The debate on the usefulness of constituency projects seems to intensify as it becomes clear that public funds allocated to the programme yearly are being mismanaged. The idea is to trickle down effective governance to the grassroots. At some point, President Muhammadu Buhari called for an end to the programme, but lawmakers insisted on the continuous allocation of funds to a scheme that is largely hampered by sharp practices. In this report, SODEEQ ATANDA investigates how Akintayo Gafar Amere, a former Federal House of Representatives member from Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency in Osun State, diverted a constituency project he facilitated to his constituency.
Rofiya Lasisi’s parents live in Fagbaibi village in the Ola-Oluwa Local Government Area of Osun State, but she attends a school in a community outside of the local government area. It’s the same story for Lasisi Tawa and Momodu Serifa.
These schoolgirls, who are in their teenage years, explained to FIJ how they leave their village every Monday to attend school in Iwo Grammar School and Ansar-u-Deen Primary School, both located in Iwo LGA, about 20 minutes’ drive from their village.
Sharing their experience with FIJ on Monday, May 8, the trio said traveling to Iwo every Monday of the week comes with many risks. First, they could get to school very late if they don’t get a bus or a magnanimous person to give them a lift. They could also get to school exhausted.
From Mondays to Fridays, they sleep over in their family house in Iwo town. On Friday evenings, they return to Fagbaibi village to assist their parents on the farm.
Listening to them relay their challenge, one wonders why they go through such stress when there is a school close to their village. FIJ asked them if they know of a new post-primary school founded in Amere, their response was in the affirmative, and then one of them said it had not been opened.
“It is a walking distance from Fagbaibi and we could have preferred going there if it had been made accessible to us,” he said.
INADEQUATE NUMBER OF SCHOOLS
Prior to 2017, Ola-Oluwa Local Government Area of Osun State had only 10 secondary schools, one in each of the ten electoral wards that make up the council area. The experiences of children of school age showed then that the number was inadequate. Students in far away villages journeyed to their schools daily, exasperated.
Olabisi, a resident of Amere community and senior secondary school graduate, shared her experience with FIJ in the community. She said she used leave home very early in the morning for her school in Ikire-Ile, the closest secondary school to her village.
“I attended Community Grammar School, Ikire-Ile. I used go to school in company of my friends. So, we would check out of the house on or before 6 am and trek for more than one hour to reach my school in Ikire. Schooling in this part of the state isn’t as comfortable as one would want it, but we had to endure it because of our passion for education,” Olabisi told FIJ.
“The time and energy one could have channeled into brainstorming would have been wasted on the road, trekking to school.”
A few years after Olabisi completed her secondary school education, Mr. Akintayo Gafar Amere, a member of the House of Representatives and an indigene of the community, announced that a new secondary school was going to be sited in the village. It was an intervention aimed at addressing the challenge school children face daily trying to receive formal education.
Speaking with FIJ, Idowu Olatidoye, a former President of the National Association of Ola-Oluwa Students, a body of higher institutions students from the area, said one of the problems he identified while leading the association was inadequate number of schools and poor facilities. He added that he organised programmes to encourage schoolchildren to take their education seriously despite the challenges.
A NEW SCHOOL EMERGES
Mr. Akintayo Gafar, popularly known as Honourable Amere, represented Ayedire/Iwo/OLa-Oluwa federal constituency, Osun State, in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2019. To up the spread of educational facilities and ultimately make education more accessible to the people, he engineered the construction of a new public school in his village, Amere, in 2017.
Located at 7.71215N and 4.21096E, two of the five structures built on the right side of the entry point into Amere village were completed seven years ago, FIJ found.
According to a post on his Facebook page, the politician inspected the facility on April 1, 2017, expressing his “satisfaction with the early completion of the project.” He added that the completion meant “commencement of academic activities in the school soonest [sic]”.
