To make the dividends of democracy reach the masses, Nigeria’s Federal Government has since the return of democracy in 1999, budgeted trillions of naira for constituency projects sponsored by National Assembly members in both chambers.
These projects involve the provision of basic amenities both in rural and urban areas such as road construction, electrification (especially in rural areas), healthcare, educational facilities, civic centers, installation of boreholes, provision of solar streetlights and empowerment among others. Lawmakers also seek job placement slots for unemployed members of their constituents, especially government work as part of their constituency projects.
The Federal Government allocates N100 billion annually for constituency projects, also known as zonal intervention projects, according to data obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation.
Prime Business Africa reports that at various times there have been cases of either partial or non-implementation of projects, inflation of contract figures and other untoward acts that are in clear violation of the Public Procurement Act.
A report released by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in 2022 on the status of various constituency projects across the country revealed diversion of funds meant for projects into private accounts, non or shoddy execution of projects, overpaid contract sums, projects subtly awarded to lawmakers, and payment for non-existent projects among others.
Such failure, improper implementation or abandonment of projects have led to the deprivation of people the access to basic amenities for their wellbeing.
Lawmakers, as a way of earning the goodwill of their constituents strive to attract social impact projects to their constituencies.
By the constitution of the upper legislative chamber, each state has three senatorial zones and one for the Federal Capital Territory making 109 senators and 360 House of Representative members.
According to a report by Order Paper, an independent parliamentary monitoring organisation and policy think tank, the Federal Government, in a move to ensure transparency and accountability of project implementation, had last year, set guidelines for the execution and implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIPs) also referred to as Constituency Projects (CP). The guideline said that moving forward, only the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs has the mandate to certify payments of CPs executed by Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).
Lawmakers like the Senator representing Ogun West at the National Assembly and Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, had embarked on a novel human empowerment programme that helped members of his constituents learn skills and get donations of equipment such as grinding machines, sewing machines, tricycles, minibusses, hair dryers, and vulcanizing machines. He also donated ambulance and security vehicles and many relief materials for the empowerment and welfare of his constituents.
This feature focuses on constituency projects by senators from the southeast states of Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo. Over the years, there have been mixed reactions regarding how senators from the geopolitical zone handled their constituency projects. While some were commended for spearheading projects that created significant positive impacts in the lives of their constituents, others were called out for abandoned or poorly executed projects.
Among the current serving senators from the zone, some were elected for the first time, while others have been to the National Assembly with years of legislative experience.
Anambra – A mix of old and first-time lawmakers elected from different political parties
The three senators elected during the 2023 general election representing Anambra State in the 10th Senate are Victor Umeh, Anambra Central; Dr Tony Nwoye, Anambra North; and Ifeanyi Ubah, Anambra South.
Tony Nwoye, a former member of the Nigerian House of Representatives representing the people of Anambra East/West constituency, was elected senator in 2023 on the platform of the Labour Party. He was a gubernatorial candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in the 2013 Anambra State governorship election and was also a gubernatorial candidate of the APC in the 2017 Anambra State governorship election.
In November 2023 Senator Nwoye was said to have pushed for the award of a N34 billion worth of contract for the construction of the 30-kilometre Otuocha-Nzam-Inoma-Iheaka-Abaji. The federal road linking many rural Communities in Anambra North with Abaji in Kogi State was said to have been abandoned for years.
Prime Business Africa gathered that the project was first awarded in December 2009 by the administration of then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua to NigerCat Construction Limited, but it was later abandoned making many communities in Anambra West to be virtually cut off from their fellow Anambrarians over the years.
Victor Umeh, who currently represents Anambra Central senatorial district on the platform of the Labour Party in the 10th Senate, had served as the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He was first elected to the Senate in 2018 under APGA but failed to return to the National Assembly in 2019.
Senator Ifeanyi Ubah was elected on the platform of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), to represent Anambra South in the Senate. He has defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) some months after the 2023 general elections. He first got elected to the senate under YPP during the 2019 election. Prior to that, he had contested for the Anambra governorship seat under the Labour Party in 2013 and lost to Chief Willie Obiano. He has again indicated interest in running for the office in 2025.
