Legal Nigeria

Constituency projects: ICPC recovers N5.6bn from lawmakers, contractors, others

ICPC building

No fewer than 50 contractors, consultants, and staff members of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of the government are being investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission under phase five of its ongoing tracking of constituency projects embarked upon by federal lawmakers.

This was revealed in the phase five tracking report shared by the anti-graft agency on its verified X account recently.

The ICPC noted that the exercise was carried out to investigate fraudulent procurement practices in the award of contracts for the Zonal Intervention Projects, otherwise known as constituency projects, executed under the 2019, 2020, and 2021 budget years during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to the agency, about 200 bank accounts used for illegal deals on the projects were also frozen, while over N5.6bn was recovered as cumulative savings for the Federal Government during the exercise.

It stated, “No fewer than 50 persons were detained during the investigations part of the exercise. This number includes legislators, staff of executing agencies, contractors, and consultants.”

But speaking exclusively with Sunday PUNCH, spokesman for the House of Representatives, Akin Rotimi, said the 10th National Assembly had nothing to do with the procurement fraud.

He said those indicted in the report by the ICPC were legislators who served between 2019 and 2022, the period that the fifth tracking exercise was carried out.

“The referenced period was before the 10th Assembly. In line with our legislative agenda, we are determined to change this narrative by ensuring transparency and accountability as well as strengthening the capacity of the anti-graft agencies. This is a work in progress and remains a priority for us,” Rotimi stated.

While the ICPC did not disclose the identities of the detained legislators, Rotimi said the 10th National Assembly was committed to a transparent procurement process and ready to support anti-corruption agencies in their quest for accountability in the execution of constituency projects.

Recall that in 2019, the agency initiated the tracking based upon the dissatisfaction of Nigerians with the delivery of the ZIPs in respect of which a minimum of N100bn had been budgeted since the year 2000.

Before the fifth exercise, the agency had tracked about 4,000 projects valued at over N200bn.

But for the fifth stage, no fewer than 1,377 were pre-selected out of which 712 projects spread across 20 states in the six geopolitical zones of the country were finally selected by the steering committee comprising stakeholders from the Budget Office of the Federation, Bureau of Public Procurement, Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Civil Society Organisations and the media.

Meanwhile, out of the N5.62bn cumulative savings revealed in the report, N529.69m was cash recoveries, N1.55bn was the value of recoveries in assets, and N3.54bn was for the value of projects on which contractors returned to sites for work completion.

The anti-graft agency said, “The cumulative savings for the government is the total of our recoveries and the estimated value of those projects on which contractors were compelled back to sites as a result of the commission’s tracking activities.

“These amounts were computed as savings for the government as these are monies that would have been lost/misappropriated save for the commission’s intervention. The valuation reports being awaited from the assigned QS (quantity surveyors) will provide a definite value when received.”

A diagram indicating the budget highlights of the tracked projects in the report revealed that the sum of N30.98bn was appropriated for all the tracked projects in phase five of the tracking, out of which the sum of N29.33bn was released to the MDAs for the tracked projects.

Out of the appropriations for the tracked projects, N13.758bn was allocated in 2021; N16.47bn was for 2022; and the remaining N751m was for petition-based projects recorded between 2014 and 2019.

According to the report, the contract value of the tracked projects was N29.94bn, but it was the sum of N25.17bn that was said to have been paid to the various contractors handling the tracked projects as of the time the report was compiled.

Analysing the status of projects tracked, the commission revealed that about 703 projects were tracked, out of which 654, representing 93.03 per cent, were completed projects; 19 representing 2.70 per cent were ongoing projects; four representing 0.57 per cent were abandoned projects; 19, representing 2.70 per cent were projects not executed; while seven, representing one per cent, were project sites not found.

While highlighting the generic infractions it discovered during the tracking phase, the commission stated that no fewer than 331 soft projects and empowerment projects, representing 47 per cent of the tracked projects, were used as major conduits for siphoning public resources and money laundering by politicians.

The ICPC added, “Consequently, there were hardly any of such projects tracked on which recoveries and or confiscation was not made as the projects were not executed in line with the Bills of Quantities.

“Beneficiaries were heavily underserved, whilst the funds were misappropriated. In training projects, for instance, training exercises designed to be conducted over one or two weeks were conducted in just a day and all funds assigned to all activities for the remaining six or 13 days as the case may be, were diverted.

The anti-graft agency further identified hoarding and non-distribution of empowerment items, project abandonment/refusal to execute contracts, overpayment of contract sums, and disparity in project distribution as other key infractions uncovered during the phase five tracking.

The projects include 331 empowerment and capacity building projects, 123 education projects, 69 water supply projects, 51 agriculture projects, 51 power-related projects, 24 healthcare projects, 25 road infrastructure projects, eight ICT projects, four environment and natural resources projects, seven arts and culture projects, four law enforcement and security projects, and six trade and investment projects.

The tracked projects spread across 20 states of the federation, among which are Abia, with 99 projects representing 14.08 per cent; Anambra, 73 projects representing 10.33 per cent; Delta, 53 projects representing 7.54 per cent; Kogi, 45 projects representing 6.40 per cent; Cross River, 44 projects representing 6.26 per cent; Enugu, 33 projects representing 4.69 per cent; and Oyo, 32 projects representing 4.55 per cent.

Others are Katsina with 32 projects representing 4.55 per cent; Osun, 28 projects representing 3.98 per cent; Ondo, 28 projects representing 3.98 per cent; Ogun, 27 projects representing 3.84 per cent; Jigawa, 24 projects representing 3.41 per cent; Kwara, 24 projects representing 3.41 per cent; Kaduna, 22 projects representing 3.13 per cent; Niger, 21 projects representing 2.99 per cent; Rivers, 15 projects representing 2.13 per cent; and Sokoto with 11 projects representing 1.56 per cent.

When contacted by one of our correspondents on Saturday, the spokesperson for the ICPC, Azuka Ogugua, confirmed that the commission was currently prosecuting a member of the House of Representatives for constituency project fraud.

Ogugua said, “Our major objective for tracking projects is to ensure that the projects are delivered, and if not delivered, we recover the money. This doesn’t only involve legislators; there’s the factor of contractors and public servants.

Source: The Punch