RIGHTSView: HOW A SPECIAL MINISTER FIGHTS CORRUPTION

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 30 April 2014 | 2,929 times

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Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is a young but vastly experienced politician who rose from the ranks to become the President of Nigeria in 2011 by popular mandate in a toughly contested national poll.

When he assumed office, one item that confronted his presidential attention was the hydra-headed monster of official corruption and economic crimes.

Criticised stridently for not paying enough attention to confront and defeat the menace of corruption, which has frustrated all attempts to institutionalise good governance, President Jonathan decided to appoint a minister to take charge of the Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs whose mandate covers the national assignment of bridging and effectively stopping all the leakages that encourage corruption in the execution of federal projects across board. Also, this Special Ministry is to institutionalise a people-driven ownership process of governance so as to compel Nigerians to imbibe the attitude of embracing government as their own.

One of Nigeria’s foremost anti-graft campaigners and a former Police officer who headed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] at inception, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, summed up public apathy towards governance as follows: “Nigerians have massive tolerance. They don’t even see it. They don’t seems to look at government money as their own...there is a total disconnect with government money and the people. That is why it is easy for people to go into government to steal...In Nigeria, if someone is caught stealing [from another person] they can even burn him. But when you steal government money nobody seems to connect it and say it is my money that was stolen...”

On February 28, 2014, the Bureau For Public Procurement claimed [without any shred of empirical data] that it helped government to save N95.79 billion that would have been stolen by rogue contractors. The imperative for the creation and sustenance of the Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs cannot therefore be over emphasised.

The lot fell on the Kebbi State-born widely experienced lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, who is also a distinguished fellow of the prestigious Chattered Institute of Arbitration.

Named the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs a little over a year ago, Alhaji Turaki’s job is clearly cut out for him given that there is a general national clamour for bridging and effectively stopping all noticeable leakages in the implementation and execution of government projects, especially those categorised as constituency projects from which large-scale corruption takes place.

The mandate handed over to the current Special Duties Ministry by President Jonathan is as follows: Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation of Constituency Projects; monitoring and evaluation of the implantation of Federal Executive Council-approved policies and projects by other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and report back to the President in Council, conducting, coordinating, promoting good and harmonious relationship amongst the Three Tiers/Arms of Government and relevant International bodies.

The Special Duties Ministry is expected to drive the process of providing leadership in the development of risk reduction measures and disaster management, extending Fire Service facilities to the Grassroots, providing leadership for a safer sustainable and resilient society, intervening in specific areas as directed by the President.

The Special Duties Ministry is to oversee the implementation of Government policies on Anti-Corruption Crusade, handling all functions of Ad-hoc nature, handling specialised requests for assistance such as flooding.

By the way, not much has been heard about the billions collected from private sector donors to assist the thousands of victims of the flood disaster of 2012 because majority of the victims have surely been shortchanged. Alhaji Aliko Dangote charged with the supervision of how these contributions are redistributed to the affected citizens ought to regularly brief Nigerians on how the donations are used.

As a researcher in the human rights sector concerned about how to effectively institutionalise good governance at all strata of governance in the country, I have decided to investigate what the federal government has put in place to curb corruption associated with the implementation of what is called constituency projects all across Nigeria.

The decision is derived from the groundswell of allegations by constituents who are represented at the National Assembly by elected members that these representatives have collectively failed to deliver the specific projects identified as constituency projects in over a decade that democracy staged a come-back. This is one of the reasons for the widespread poverty all across Nigeria.

Even as ordinary Nigerians cry out that they are being short changed in the execution of the so-called constituency projects, one of the principal leaders of the National Assembly and the Speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, shifted the blame to the executive branch of government.

Speaker Tambuwal, who was the guest speaker at the 2013 International Anti-corruption Day organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja, also alleged that EFCC was very corrupt, saying the anti-graft body never accounted for huge sums of money it received from donor agencies.

