ANALYSIS: Despite poor allocations to health, education, lawmakers want 20% of national budget for constituency projects
FEDERAL lawmakers are asking for at least 20 per cent of Nigeria’s annual budget to compulsorily be spent on constituency projects.
This is coming at a time when the country has yet to make good on similar commitments towards improving budgetary allocations to education, health, and food production.
In November, the Constituency Projects (Budgetary) Provisions Bill was introduced on the floor of the Senate, and last Wednesday it scaled through the second reading.
The bill, sponsored by Stella Oduah, senator representing Anambra North, seeks to speed up development in rural communities and give legal backing to the constituency project tradition.
“If not for these projects, majority of federal constituencies would not have a single federal project due to lopsided nature of project allocation in the budget,” the lawmaker argued, with support from Deputy Chief Whip Sabi Abdullahi.
“This bill, therefore, is an attempt at providing both institutional and legislative framework for the operation of constituency projects in Nigeria, thereby making it part of our national budget.”
Oduah had, without success, tried to get a similar bill passed in 2016 as a member of the eighth National Assembly. According to former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the history of constituency projects started as far back as 2007 when late President Umaru Yar’Adua agreed to give lawmakers N100 billion annually from the budget. They would then determine what projects to fund with the money.
These projects have, however, been repeatedly described as a conduit for corruption. If the Anambra senator’s bill becomes law this time around, it means what Nigeria coughs up for them could rise from N100 billion to N2.1 trillion (20 per cent of the 2020 budget of N10.6 trillion). This is a whopping increase of over 2000 per cent and roughly equals Nigeria’s entire capital releases for the 2018 budget year.
Notably, lesser or equal demands from international treaties to which Nigeria is signatory, pertaining to crucial sectors such as education and health, have not been satisfied by the Federal Government.
15 per cent of annual budget for health unmet
Member-countries of the African Union, in April 2001, met in Abuja and, through the Abuja Declaration, committed to allocating a minimum of 15 per cent of their annual budgets for the improvement of the health sector.
But Nigeria, the host of the declaration, has remained a “perpetual defaulter” of this pledge, with budgetary allocations to the health sector over the years hovering between 4 and 6 per cent.
In the 2019 fiscal year, N365.7 billion was proposed for the health sector, representing only 4.1 per cent of the total national budget. As a result of this under-funding, the country has continuously been ranked low on various health indices such as infant mortality and life expectancy.
The amount allocated to the health ministry, in the proposed 2020 budget, dropped to 3.7 per cent and would be 4.1 per cent if the N44.5 billion meant for the Basic Health Care Fund is included.
10 per cent on agriculture
According to the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, members of the African Union (AU) have committed themselves to “allocating at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources for their implementation within five years”.
This resolution was reached in July 2003 at AU’s Second Ordinary Session in Maputo, Mozambique, after a realisation that the continent needs to “utilise its full potential to increase its food and agricultural production so as to guarantee sustainable food security and ensure economic prosperity for its peoples”.
Nigeria, however, is nowhere close to fulfilling this international undertaking. In its 2019 budget proposal, only N138 billion (representing 1.56 per cent) went to the agriculture sector. And, in 2020, the figure dropped to 1.34 per cent.
15 to 20 per cent on education
Finally, another international benchmark Nigeria has been fallen short of is that on education put in place by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for developing countries.
According to the organisation’s 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the recommendation is for education to constitute between 15 and 20 per cent of government spending through national budgets.
On the contrary, between 2011 and 2013, Nigeria allocated 10, 8.4, and 11.5 per cent of the national budgets to education respectively. In 2018, the figure dropped to 7.04 per cent and it increased slightly to 7.05 per cent the following year.
The proposed budget for 2020 allocates a lesser figure of 5.2 per cent to the education ministry, and 6.3 per cent if we include the N111 billion statutory transfer to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
Possible diversion by ‘corrupt elements’
If the Constituency Projects (Budgetary) Provisions Bill is passed into law, then federal lawmakers could have control over the same amount, in one year, as they would ordinarily get in 20 years. But the sheer size of the proposed allocation is not the only reason the bill has been frowned at. There are also allegations that members of the National Assembly have not judiciously used previous allocations.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said in November it has uncovered N3.9 billion in the 2019 budget, meant for constituency projects, which is not allocated to any specific project or sector. The commission’s chairman, Bolaji Owasanoye, urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to release the money in order to “prevent its diversion by corrupt elements within the system”.
The ICPC also said it saved the government about N2 billion through the “recovery of diverted assets, such as equipment for schools, hospitals, farms, water or energy projects, marginal improvement from use or supply of substandard materials, recovery of money from over-valuation,” and other methods.
The Commission discovered the use of unqualified contracts and the abandonment of hundreds of projects. In other instances, it found out that a Senator from Imo State converted a constituency project into his personal hotel while another federal lawmaker parked into his residence tricycles and buses purchased using the fund.
Corroborating reports from the ICPC, President Buhari said last month that there is little to show for the huge amount of money set aside for constituency projects in the past decade.
“It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen,” he said.
“The first phase report of tracking these projects by the ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception.”