NB: This report was facilitated by Newsclick Foundation for Investigative Journalism (NFIJ)
Regrettably, what was originally conceptualised as one of the ways of spreading dividends of democracy to the grassroots, has now become a steady flow of cash to a selected and priviledged few year-in-year-out. The idea of constituency projects was up until the year 2000, a strange lexicon in Nigeria’s political dictionary. While it was coined and adopted to help spread the presence of the federal/state governments to the nooks and crannies of the country, through elected representatives of the people, however, few years down the line, what most Nigerians can benefit, are endless sights of either non-functional or abandoned projects running into trillions of naira. While the lawmakers are perpetual culprits, however, the state and federal governments are also not leading by example. No reason is cogent enough to justify what has now become a norm in our national life. Newsclickng.com’s Senior Editor, OLAOTAN FALADE in this investigative series uncovers several sights and sites of abandoned constituency projects in the South West region of the country.
The debate on the tangibility of the Zonal Intervention Project, ZIP (also known as constituency projects) usually facilitated by both federal and state lawmakers in their various constituencies has been a lingering controversial issue for years.
Nigeria by now should have moved up the league of developed nations if indeed the funds allocated to the projects scattered across the country from 1999 till date are judiciously expended to serve the peoples’ needs.
The term Zonal Intervention Projects was until the return to democracy in 1999 non-existence in Nigeria’s political dictionary.
The bogus responsibilities of constructing roads, pipe borne water, electrification and other infrastructural projects then rested solely on the shoulders of the three tiers of governments; federal, state and local. While private sector interventions (through Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR) initiatives were allowed, however, those in government (either during the various military juntas or the often interrupted democratic dispensations) knew they owe the people the core responsibility of providing their basic infrastructural needs.
However, upon return to democracy in 1999, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced constituency projects with the aims of reaching the grassroots and most importantly ensuring equity in the allocation of projects by Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs). In achieving this, the National Assembly yearly budgets an amount, out of which portions are ceded to lawmakers to execute projects in their constituencies.
What is Zonal Intervention/Constituency Projects?
The term refers to developmental projects sited in the constituencies of members of the State Houses of Assembly, members of the House of Representatives or Senate by various MDAs of government as appropriated in the budgets of the federation or states.
How it all started…
The leadership of the then National Assembly approached the Executive (led by President Olusegun Obasanjo) for approval of constituency projects claiming it was in response to frequent demands of their constituents for the ‘dividends of democracy’.
Not wanting to strain the relationship between both arms of government, the then executive approved the legislators’ demand for constituency funds. However, at inception, Senators received N5 million each, while members of the House of Representatives got N3 million.
The idea was soon bought by state governments and sooner than expected, constituency projects became a national agenda.
However, as time passed by, the funds were further reviewed. According to reports and findings, as it stands today, the budget for zonal intervention projects is in the excess of N100 billion annually.
Be that as it may, the bureaucratic process of sharing the N100 billion amongst the 439 lawmakers (360 reps, 109 senators) is still shrouded in secrecy. Constituents are most times left in bewilderment of what was actually released to their communities for the projects.
Shedding light on what has remained one of Nigeria’s greatest mysteries, Shehu Sani, a senator at the eighth assembly said:
“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,” Sani who did not make it back to the current ninth assembly said in a recent interview.
Although the projects are nominated by lawmakers, however, they are supposed to be executed by relevant government agencies. But investigations revealed that some lawmakers often get involved in the execution and sometimes nominate contractors to execute the projects. This claim was later substantiated by the immediate past Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu while also condemning and advising fellow lawmakers to stop the ugly trend.
Annual constituency allowances allocation to South West lawmakers
According to data obtained by Newsclickng.com from an official of the National Assembly, the total number of representative seats from the 36 states and FCT is 360. Out of this number, 71 are from South West (Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo States). For the senate, there are 109 seats in all. 18 are from the six south west states listed above. The data revealed further that out of the N100bn yearly allocation, senators are allocated N200m each annually for constituency projects while their House of Representatives counterparts get N100m annually for same purpose.