The three senators representing Abia are Austin Akobundu, Abia Central (LP); Eyinnaya Abaribe, Abia South (APGA); and Orji Uzor Kalu, Abia North (APC).
Orji Uzor Kalu was a former Abia State Governor from 1999 to 2007 and was elected as senator in 2019.
Enyinnaya Abaribe had served as Deputy Governor to Orji Uzor Kalu and resigned before going to the National Assembly where he has been representing Abia South senatorial district since 2007.
Austin Akobundu was initially defeated by Darlington Nwokocha, a member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing the Isiala-Ngwa North/South Federal Constituency of Abia State.
Nwokocha succeeded former Abia Governor, Theodore Orji, and his tenure lasted between 13 June 2023 – 4 November 2023.
However, Akobundu was not satisfied by the outcome of the election and headed to court to seek redress. Akobundu got the favorable arm of the law at the expense of Nwokocha as he (Akobundu) was installed after taking the matter to the appellate court following the rejection of his prayers by the Tribunal.
Enugu – A Set of First-time Senators
Enugu has a set of first-time senators. They are Senators Kevin Chukwu (Enugu East), Okey Ezea (Enugu North) and Osita Ngwu (Enugu West).
Senator Kevin Chukwu, who took up the challenge under the Labour Party platform after the assassination of his elder brother, Barrister Oyibo Chukwu, a few days before the February 25, 2023, election was successfully elected.
Still new on the saddle, Senator Chukwu was said to have co-sponsored a motion at the senate calling on the Federal Ministry of Works to immediately begin the reconstruction of the collapsed bridge at the Enugu end of Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway.
Senator Okey Ezea Senator Okey Ezea, who was also elected on the platform of the Labour Party, is also a first-time senator.
Senator Osita Ngwu was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to represent Enugu West, taking over from Senator Ike Ekweremadu who had been on seat for 20 years.
Ngwu who was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, had in August 2023, visited and inspected ongoing and abandoned road projects in his senatorial district with a view to working towards their completion. Some of the road construction projects he went to inspect like the Udi North Ring Road, which covers the Ikedimkpa-Amokwu-Egede Umuoka-Ojieyu-Awhum-Umulumgbe, were attracted by Senator Ekweremadu in 2018, and according to report, only 15 per cent of the project has been done due to lack of sufficient funds.
With the inspection done, the constituents now await the completion of the road project.
The three senators elected to represent Ebonyi State in the 10th Senate were Emeka Kenneth Eze (Ebonyi Central), Peter Onyeka Nwebonyi (Ebonyi North) and David Nweze Umahi (Ebonyi South). However, Umahi, the immediate past governor of the state dropped the seat after he was appointed Minister of Works by President Bola Tinubu, prompting INEC to schedule a bye-election in the senatorial district on Saturday, February 3, 2024, that led to the election of Professor Anthony Ani to represent the area in the senate.
Senator Emeka Kenneth Eze, who succeeded Senator Joseph Obinna Ogba in Ebonyi Central, currently serves as Chairman Senate Committee on Information & National Orientation.
Senator Peter Onyeka Nwebonyi, who represents Ebonyi North, was appointed as the Deputy Chief Whip of the 10th Senate. He had also served as PDP Chairman in Ebonyi State and Commissioner for Abakaliki Capital Territory during the Umahi’s Administration.
The three senators representing Imo State in the senate are Ezenwa Onyewuchi (Imo East), Osita Izunaso (Imo West), and Patrick Ndubueze (Imo North).
Senator Ezenwa Onyewuchi, who is representing Imo East, was first elected to that position in 2019. He had been a member of the House of Representatives where he represented the Owerri-Municipal/Owerri-North/West-Federal Constituency of Imo State under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. His reelection in 2023 was on the platform of the Labour Party.
Osita Izunaso was elected on the platform of the APC to represent Imo West Senatorial district. He is currently serving in different committees in the Senate including Rules & Business, Local and Foreign Debts, Housing, Gas, Foreign Affairs and Sports.
