Corruption is a serious issue in Nigeria but it can be difficult for citizens to hold the government accountable. Now, a new app may help citizens stop agonizing and start organizing.
In democratic countries where constituency project systems are practiced, they are implemented to bring needed infrastructure and development to communities. Constituency projects were created by the Nigerian National Assembly in response to demands by their constituents around development and the lack of federal presence in communities. Projects are nominated into the national budget by a legislator and will be executed by the legislator rather than through a government agency or ministry, which ordinarily has the mandate to execute community development projects.
In Nigeria, constituency projects serve as a promise kept by legislators, made during election campaigns to bridge development gaps for their people. Unfortunately, constituency projects have stirred more controversy, with accusations and counter-accusations of questionable practices around their implementation, so much that former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo declared in August 2017 that constituency projects by lawmakers in Nigeria were shrouded with corruption.
Since 1999, national and state legislators across Nigeria’s 36 states and federal capital territory (FCT) have continued to influence the inclusion of billions of naira into the annual budget for the purpose of constituency projects, which is not in the purview of the legislative arm to implement.
In Nigeria’s constitution, all development projects related to infrastructure in the country are carried out by different levels of the executive arm of government. This leads to a face-off between the two arms of governments on project execution.
The 2017 Nigerian budget had more than 100 billion naira ($278 million) set aside for constituency projects but fewer than 41 percent of these projects were executed. Despite the deficit of laws or frameworks governing how constituency projects are to be implemented, especially in the areas of abandoned, duplicated, or poorly executed projects, lawmakers are further proposing 1.4 trillion naira ($3.9 billion) in the 2018 budget.
The deficit created by abandoned or unexecuted constituency projects is easily perpetrated due to the lack of citizen inclusiveness and transparency in the conceptualization, design, and execution of the projects by legislators.
$278 million – set aside for constituency projects in Nigeria’s 2017 budget
41 percent – of constituency projects budgeted for in 2017 were executed
$3.9 billion – proposed for constituency projects in Nigeria’s 2018 budget
The challenges with constituency projects are further exacerbated by the absence of legislation to regulate the scheme at the federal level and in 35 states of the country.
Only Lagos State currently has an enabling law for constituency projects, although the National Assembly is currently considering a bill on it.
The vicious circle of corruption in the constituency projects scheme is a reflection of the questionable opacity surrounding the finances and budget of the legislature, which gave rise among others to the call for an open National Assembly using the hashtag #OpenNASS.
It is against this background that Order Paper NG, a grantee of the USAID Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement (SACE) project, launched ConsTrack a constituency project tracking platform and mechanism which builds the capacity of communities and agencies to serve as constituency projects trackers and monitors. By doing so, we hope to influence the establishment of clear enabling legislation; reduce corruption, wastage, duplication, and abandonment of projects; and align projects more closely with the need of the people.
ConsTrack is a mobile app which aims to trigger and sustain citizens’ interest, engagement, and participation in constituency projects across the country by being a verifiable, viable, and versatile authentication platform.
ConsTrack is still at its developing stage and will be piloted in 3 states in Nigeria. Information on the status of constituency projects in communities will be uploaded on the platform by ConsTrack monitors within communities. The information is verified independently by community members and shared with legislators and other stakeholders. It is an evidence- and data-gathering platform for all stakeholders to verify the status of projects beyond contractor or the awardee reports.
The aim of developing ConsTrack is to empower citizens to drive transparency and accountability in the constituency projects scheme. It is a fact-checking, monitoring, and verification mechanism woven around the Freedom of Information Act and citizen engagement.
This platform will provide citizens the ability to interrogate and productively engage their representatives in the Senate, House of Representatives, and state houses of assembly across the country on projects of interest to them.
Activating ConsTrack will promote sustained citizen engagement, which will ultimately spur reforms in the implementation of the constituency projects scheme to allow for much-needed inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability on constituency projects.
Corruption thrives in secrecy, but with ConsTrack, there will be increased citizen participation in deciding what sort of constituency projects they desire and in monitoring projects’ implementation in a transparent manner. Such interactions will shine a spotlight on elected representatives, thereby incentivizing them to provide more transparent and accountable representation in constituency project selection and execution.
This article is written by Jennifer Onyejekwe, a Senior Public Awareness and Communication Advisor for the USAID Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement (SACE) Program in Nigeria.