OrderPaperToday – The issue of constituency projects has been a very sensitive and controversial matter. It has become a mystery that has sprung up various debates over time. One of the aspects of constituency project that has been severally questioned is it foundation in our laws, with some persons arguing that it lacks sufficient legal/constitutional framework to operate.
One of such persons who have frequently attacked the scheme is the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.
Fashola, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) while delivering a goodwill message at a one-day national summit on political representation and constituency relations and intervention services in 2016 said that “constituency projects are not necessarily found in our constitution, they have effectively grown by convention over the years. In trying to find a legal framework for constituency projects, we must first look at what are those things that the National Assembly has powers to legislate upon.”
His comments did not go down well with lawmakers and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara who is also a lawyer fired back stating that constituency projects are indeed constitutional.
He argued that the idea of constituency projects arose as a result of the demand by Nigerians for equitable and even distribution of infrastructural development projects as well as federal character citing Section 14 (3), 15 (4), and 16 (2) of the constitution. However, those sections do not explicably mention constituency projects.
Hence, it is clear that though there is a philosophical basis for constituency projects it lacks distinct legislation which is why both chambers of the National Assembly have put in place a process to fill the gap.
In the Senate, a Bill for an Act to provide for constituency projects in the annual budget of the Federation and for other matters connected therewith sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra) has scaled second reading and subsequently considered at a public hearing.
The bill proposes a minimum 20% provision for constituency projects in the annual budget for the purpose of infrastructural development, wealth creation and the fight against poverty across the country.
In the House, a Bill for an Act to establish the Constituencies Development Fund for the purpose of even development of all constituencies in the federation and for connected purposes has similarly passed second reading and public hearing.
According to the Bill which is sponsored by Mr. Solomon Adaelu (PDP, Abia) the Constituency Development Fund will consist of not less than 2.5% of the federal government annual budget.
At the state level, Lagos State has been a pacesetter in establishing a proper legal framework for constituency projects with the establishment of Lagos State (Constituency) Project Development Law, also called the “Lagos Law” in year 2000.
The purpose of the law is to establish a constituency fund to provide and maintain public infrastructures and basic social amenities in the 40 constituencies of Lagos state.
It states that the Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget shall set aside a minimum of 15% of the state capital expenditure every year.
The law also provides for the establishment and composition of a Project Monitoring Committee for each beneficiary constituency. The function of the committee is to determine the type of project to be embarked on, notify appropriate agencies, monitor and submit reports on the project.
Despite the existence of the law in Lagos, the operation of constituency projects in the state is still shrouded in secrecy. OrderPaperNG through its ConsTrack initiative has been seeking to promote transparency in the execution of constituency projects in Lagos which has so far been met with stiff resistance.
The situation in Lagos is a sad reminder that some of the issues we face as a country are not due to a lack of sufficient laws, rather it is because we fail to respect the laws we enact.