He has held various positions in the past including being elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 and again in 1999, and also serving as minister of Youths and Sports (1995 – 1997), Labour and Productivity (1998-1999). His first time in the Senate was in 2007 during the 6th Senate, where he also served as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas.
Patrick Ndubueze, who is currently serving his first term as Senator representing Imo North Senatorial district, was elected on the platform of the APC. He was first elected member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Okigwe Federal Constituency in Imo State in 1992. He was among those who contested the Senate President seat that Senator Godswill Akpabio later won.
Controversies Trailing Constituency Projects
Over the years, controversies have continued to trail the handling of constituency projects by various Southeast Senators. There have been reports of abandonment of projects.
A report by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), that analysed the 2022 budget implementation, revealed that Southeast states like Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, and Imo were among 22 states across the country where more than 100 constituency projects have been abandoned despite budgetary allocations.
According to data published by Tracka, a platform designed by Budgit, Abia had 218 (ongoing and new) projects with about 30 implementing agencies in 2023; Ebonyi had 270 projects; Enugu had 389 projects with 33 implementing agencies; and Imo had 318 projects in 2023. The projects which worth billions of naira cut across the construction/rehabilitation of roads, bridges, schools, health facilities, installation of solar-powered streetlights, provision of educational materials in schools, empowerment programmes, and agricultural projects among others.
Some residents of Enugu said that while some projects in their areas have been completed there are others yearning for attention. They called on lawmakers representing them to identify with the people and table their needs to the federal government as part of their constituency projects.
The senator representing Enugu North, Okey Ezea, said one of the projects he has pushed for since inauguration was the rehabilitation of the 9th mile-Oturkpo highway, connecting northern and Southern Nigeria through Enugu and Benue states. Senator Ezea’s media adviser, Mr Aniebo Nwamu, who spoke with Prime Business Africa, said: “He has acted as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of the Oturkpo-Ninth Mile federal road as well as other projects neglected by the 9th and 8th Senate.”
Mr Nwamu added that during the 2023 Christmas season, Senator Ezea shared “about 500 bags of rice with his personal money to his constituents.” He also said Ezea has continued to push for the voice of Enugu North people to be heard in matters that have to do with marginalization in federal government projects and appointments.
“Ezea has drawn the Senate’s attention to Nsukka’s marginalisation, even as he has pursued the Adada water project. He’s alert to this year’s budget implementation,” his media aide added. The road is currently undergoing reconstruction.
President of Credibility Group, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said the constituency project is a scheme designed to ensure that every constituency gets projects funded by the government that impact positively on their livelihood as part of the dividends of democracy.
The former president of Aka Ikenga, a think tank arm of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, expressed dismay over the manner in which some lawmakers have handled their constituency projects in the past.
Giving an example of how some lawmakers indulge in deceiving their constituents, Chief Uwazurike in an interview with Prime Business Africa correspondent cited an example of the recent controversial revelation by a lawmaker representing Etsako federal constituency, Hon. Dekeri Anamero, that truck-loads of Christmas Rice meant as palliatives were approved by the federal government to be given to federal lawmakers for their constituents but were not received.
“Nothing has exposed the ugly situation like the disclosure of the Edo lawmaker on the Christmas support for every constituency.
“Until now, nobody knew that it was possible to deceive the people,” Uwazurike said in an interview with Prime Business Africa.
Continuing he said: “Constituency project is a well-intended matter designed to ensure that every constituency gets a project funded by the government.”
The senior lawyer and Igbo chieftain queried what has happened to constituency projects by South East National Assembly members.
According to him, there is no meaningful project done by the lawmakers in their constituencies.
“The big question is this, what happened to the South East NASS members and their projects?
“I cannot point out any meaningful project from any Rep in the SE. Remember that the members represent the people who are theoretically the owners of the power.
“It’s indeed a betrayal of the trust of the constituency for the honorable members of the SE to deny us our entitlement,” he stated.