Breakdown of the annual constituency allowances to South West lawmakers is as follows;
N200,000,000:00 x 18 Senators = N2,600,000,000:00 (Two billion, six hundred million naira)
N100,000,000:00 x 71 Reps = N7,100,000,000:00 (Seven billion, one hundred million naira)
Total annual constituency allowances of South West lawmakers = N9,700,000,000:00 (Nine billion, seven hundred million naira).
Newsclickng.com observes that despite the release of this humongous amount yearly, its impact is almost invincible to the ordinary Nigerian. Meanwhile, political commentators have for long faulted the involvement of lawmakers in projects delivery at the expense of their primary lawmaking functions.
A former Deputy Speaker of the Adamawa State House of Assembly and serving House of Representatives member representing Numan/Demsa/Lamurde Federal Constituency of Adamawa State, Kwamoti B. La’ori buttressed this point. He noted that provision of infrastructures and other basic necessities do not fall under the purview of the lawmakers but for the lacuna of poor budgeting procedure in the country.
His words: “When you go into our core mandates, we are not supposed to be involved in infrastructures and provision of basic necessities to our constituents. But because of the lacuna of poor budgeting procedure, which has failed in tying policy plans to needs assessment, we have to step in and fill in the gaps that government has left open in terms of service delivery to our constituents.
“In terms of the money, every member of the House of Representatives is given an envelope of N100m. This money is used to execute the popular constituency intervention project,” La’ori told newsmen recently.
Endless sites of abandoned constituency projects
Despite the reasons for initiation of constituency projects as an alternative means of reaching the grassroots who might feel left out from the scheme of governance at both the federal and state levels, however, lawmakers with their collaborators in the affiliated agencies have perfected the channel as a legitimate way of milking the nation dry thus depriving hapless citizens of their basic rights to good governance.
For 20 uninterrupted years, the social and economic menace of how graft has dotted the principle of awarding and completing capital projects which would have added value to the lives of the citizens has continued to stare Nigerians in the face and this is not about to change. To worsen the already bad situation, there is no proper monitoring of how the funds are expended after release. It is only recently that the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) took on the role of tracking the funds and delivery of the various projects nominated by the lawmakers but how far the Commission can go with 469 lawmakers, remains a source of concern for many.
The President and Chairman of the governing council, Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria (CIPMN), Dr. (Mrs.) Victoria Okoronkwo, recently disclosed that the cost of abandoned projects in Nigeria stood at N12 trillion. Mere dismissal of her figure as figment of imagination did not underplay Okoronkwo’s huge concern on the subject matter, especially against the backdrop of her claim that abandoned projects captured spread across geo-political zones in the country where 15,000 were found in the South-East, 10,000 in the South-West, 11,000 in the South-South, 6,000 in the North-West, 7,000 in the North-Central, 5,000 in the North-East and 2,000 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Speaking in a similar vein, President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2019 said there have been very little benefits to the grassroots from the over ₦1 trillion that had been earmarked for constituency projects in the last 10 years (precisely from 2009 to 2019). Sensing that the grassroots are greatly disenfranchised, the President further ordered the probe of those who failed to judiciously spend the over N1 trillion voted for such projects in the last 10 years.
Abandoned, poorly maintained constituency projects dot South West
Regarded as Nigeria’s most developed region, one would have thought that the South West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo would be a bobbling interconnectivity of modern cities and towns. Aside the state capitals and a few adjoining towns, this reporter who recently returned from a tour of four of the South West states discovered that most towns lacked basic infrastructural amenities thanks to the lawmakers who ensured a wide spread of poorly maintained and abandoned constituency projects!
While Lagos was somewhat ahead due to its ‘commercial headquarters of Nigeria’ status, other states in the region fell below the average.
