President Muhammadu Buhari
Augustine Ehikioya, Abuja
Public servants and contractors who defaulted in the implementation of constituency projects initiated by Federal lawmakers are to face the music.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday ordered the probe of those who failed to judiciously spend the over N1 trillion voted for such projects in the last 10 years.
He gave his backing to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)’s plan to go after the contractors.
“The funds didn’t produce expected results”, he said at the opening of the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector, at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja.
The event was organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, in collaboration with ICPC.
According to him, the data collected from Nigerians in rural communities showed that they had not felt the impact of such projects.
Besides directing the anti-graft agency to go after the contractors, who collected funds for such projects and their collaborators in government, the President also urged the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill.
The President added: ‘‘It is on record that in the past 10 years One trillion naira (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.
‘‘The first phase report of tracking these projects by 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.
‘‘I am, therefore, delighted that through the effort of ICPC, some contractors are returning to site to execute projects hitherto abandoned and that project sponsors are being held to account.
‘‘The ICPC has my full support and the support of this government to hold fully to account contractors, complicit public servants and project sponsors who divert funds meant for constituencies, or other people oriented welfare projects of our government, or who by other means, reduce the quality and value of such projects meant for our people.’’
Urging the National Assembly to expedite action on the pending Special Crimes Court Bill, the President also called on the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of the specialised court.
He said: “The fight against corruption is of course not only for government and anti-corruption agencies alone. All arms and tiers of government must develop and implement the anti-corruption measures.
‘‘I invite the legislative and judicial arms of government to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court that Nigerians have been agitating for to handle corruption cases.’’
The President described the passage of the Bill as a ‘‘specific priority’’ of this administration’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020.
Speaking on his recent directive to all agencies of government to enroll into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), the President directed ICPC to beam its searchlight on public institutions that have not complied with the directive.
He noted that the order on IPPIS was intended to halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets.
Buhari said: ‘‘I am aware that the Commission recently conducted System Studies and Review of many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending through which you successfully blocked over N9 billion from being diverted from 2019 personnel budget.
‘‘That was a proactive prevention measure. I have directed that all agencies of government must get on the IPPIS in order to eliminate the padding of personnel budgets.
‘‘I urge ICPC to beam its searchlight on all agencies yet to get on the IPPIS and our e-government platform in order to fully halt the padding of personnel budgets and the diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets.’’
The President took advantage of the occasion, which marked the launch of the Constituency Projects Transparency Group (CPTG) Report Phase I, to urge all well-meaning Nigerians to join in the fight against corruption.
He said: “The war against corruption cannot be won without prevention, enforcement, public education and enlightenment.
‘‘I encourage the ICPC and other law enforcement agencies to intensify their efforts in public education, enlightenment and engagement with citizens.
‘‘I also urge our development partners, civil society organisations, and the media to continue to support our efforts to strengthen ethical values and integrity in Nigeria.’’
On the activities of the ICPC, President Buhari commended the new Board of the anti-graft agency for major enforcement and preventive initiatives, including the System Study Review, tracking of Zonal Intervention Projects, otherwise called Constituency Projects, and collaboration with the National Social Investment Office.
On asset recovery, the President reaffirmed that his administration will continue to support anti-corruption agencies to recover all ill-gotten wealth and prosecute offenders, adding that all fully recovered physical assets will be sold and the proceeds remitted to the treasury.
He said: ‘‘Enforcement activities by anti-corruption agencies continue to reveal that some public officers possess properties and assets way beyond their legitimate sources of income.
‘‘Asset recovery cases in court also reveal that some of these criminally-minded public officials are quick to disown these properties during investigation and in court.
‘‘Recovered assets will continue to be deployed in the provision of needed infrastructure and social welfare programmes.
‘‘The National Social Investment Programme is already utilising recovered funds to touch the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.
‘‘I, therefore, commend the partnership between the ICPC and the National Social Investment Office to ensure that beneficiaries of government social intervention programs are not short-changed along the line by unpatriotic officials.’’
President Buhari, who described corruption as the cause of many major problems in our country, said: ‘‘It is a catalyst for poverty, insecurity, weak educational system, poor health facilities and services and many other ills of our society.
‘‘This government is working hard to overcome such ills. Corruption generally, and public sector corruption in particular, inhibits the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people.
‘‘That is why I have reiterated on many occasions that corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria.
‘‘Corruption is furthermore, a major threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the socio-economic transformation we are all working hard to bring about in Nigeria.’’
The high point of the launch was the presentation of Integrity Award to Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Abubakar and Mrs. Josephine Ugwu of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Abubakar, rejected $412,000 (N150 million) per container bribe offered to him by drug traffickers to import 40 containers laden with Tramadol.
Ugwu, a former cleaner at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos had on different occasions returned millions of naira found in the course of her duty, including $12 million forgotten in the toilet by an airport user.
Stressing the need for Nigerians to uphold the traditionally-cherished values of honesty and integrity, the President said: “Let me again note with concern the need to uphold the values of loyalty, honesty, trust, and integrity that were once cherished in our public service.
‘‘Ethics and integrity are the foundation of an enduring society. Nigerian culture does not tolerate dishonesty. Therefore, we must reclaim our traditional values of honesty, integrity and hard work.
‘‘In spite of the few bad eggs, I am delighted that many Nigerians still hold on to our traditionally cherished values of honesty and integrity.’’