A Political Science scholar, Dr Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, in an interview with Prime Business Africa correspondent said some of the problems that result in having abandoned projects stem from the fact that lawmakers most times do not have a sufficient evaluation of the real cost of projects they are embarking on, making them unable to carry on to completion.
He further explained that lawmakers are not given funds directly to execute projects but done through appropriate MDAs.
According to him, funds are released in tranches on an annual basis and most times do not go to a significant extent in implementation, leading to projects lasting for years before they are completed or even abandoned when the funds don’t come at all.
Giving further insights on why many constituency projects flop, Ogbonnia said: “Some projects are inserted into the budget without any evaluation of any kind. And somehow, they make moves to begin to do something without the project being properly featured for the executive arm of government to contain it in the instrument of implementation.”
He said the worst part of it is when there is an unholy collaboration between a lawmaker and the agency implementing the project, leading to the benefiting community being shortchanged, “that’s where you find corruption,” he said.
“The worst part of it is when the lawmaker collaborates with the discharge agency and you find out that the budget has been passed, money released but no corresponding work done,” Dr Ogbonnia, who is also the Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide stated.
Senator Umeh of Anambra Central had in an interview in January 2023, ahead of his reelection to the senate, posited that carrying out constituency projects is not the core function of a legislator. He had argued that the core function of a lawmaker is to be part of enacting laws that would ensure good governance in the country.
“The problem is that many people have left the core functions of the national assembly, and they are deceiving people with two-bedroom bungalows they built for widows. Those are not part of the function of the National Assembly,” Umeh said in the interview. According to him, the constituency project “is an addendum to the work of the National Assembly.”
Also commenting on the constituency project saga, a public affairs analyst and Executive Director, Africa’s Morning Centre for Public Policy and Good Governance, Mr Chima Christian, aligned with the views of Senator Umeh.
While acknowledging that people of Southeast feel that political elites including lawmakers haven’t been as responsive as they should be in terms of gestures that impact lives, Mr Christian however, stressed that though there are a lot of unmet needs in communities, “the primary function of a lawmaker is not to attract constituency projects. The primary role of a lawmaker is to make laws.”
He pointed out that because there are a lot of people and lawmakers too, who do not know the primary role of a legislator, they begin to delve into executive functions by struggling to attract constituency projects to please their constituents and justify their stay in the parliament.
Mr Christian, who spoke with Prime Business Africa correspondent faulted the situation whereby lawmakers run around trying to get job slots in government parastatals to be given to people in their constituents, adding that it is not sustainable because the positive impact is felt by only a tiny part of the population.
He said the lawmakers should focus on making laws and advocating policies that improve the economy and businesses and consequently change the life of the entire population that they represent.
“One legislative tool, which if implemented, can generate millions of jobs. This person has the capacity to offer the constituents and people even outside of the constituency, millions of job placements, but he’s focused on getting few job placements.
“The lawmaker can provide oversight. For instance, people who are on the committees for CBN, and committees for economy, can provide oversight can insist that the executive must craft better economic policies but instead of insisting on crafting better economic policies, they come back home every year to share bags of rice as empowerment.”
He emphasised that while sharing of relief materials as palliatives can be done, it is not the primary role of a lawmaker.
He added that if the lawmakers focus attention on sharing palliatives and other constituency projects leaving behind their primary function, the problem of governance remains, and the people would in turn suffer the consequences in the long run.
Mr Christian said that for instance, while talks about the upcoming general census is going on, Southeast lawmakers have not taken time to look into the laws governing the next census exercise and how it affects their region.
“If the senators in the Southeast could update the laws governing the census, they would have helped the Southeast much more than each one of them sharing 10,000 bags of rice.”
He concluded by saying that a lawmaker holds an important office that is vital for societal change and should be encouraged by members of the public to take their jobs seriously.
“We must encourage our lawmakers to take their job seriously. And then if they have finished the job of lawmaking, they can now bring other additives to it. But today, what we’re seeing is that the first has become the last or the last has become the first and that’s not a good showing for lawmakers in the Southeast nor indeed for other parts of the nation,” he concluded.