From this tour, Newsclickng.com discovered that once a serving lawmaker fails to complete a project during a given tenure and he/she could not get the party’s return ticket or was defeated and did not return to the National/State Assembly in the elections, whatever project(s) he/she had going on, is likely to be abandoned as the succeeding lawmaker might not deem it fit to complete same, especially if the predecessor and successor are not from same party. The new lawmaker will prefer nominating fresh projects that might not be completed till his/her tenure ends again and the circle continues endlessly amounting in monumental waste of state resources and manpower.
This reporter was initially fascinated with the eavesdropping architectural (some completed, some ongoing) structures that serenaded the bobbling and ancient capital city of Abeokuta. If not for the nosy nature of journalism, one might take it for granted that the masterpiece of Abeokuta would easily be replicated in other towns and local governments in the state. However, the ‘fascination’ soon faded away upon this writer’s request to visit other local governments in the state.
From the unmotorable roads to basic infrastructural decay, it was not difficult to guess that the people in some local governments were yet to feel the impact of the government while the lawmakers did not live up to expectation in bringing succour to the plights of their constituents through quality representation that can trigger the award of beneficial projects to their constituents.
In some parts of Ikenne, Ifo, Ado Odo/Ota, Ewekoro, Yewa (North and South) Local Governments visited by this reporter, it was a normal sight to see residents in their numbers walking unbelievable miles to fetch water. This could be in the compound of a ‘big man’ or that of a socially responsible church or mosque. Albeit, all at a considerable length of distance. However, what surprised me in the course of the journey was the sites and sight of various water projects embarked on by both the state and federal lawmakers. In this uriosity, this repoter spoke to a mature resident at Imasayi town (Yewa North LG) who was trying to catch up with his friends who had gone ahead of him to fetch water.
“Why do you people walk this far to get water when there are about three water projects surrounding you?,” he asked. “It’s obvious you are new here,” he retorted. You see none of those things you call projects are non- functional. One of it functioned for like two months after commission and later packed up because it cannot withstand the daily public pressure on it. One was never completed and the other one was badly constructed that people thought it might collapse anytime soon and never really bothered to use it. Hence, its abandonment”.
Asked if the lawmakers who facilitated the projects were in the know of the development, he said: “We have written countless letters to them. There was a time some people came around to inspect them but that was all. We are not sure our letters get to them because the federal one stays in Abuja and the state lawmaker stays in the capital (Abeokuta). Their constituency office is hardly opened except during festive and electioneering periods. It is a sorry case my brother. Nigerian politicians are all irresponsible!,” he said running along to meet up with the others who had now gone far.
Aside the abandoned boreholes which constituted 80% of the projects sighted, this reporter also observed a small building built on a small drainage in a sloopy street in Ado/Odo-Ota Local Government of the state. The building was painted in Nigeria’s Green, White, Green but was not named. Residents said it was a public toilet facilitated by a lawmaker, Hon. Jimoh Ojugbele who represented Ado Odo/Ota Federal Constituency of Ogun State during the Eighth Assembly (2015-2019). He however did not make it back to the present Ninth National Assembly.
The residents said the street is residential and that all houses had their toilets. They wondered why, of all things, the only Constituency project the lawmaker could ‘gift’ them was a small and poorly constructed toilet on a small drainage that was built on community efforts. “We unanimously rejected it. How can you look at a residential area close to a busy federal road and say the only thing befitting of them is a small toilet that cannot even contain two users at a time? No consultation. He never came back since he built it and we unanimously told him it is of no use to us,” a community leader in the area said.
Efforts by Newsclickng.com to get the former lawmaker’s reaction were unsuccessful.
When the big elephants fight: Tale of two abandoned multi-billion naira airport projects
Still on Ogun State, the reckless sights of abandoned projects are not those initiated by lawmakers alone. It now extends to executives who are in control of government resources. The innocent residents of Ogun State now have two abandoned multi-billion naira projects starring them in the face with no likely date of completion.
