two legislative chambers. The House of Representatives takes the bulk with N60 billion and the senate with N40 billion. By interpretation, the 360 members of the lower chamber have N60 billion to initiate, implement or complete projects in their constituencies while the 109 members in the senate have N40 to do same. But the implementation does not follow this mathematically-sane order.
Of the fund budgeted for each chamber, only a fraction gets to the lawmakers. The fraction comes after series of permutations and deductions. This starts with the leadership of the house. Out of the N40 billion budgeted for the senate, the leadership of the chamber takes N20 billion to fund projects in their constituencies. The remaining N20 billion goes to about 100 other members of the chamber.
The same formulae holds in the House of Reps. After a release of the N60 billion, the house leadership takes N20 billion while the remaining N40 billion goes for projects by other members.
Meanwhile, the N20 billion special funding for the chambers’ leadership does not exclude them from benefitting in the general fund as they still nominate projects to be funded with the N20 billion (senate), N40 billion (House or Reps).
After the first deductions, the remaining N20 billion (senate) and N40 billion (House or Reps) is shared equally to the six geo-political zones. In each geo-political zone, the fund is shared equally among states, then, among lawmakers who make use of the fund to implement projects within the constituencies.
This arrangement – equal distribution to regions – leaves some lawmakers with less fund than others. For instance, lawmakers from the North West which has seven states get less fund compared to South East with five states. Others are six.
N200 MILION PER HEAD ANNUALLY
Implementing the zonal intervention projects does not involve cash payments or any other form of payment to a legislator. The duties of the legislator is simply to identify the location and the type of project to be sited. Once this is done, it is included in the budget of the relevant MDA by the National Assembly. Even though the projects are advertised in line with the Public Procurement Act, only contractors nominated by the lawmakers are often awarded the contractors. At times some lawmakers nominate companies in which they have interests.
In some cases, contractors awarded jobs only move the cash to lawmakers who nominated them and the contracts are not implemented in some instances.
Projects to be initiated by lawmaker is determined by the amount allocated to him by the leadership of the chamber for which he belongs. Shehu Sani, a senator at the 8th assembly gives more insight to the sharing formulae.
“The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every senator will go with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you.
“You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you,” Mr Sani said in an interview with The News.
With these revelations, it appears the two houses have devised a means of allocating equally to the lawmakers.
Subjecting Mr Sani’s claim to calculation, if each senator gets N200 million from N20 billion earmarked for sharing, then the senate would have shared N21.8 billion of the fund.
CONNIVANCE WITH AGENCIES
Even though the lawmakers are not allowed direct access to the fund, they have devised several means of getting a cut from the zonal intervention project fund every year. One of such dubious means is by inflating the budgets of government agencies. An analysis of the capital expenditure of some relevant government agencies, which carry out zonal intervention projects, reveals the trend.
An examination of the capital expenditure of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) between 2013 and 2017 shows an increasing trend of budgetary allocation.
In 2013, SMEDAN had a budget of N960 million but this increased to triple, at N2.7 billion the following year. The budgetary allocation stood at N778 million in 2015 and N1.8 billion in 2016.
Worthy of note is the agency’s budget of 2017. While SMEDAN proposed N2.18 billion for capital projects this year, the lawmakers increased it to N9.52 billion, more than the budget of the last six years.
The reasons for this are not far-fetched; first, the lawmakers lodged most of their zonal intervention projects in the budget of the agency and secondly, this was made possible due to the nature of SMEDAN’s mandate.
The agency is saddled with the responsibility of promoting and facilitating developmental programmes, and support services to accelerate the development and modernization of MSME operations, especially in rural areas.
With this kind of mandate, the agency carries out projects like; trainings, sensitisation, youth and women empowerment, supply of materials e.t.c.
The non-quantitative nature of some of these projects makes them difficult to measure or track, thereby creating a fertile corruption ground for the lawmakers.
The lawmakers also lodge some of their projects in the budget of the Nigeria Directorate of Employment (NDE), Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Agency (OORBDA), Lower Niger River Basin Development Agency (LNRBDA) and other river basin agencies.
The NDE had a budget of N1.1 billion in 2013, N884 million in 2014, N175 million in 2015, and N1.9 billion in 2016. The budget sky-rocketed to N4 billion in 2017.
WHICH WAY FOR ZONAL INTERVENTION PROJECTS?s
Parliamentary involvement in grassroots projects is not novel to Nigeria but the sharing formulae seems to be.
In 2013, Philippines’ Supreme Court unanimously declared “pork barrel politics” unconstitutional on the ground that it violates the principle of separation of powers. Similarly, in Kenya, the practice of constituency projects through a Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was the first in Africa in 2003. However, it was declared unconstitutional by Kenya’s High Court in February 2015.
With the huge corruption surrounding the zonal intervention project arrangement in Nigeria, the country may need to go in the direction of Philippines and Kenya.