Specifically, this writer will return to analyse the allegation of ineptitude and corruption against the hierarchy of the anti-graft bodies, but the scope of this piece is on the strategies being put in place by the Nigerian State to seal up the observable leakages in the execution of the constituency projects which are seen as some of the most prized grass roots oriented developmental projects.             

The current Minister of Special Duties in a document sent to this writer based on request, clearly defended the central government’s anti-corruption strategies.

Reading through the 9-page position paper handed to me, the major points highlighted as strategies for stopping all leakages in the execution of the constituency projects will be discussed shortly.

Primarily, the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs said President Jonathan in an effort to check leakages has ordered that contractors handling constituency projects will only be paid upon authorisation by his office to the Federal Ministry of Finance currently headed by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The other strategies are that the ministry is collating data from participating government departments and ministries on all projects and programmes from 2009 till date, and is compiling a list of abandoned projects/programmes and updating submissions received from government agencies and ministries. 

So far, this investigative campaign by the Special Duties Minister is said to have yielded some results even as the ministry has identified a list of 2,399 Constituency Projects/Programmes in the 2013 Appropriation for implementation by the Nigerian Federal Government. Government is said to have named specific government coordinators for each of these projects to ensure transparency.

Also the government held a Stakeholders Forum on September 5, 2013, at which the following resolutions were reached, that the widely held misconception that Constituency Projects are conduit pipes for members of National Assembly was wrong, Constituency projects are conceived and allocated by members of National Assembly in accordance with their envelopes and implementation is done by ministries with supervisory oversight from members of the National Assembly whose role is key in identification and location of projects.

However, participants at that conference clearly disclosed that there are a number of abandoned projects spread throughout the country as a result of the way contracts are awarded to contractors who in some cases do not know the terrain where these projects are sited and at times, some of the projects do not get awarded largely because of non-release of funds and non-compliance with due process by some ministries.

Importantly, it was generally accepted that Constituency Projects provide rural dwellers the dividends of democracy since most of the projects have quick-win effect and impact positively on the developmental indices of the Nation, there is the need to look into and establish a legal framework for implementation of Constituency Projects.

To achieve the above noble objective, a Bill is already being processed by the National Assembly and has gone through its second reading by the senate and so the prayer of Nigerians is that the National Assembly passes this legislation on time so the President can sign it into law to ensure that the poorest of the poor among the citizenry are provided good governance at the grassroots.

To stop the menace of abandoned or substandard projects, the Ministry of Special Duties has taken it upon itself to ensure that the financial capacity of contractors handling Constituency Projects is properly assessed.

The office of the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs saddled with the task to effectively supervising and implementing the constituency projects is not sufficiently funded to carry out these objective therefore the need to seek alternative transparent source of funding is imperative.

From my extensive observation, I think what the late historian, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, stated in one of his seminal lectures on widespread disregard for human rights is important as we discuss the necessity for ending the leakages that give rise to corruption in the delivery of constituency projects to Nigerians.

Writing under the title, “Some observations on the historical context of Human Rights in Nigeria: 1966-1999”, Dr. Usman had written thus: “The enactment and the exercise of, and the abrogation and violations of human rights in Nigeria, took place within a context primarily shaped by the country’s political economy. A key and largely neglected aspect of this political economy was the subordination of the public realm and the public services, where human rights provisions of the constitution, and other laws, are to be upheld, to private interest and the private accumulation of wealth by those in public office.”

Looking at the provision of the constitution in section 14(2) (b) which provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” it is clear that there is the need for the Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs at this point of our national life especially as Nigerians continue to raise alarm of widespread corruption in the execution of the constituency projects.

The mechanism being put in place by the ministry for a framework to necessitate the following up on the impact, benefits and sustainability of the constituency projects through community ownership should be supported by all and sundry because if good governance fails to trickle down to the marginalised, there is really no good governance in such a society that exclude the poor. 

The Nigerian Constitution has clearly legalised the participation of the people in the governance of their affairs. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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