The International Airport located at Imosan Village, Wasimi, Ewekoro Local Government and the Gateway Agro-Cargo Airport at Ilishan, Ikenne Local Government have been wasting away now for years.
According to reports, the controversy over the project is centred on locations which have now brought tribal sentiments into its completion.
In what appears to be a case of political power show, three consecutive administrations refused to reach a consensus on completion of laudable projects that would have made the state rival Lagos in terms of economic developments and improved Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
To add political colouration to the years of back and forth movement on the projects, findings by Newsclickng.com revealed that while incumbent Governor Dapo Abiodun emerged on the slot of Ogun East Senatorial District, Amosun not only represented the Ogun Central Senatorial District as Governor for eight years, he is currently representing the district in the Red chamber of NASS.
Throughout his eight-year reign as Governor, there was no official record of Amosun’s visit to the site of the Agro-Cargo Airport project at Ilishan let alone continuation of the construction work embarked on by his immediate successor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel.
“People talk to me as if the agro-cargo airport has taken off. But up till now, nothing is on ground; not even the feasibility study, which we asked for. Some people said the government owes them billions of naira and that we should pay. I said how?
“As we speak, there is nothing that we met that we can say is on ground. When people accused me of abandoning the Agro-Cargo Airport project, I told them I met nothing on ground.
“But don’t worry, things will be sorted out. We are going to include the airport in our developmental projects,” the former Governor said when quizzed about his lukewarm approach to the project then.
However, the former governor while defending his choice of the passenger airport project as against the state owned Agro-Cargo airport during his recent visit (as Senator) to the site in Wasimi said: “For me, if it is possible to have more than 10 airports (in the state), I am happy for it. But, I want to safely say that by the benevolence of the Almighty, this airport will see the light of the day.
“Pictures don’t lie; the runway is already established; this is not a game, but a result of hard work and the support we are getting from the Federal Government.
“This is a Federal Government project no doubt, and I am sure that the Federal Government does not waste its money; it wouldn’t be appropriating money to what it will not want to finish.”
However, Governor Dapo Abiodun will not buy his predecessor’s submission. According to him, Ogun State needed an agro-cargo and not passenger airport, hence the government’s decision to go ahead with the plan to construct and complete the agro-cargo airport.
“This administration is deliberate and methodical. The need to have a cargo airport was made by our joint inter-ministerial committee and we consequently evaluated the initiatives that were started by previous administrations, because government is a continuum.
“After a thorough evaluation, the choice of the cargo airport location in Ilishan was unanimous; it complements the agric/processing factories in that corridor with access/egress road network.
“To that extent, our decisions are guided by the principles of good governance; is it fair, just and equitable to all? Is the process transparent and inclusive? Did the people make an input? Is it of economic importance/value? Will it possibly impact the life of our people? We must hold ourselves accountable at all times. After all, the people are the essence of governance and we are only holding the office in trust for them,” Abiodun stated.
While faulting the Wasimi airport, Abiodun said comparatively, his government did not get the details and information of the location in the handover notes, claiming that the whole process was shrouded in secrecy.
The Governor said a committee headed by the national President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers was commissioned to investigate the proposed airport, and it found out that there was no approval by the Ministry of Aviation or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
However, the immediate victims of the delay in the completion of these gigantic projects are neither the government nor contractors. They are the poor masses whose lands have been seized and buildings bulldozed with no adequate compensation plans.
Newsclickng.com gathered that the House of Representatives, under the former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara in 2017 reminded the Federal Government of the need to complete the airport.
The House also urged the Federal Government to urgently pay the compensation, as contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the displaced villagers, whose farmlands were acquired for the airport project.
The House equally mandated the Committee on Aviation to investigate the reason for the abandonment of the project, with a view to recommending how to ensure its completion, and to report back within six weeks for further legislative action.
