The ‘Frying Pan’ Senator; Orji Uzor Kalu And Others
By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Basically, when people out of righteous indignation exclaimed that Nigeria is a scam, do not conclude that they are unpatriotic.
By the way, patriotism is not to accept half measures from elected officials or to operate with the mindset that ‘if you can’t beat them, you join them’.
Patriotism is for an active citizen to always remain vigilant to work towards reducing or totally eradicating the chances for the largest percentage of the citizenry to be cheated out of their constitutionally guaranteed rights by elected or appointed political officials. Patriotism is to be vigilant to canvass and work towards actualisation of GOOD GOVERNANCE.
One of the reasons most young Nigerians dismiss politics as a dirty game is the colossal corruption going on in the implementation of what the legislators at the centre and sub-national units termed as CONSTITUENCY PROJECTS. There are however some major exceptions if we consider the quality of items shared regularly by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu to his constituents in Abia North.
But aside this issue of criminality committed by these political elites, how do we assess a law maker who did not divert constituency projects or said to have stolen those items, but rather invested in the purchasing of items considered demeaning such as frying pans as was done by a Senator from Abia North who lost election in 2019 to the Chief Whip of the Senate Senator Orji Uzor Kalu?
Mao Ohuabunwa almost got rebaptised comically as the FRYING PAN SENATOR just before he got defeated by the current Senator representing Abia North Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
We will return to discuss about the ‘frying pan’ sharing Abia former Senator but first let us examine the mind-blowing revelation made by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission on the alleged theft of constituency projects by national legislators.
This revelation has been very widely reported.
Specifically, Nigerian federal lawmakers, in connivance with executing agencies, have perfected fraudulent means of pocketing billions of naira under the guise of constituency projects, a report by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has said.
One of the means used in the fraudulent scheme is the duplication of contracts using the same description, same narrative, same amount, same location and awarded by the same agency.
This, the ICPC said, is done by lawmakers to bring the amounts allocated to them within certain approval threshold of executing agencies so as to avoid ministerial tenders, the report found.
Another method used in stealing public funds is the insertion into budgets of a series of fluidy species of constituency projects termed “capacity building and empowerment projects,” which entails training and distribution of items and even cash to constituents.
“These Capacity Building and Empowerment projects have become a convenient conduit for embezzling public funds by the sponsoring legislators and the executing agency as they are difficult to track and verify due to their “soft” nature,” the report, which was signed by Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman, ICPC, read.
The report, Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG), which is in its first phase, tracked 424 projects from 2015–2018 zonal intervention projects (also called constituency projects) between June and August, 2019, across 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The states include Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Kano, Kogi, Lagos, Osun and Sokoto.
The media reports that President Muhammadu Buhari had in November said there has been very little benefits to the grassroots from the ₦1 trillion that had been earmarked for constituency projects in the last 10 years.
This is so in spite of the wide disproportionality between appropriations for constituency projects and statutory projects of some implementing agencies, especially those of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDAN) and Border Community Development Agency (BCDA).
“For instance, in 2015, while the total mandate allocation for SMEDAN was N1,592,323,599, constituency projects allocation was N5,814,369,579,” the report said. “95 per cent of these constituency projects allocations were for empowerment and capacity building projects. This appropriation jumped up in 2016 to N11,120,099,958; 741 per cent of mandate budget with empowerment and capacity building projects taking 99% of the amount.”
“The size, number and types of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) domiciled in SMEDAN and BCDA, for instance, have turned them into conduits for, and means of abuse of constituency projects and therefore vulnerable to corruption.”
The ICPC report said there is need to review the statutory mandate of SMEDAN and BCDA against the types of Zonal Intervention Projects being embedded in them.
It also called for the temporary suspension of empowerment and capacity building constituency projects since they are “just free money without accountability, aside from being difficult to track. If however they must go on, the implementation process and mechanism must be completely overhauled to put it strictly under absolute control of the executing agency.” But ICPC speaks so much and does so little. ICPC is not known to have sent any of the thieving legislators to prison.
The spokesperson for the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki and his colleague at the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, did not answer or return calls seeking their comments for this story by one of the most prominent online newspapers from which we got some of the references for our reflection now. They (spokesmen if National Assembly) also did not reply text messages sent to them by the online medium.
Recommendation: The ICPC report called for a robust sensitization of the local communities on the concept, funding and implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP). This it said would enable citizens to track projects and follow the money thereby reducing incidences of corruption in the implementation processes.
Also, the ICPC urged the federal government to oversee the mopping up of unutilised Zonal Intervention Projects releases into the national treasury account at the end of the financial year, like it is for regular national budget releases.
“In order to reduce the influence of the sponsoring legislators on the emergence of a preferred bidder and strengthen the bidding process, project sites must be determined and given by legislators before advertisement for, and award of contract so that award letters will be specific and particular about projects locations,” another recommendation read.
