OrderPaperToday – The controversies surrounding constituency projects highlighted by corruption and embezzlement of public funds have led to calls in some quarters for the scheme to be scrapped. This situation has left many a lawmaker, under whose auspices the projects are operated, in bad light in the eyes of the public.
For Mr. Angulu Dobi, the member representing Kuje/Gwagwalada/Abaji/Kwali federal constituency of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja in the House of Representatives, the onus has fallen on him to prove to the people of Kwaku village, a rustic settlement in Kuje Area Council, that he had their best interest at heart when he unilaterally altered the appropriation act to deny them of the dividend of democracy approved for them in the 2016 budget. The community, which has over 16 electoral wards under it with a total population of over 3000 people, is embittered that it was not only short-changed in democracy benefits but that its representative in parliament took flight since he was elected into office.
The project in focus is an earth dam attracted by Mr. Dobi as constituency project in the 2016 approved national budget. The project was captured as “construction of an earth dam at Kwaku, Kuje area council, FCT’ and assigned for implementation to the Upper Niger Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources at a sum of N150 million. While records available indicate that the project was funded up to 80% in 2016, facts on the ground revealed that there was no project of such sited or being implemented in the sleepy and poverty-ridden community. This status quo was alerted for attention and subsequent media investigation when users of the ConsTrack mobile app flagged the project via comments and pictures posted on the app.
During a joint visit by OrderPaperNG and Deji360 to Kwaku village where the lawmaker supposedly cited the project, no earth dam as described in the budget was seen even though what looked like one existed. But first, the journey to Kwaku and the prevalent poverty of the community is a sad story of governance in Nigeria’s federal capital. The trip effectively commenced with a motor bike from Abaji and it lasted over two hours due to the deplorable situation of the road, a signpost of the neglect and abandonment the community has suffered over the years.
During a tour of the community led by some community leaders, the reportorial team was taken to a water rehabilitation project site which had an extension of what seemed like a fish pond. One Mr. Idris Adamu, who is identified as the chairman of the Kwaku Fadama Development Area, informed that the pond was an initiative of the community in conjunction with Fadama to retain water to assist farmers and to boost agriculture in the community. He also explained that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture constructed a water harvesting structure system at the lower side of the pond.
According to Mr. Adamu, “this pond you are seeing here is as a result of a collaborative effort between members of the committee and Fadama. The purpose of the project was to bring the local farmers including Fulani herdsmen in this community together. The water serves the villagers who are involved in irrigation farming and the herdsmen bring their animals to drink from this stream as well. It used to be a small stream (but) in 2012 the Fadama people came here and decided to help us develop it into a pond because we even used to rear fish in this water. “Also during dry season our people come here to fetch this water for other domestic uses and since then we have been maintaining it. I want you to know that I’m the chairman of the Kwaku Community Association, Kuje Area Council and I’m the one who oversee this pond.”
It was this pond that was initially mistaken for the earth dam by users of the ConsTrack app who alerted on the project. But Mr. Adamu clarified further: “In 2016 to be precise, I was called by the association secretary that some contractors came to the stream to open up the water and I came and met them excavating the lower side of the stream where we blocked to prevent the fishes that we put in the pond from escaping. I demanded they stop and insisted they must show us a letter mandating them to do the job which they later brought and here is the letter (tendering the correspondence).”
To get further clarification on the issue, the team proceeded to the palace of the chief of Kwaku, Mr. Abubakar Ishaku, who affirmed the position of Mr. Adamu that he was in the know of everything that transpired and therefore nothing like an earth dam existed in the village. The chief was emphatic in denial that any lawmaker constructed any of the aforementioned projects. This is his side of the story: “Actually in 2016 some contractors from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture came to seek for my permission that they wanted to construct a water harvesting structure that can serve farmers in the community and I obliged them. To the best of my knowledge it was not a zonal intervention project by any lawmaker as you have mentioned. I am also aware of the fish pond that was managed by Fadama and the community before the ministry came and built theirs.
“I would like to state here that sometime in 2015 a political aspirant by name Hon. Dobi Angulu came to me asking for my support to be elected as federal lawmaker and he promised to fix our road and provide light and water but since he won the election I have never seen him.”