The lawmaker representing the Ifo/Ewekoro federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Ibrahim Ayokunle Isiaka who earlier this year faced intense backlashes (online and offline) for inaugurating a ‘gutter project’ with all pomp and ceremony, sponsored a motion in the then Dogara-led House titled: “Call for completion of the International Airport at Mosan Village, Wasimi in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State.”
He said: “Nigeria is almost losing out on the Hull Blyth, a shipping and cargo services company that had long ago concluded arrangements to locate a $50m dry Port at Wasimi, which would have been completed within a year of commencement of construction works.” All these efforts did not still impact the resuscitation of the abandoned project.
For Wasimi in particular, the commencement of the airport project witnessed the displacement and takeover of about 35 communities, whose farmlands were hitherto used for production of such agricultural produce like; Ofada rice and high-yield cassava. Unfortunately, the site has now become a haven for criminals, thus raising concerns about the sudden stall in the progress of the project, as it has continued to lie fallow for over a decade.
Even with the orchestrated attention at inception, the only visible physical infrastructure on ground was the perimeter fencing, measuring 5 by 5 kilometres. However, when the Newsclickng.com team visited the site of the project in April, the only hope of a likely continuation of the project, the perimeter fence had been completely removed, to pave way for the expansion of the Wasimi-Imosan Road.
Residents are not only frustrated but tired of the continuous monumental wastage of their lands. They appeal to the government to either pay their compensation in full or have them return to their lands which they doubt might still serve any farming purpose.
“These people are just wicked. You wake up one day to start forceful takeover of peoples’ properties in disguise of wanting to develop it for them and you make a mess of the whole thing? People were not even adamant giving up their ancestral lands for this project. Some farmers gave up as much as 20 hectares of full flourishing Cassava farms, others gave up their treasured houses with no option of where to go or even start from, all for the love of country and development. But over 10 years later, the place is in ruins. As we speak, land grabbers have started selling portions of the acquired land since nobody has shown up for years to do anything. In fact, some of the equipment used for the perimeter fencing has been carted away,’ one of the elders of the community, Pa Ayodele explained bitterly.
“For us, we don’t even care if they complete it or not. We are tired of waiting and want to move on. What plans do they have for us? All our means of livelihood and identification have been taken. The land and houses they took and destroyed belong to our ancestral lineage. We gullibly released them in high hopes that our community and society will be better for it. Our children will have jobs and even generations unborn will commend us for sacrificing what they would have met as inheritance for a better life for them. But we look back today in sorrow seeing how everything is wasting away. Our plea now is for them to compensate us fully. Not the N15,000 compensation for hectares of fully grown cassava plantation that we are hearing of. They either pay us in full or return our lands which might not even be useful for farming again,’ a farmer in Wasimi community, Mrs Oloyede pleaded.
Residents of the Iperu community where the cargo airport project is sited are suffering similar fate.
The land, which stretches from Iperu to Ilara has practically turned into a dumpsite. Scavengers and refuse collectors have turned the site to an abode. According to residents, the site has become a hideout for criminals, as there are several footpaths leading to the field.
Not even the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s promise that the incumbent Governor, Dàpo Abiodun who was then a gubernatorial candidate, would resuscitate the project if elected did the magic.
Newsclickng.com gathered that prior to the 2019 general elections; the Vice President rekindled the hope of the people of the area during his campaign tour to the palace of Akarigbo of Remoland, Sagamu.
Osinbajo said though the Federal Government had played its part by bringing development to the area with an enabling environment, the responsibility to build the cargo airport, rests squarely on the shoulderş of the state government.
“When Dapo Abiodun comes in as the next Governor of Ogun State, he will be able to complete the construction of the abandoned cargo airport located between Iperu and Ilishan road in Ikenne Local Council Area,” he assured
However, less than a year to the expiration of Governor Dapo’s first term tenure, the airport has even deteriorated further.
Watch out for Part 2 of the investigations covering findings in Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Lagos next week…