In order to stall slow paced projects implementation and the tendency of appropriating for the same project every year under the guise of “ongoing project”, the government was advised not to accept new projects in a particular constituency if there are existing uncompleted projects.
Why did the ICPC not name names?
The above report by ICPC is damaging but it is a mere academic record so long as nobody is prosecuted for these huge crimes. The good thing is that the legislators are not all bad. Some of them have been seen even distributing cars to their constituents as empowerment materials for commercial drivers in such places as Katsina, Gombe and Bauchi.
Also, from what Senator Orji Uzor Kalu has done in his constituency this last Christmas period, it can be said without contradiction that the businessman Senator understands the fundamentals of how to become economically empowered in real time.
On the other hand, his predecessor became controversial for sharing just frying pans considered derogatory by many Nigerians who think that it would have been better to upgrade such constituency projects to materials and items that respects the DIGNITY OF MAN.
Before putting pen to paper, I read the report that an investigation by the ICIR had unveiled three abandoned primary healthcare centres worth N76,283,359 in Etitiama-Nkporo, Oboro Ohafia in Ohafia Local Government and Obinkita in Arochukwu Local Government of the senatorial district represented by Ohuabunwa, as he then was.
The then senator, who has been a federal lawmaker since 1999, was at the time of the report, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases. After he was mocked, even branded ‘Frying Pan Senator’ by a section of the public for distributing frying pans to his constituency, the senator said he had had no regrets.
“I have no regrets being called ‘Frying Pan Senator,’” he told Daily Trust.
“Those who call me ‘Frying Pan Senator’ should have said ‘Skill Acquisition and Empowerment Senator’; that would have been nice. Frying pan is just an item out of the lot. What would you give the woman frying bean cake, popularly known as akara? I didn’t give only frying pan; we gave gas cylinders, stoves, spoons and money; that’s what she needs.
“Would you be a taxi driver and we give you train? If you are a taxi driver, I will give you taxi; I have distributed tricycles, sewing machines and many more. So, I don’t regret or feel bad when my constituents call me ‘Frying Pan Senator.”
Ohuabunwa lost his attempt to get reelected and the man who defeated him has just made a great name for himself for giving out substantial items much bigger than mere frying pans. He gave out big sowing machines with lot more materials and items of considerable economic value. He is presently receiving accolades from thousands of his constituents who benefitted from the empowerment materials he distributed.
It was reported that after successful consecutive distribution of empowerment materials to Isuikwuato, Umuneochi, Bende and Ohafia , Senator Representing Abia North and Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu on Tuesday just before New Year day shared empowerment materials to his constituents in Arochukwu local government area.
The jubilant beneficiaries from Arochukwu local government expressed their immense gratitude to Orji Kalu , according to them they earnestly awaited their turn to receive their own share of Kalu’s empowerment materials.
Abia-North Senatorial District made of five local government areas have in the past months benefited from a massive empowerment programme of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu aimed at boosting entrepreneurship and reducing unemployment.
The Arochukwu beneficiaries were provided with over 450 motorcycles, 500 sewing machines and other items to support their vocational trades.
The beneficiary wards include; Arochukwu ward 1,2 & 3 , Ututu ward, Isu ward , Ikuwn Ihechiowa, Eleoha Ihechiowa, Ohafor Anam ward 1and 2, Ovukwu Abiam and Ohaeke Abam.
Addressing the beneficiaries gathered at his Camp Neya , Igbere country home , Kalu stated that he has delivered on his assignment at the National Assembly.
Kalu tasked the joyous recipients to maximise the items to their economic advantage, the Senate Chief Whip advised them to emulate him stating that he began making money through the use of such items in his early days.
In his word ; “I don’t like people loitering outside my gate , my duty is to empower and make you productive to yourself and the community. In my first term at the Senate, our senatorial zone witnessed the kind of development it has never seen since it’s existence.
“We have reconstructed our schools, roads, clinics , given borehole water and so on. These items are meant for you to use and help yourselves, I advise you all not to sell it but use it to your advantage because if you do, you have sold your conscience.
In conclusion Kalu disclosed the next phase of empowerment will be focused on Agriculture.
Precious Ogendi Ngwu was full of praise for Orji Kalu , the Stakeholder in Arochukwu thanked Kalu for meeting up with the expectations of the people. According to him , empowerment was long awaited. Mr. Precious outlined the economic advantages of the items to the people while taking them to make good use of them.
Observers believe that in just two years in the Upper legislative chamber, this two terms Governor of Abia State has achieved for his people what some Senators who have been in the Senate since 1999 could not achieve. I hope the man who said he does not regret being called frying pan Senator is seeing that his current SENATOR IS A DIGITAL SENATOR OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC!
- EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is a Human Rights Activist and Political Strategist resident in Abuja.