In search of further clarification, the team visited the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to ascertain the true situation of the supposed constituency project. One Mr. Bello Mohammed, a deputy director in the Department of Agricultural Land and Climate Change Management Services, confirmed that the ministry awarded the water harvesting contract in 2016 but stated clearly that “it was not an earth dam but rehabilitation of a water harvesting structure in Kwaku, Kuje area council FCT. That project is one of federal government’s programs designed to boost agriculture and to promote peace and unity amongst farmers and herdsmen.”
Having cleared with the Ministry of Agriculture, the OrderPaperNG team made contact with the Ministry of water Resources where the constituency project was domiciled in the 2016 approved budget. The Abuja Liaison Officer of the Upper Niger Basin Development Authority, Mr. Eric Ameh, said: “I called my office to confirm whether they knew anything about Kwaku earth dam by Hon. Angulu Dobi but they never found any project like that.”
This left the team with the necessary step of contacting Mr. Dobi, the legislator in the eye of the gathering storm. When asked about the whereabouts of the Kwaku earth dam, he claimed it was replaced with a water scheme due to the difficult terrain of the community which made it impossible for the execution of the project. Hear him: “I conceived such a project in Kwaku but the team I sent there to carry out preliminary investigation came back to me and complained that it was not going to be possible to embark on the project because of the distance from the major road; from Kuaita (Abaji LGA) to the site was too far. They also said the timing was wrong because it was raining season and they would not be able to move their equipment to site due to the bad nature of the road.
“So I sat down with the contractors and suggested that there’s need to change the project to a rural water scheme. Though, they (the implementing) agency told me that it wasn’t in their power to take such a decision so I wrote to the Managing Director (MD) of the Upper Niger Basin and Rural Development Authority on the need to change the project from an earth dam to rural solar water scheme”.
Speaking on the choice of an earth dam in Kwaku in the first place, Mr. Dobi, who is a three time chairman of Gwagwalada area council, said: “The reason why I opted for an earth dam was to make water available for the people and to create employment through agricultural activities like for instance, by way of irrigation farming. As you are aware the issue of water scarcity is a major problem all over this country and my constituency is not an exception”.
But did he consult with the people of the community before deciding on the project and the subsequent replacement? Here is his response to this question: “Honestly, the people were not consulted on either of the projects but I did it because I know the terrain very well and I believe the earth dam would have been very helpful. As for the other project, I felt water is necessary and that was why I decided to change the project to a rural water scheme. In this case many communities benefited from the water scheme not only Kwaku.”
Incidentally, Kwaku, which is listed in the approved 2016 budget as beneficiary of the supposed earth dam, has neither the dam nor the replacement water projects. This means that the legislator effectively denied the community of a project budgeted for the benefit of the people. To explain this point, Mr. Dobi said “although the earth dam might not have been done but that is not to say I have given up on the project, I have put N50million worth of hand pump boreholes in the 2017 budget for Kwaku community. However, the earth dam was supposed to be constructed in Kiyi and Kwakwu communities under Kuje area council at the cost of N75 million each totaling N150 million only. I want to assure that as soon as the Kwaku road is motorable I would reintroduce the project because that area needs such project”.
This explanation does not however vitiate the fact that the legislator unilaterally changed a budgetary allocation without recourse to virement which is the only constitutionally allowed legal route to move funds from one sub-head to another once the budget has been signed into law by the President. According to Mr. Liborous Oshoma, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, the lawmaker lacked the powers to alter the budgetary allocation for Kwaku community, saying such action was a breach of the law. “It is laughable and a demonstration of ignorance for a lawmaker who is supposed to hold the law in sanctity to claim that he has a right to break the same law without going through a virement process to move votes in the appropriation act,” he said.
Mr. Dobi however, reacted to the claim by the community leaders that he had not been in touch after he won election into the House of Representatives, saying: “I’m in touch with my constituents because I live amongst them and I also know their needs. If you met the wrong person, he has the right to air his views against me. I have been in politics in the last 20 years and I have always lived with the people even as a member now, I come back home every day no matter how late. So it’s not true that I’m not in touch with my people”.