It was named Comprehensive Secondary School, Amere. The development gave the residents a sense of relief, particularly when the lawmaker said “the school would serve Amere and other neighbouring communities”.
Those communities that neighbour Amere, and which are supposed to primarily benefit from the presence of the facility in terms of education are Lahan, Ogede, Kapo, Afingba, Fagbaibi, Iwara, Otun, Feporori and Idi-Osan.
Residents told FIJ that the news of the new school was exciting at first but they became unhappy when the contractors did not source any construction workers from their community or even those around it. Nevertheless, they kept looking at the bigger picture: their children would receive education in the school.
A young man, who chose not to be named, said, “At first, we thought academic activities would commence in a few months after the completion, but we were wrong. We never heard anything to that effect. It was overgrown by weeds at some point. I’m not really sure the legislator made any effort to hand over the school to the state government for use till he left office in 2019.”
The school project was funded by the federal government under the Universal Basic Education Commission [UBEC] 2016 zonal intervention programme. Tagged Lot 115, the commission described the project as a “construction of 3 blocks of 3 classroom, office, 300-pupil desks/chairs, 5
teachers table/chairs and two compartment V.I.P toilets in Ola-Oluwa Local Govt, Osun State.”
According to the project signboard, the construction was carried out by Ajitech Conceptual and Designs Limited. Checks about the legal existence of the company on the Corporate Affairs Commission’s website showed that it was registered on April 5, 2007. However, its status was ‘inactive’. CAC is the regulatory body responsible for the incorporation of companies in Nigeria.
PUBLIC PROPERTY PRIVATISED ILLEGALLY
The residents were skeptical about speaking on what has become of the school at the moment because the politician is their kinsman. FIJ found that the school now serves a different purpose.
The school has nearly been stripped of its identity as a public property. A particular private higher institution is now in charge as indicated by a signpost bearing Iwo College of Health Sciences and Technology. Merely looking at the school by the roadside, a first-timer in that environment would probably not see anything indicating it is a public-funded facility or the primary purpose it was designed to serve.
It is not certain whether Iwo College of Health Sciences and Technology is certified by the relevant authorities, but it is boldly trademarked “government approved” on the billboard. FIJ found that the health institution has commenced academic programmes at the place even under the poor environment with no corresponding facilities of a health school.
There are five blocks of 3 classrooms each in the school, two blocks of toilets as stated by UBEC, and a non-functional water stanchion. Three blocks are at the front while two are at the back. One classroom in one of the blocks is used to store the wooden chairs, tables and desks designed for the school.
The school comfortably sits in a bush. The two ‘VIP’ toilets and bathrooms were messy. This newspaper also discovered that the original signboard designed for the school was kept in the painted block by the right side. The signboard reads, “Amere Community Junior & Senior Secondary School, Ola-Oluwa L.G.A., Osun State.”
While the electrical fittings of the first three blocks were either not done or poorly done, the two blocks at the back are a world of difference. The two buildings had not been completed. Poor electrical wirings, leaking roofs, loose ceilings, lifeless water system and some cracks were noticeable on the structures.
To some some of the locals, the legislator is the owner of the school. Kaleni Morufu manifested this mindset when he told FIJ that “He can do whatever he likes with it because he was the one who built it”. Nobody in the constituency seems surprised at the illegal privatisation of the facility because that is “how politicians do in Nigeria”.
Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, spoke to the kind of Morufu’s understanding at an event in 2019. He said, “Many community members believe that sponsors pay for projects from their personal funds rather than from public treasury. Thus they are beholden to the sponsor rather than claim their rights.”
At the same event, President Muhammadu Buhari said, “Corruption generally and public sector corruption, in particular, inhibits the ability of government to deliver infrastructure and basic services to the people.”
Asked whether he knew the owner of the college of health, Olaniyan Alabi, not real name, said the college provost is a relative of the legislator. “The legislator is an uncle to the provost of the college,” he said.
Pointing out the uninspiring state of secondary school success in Osun State, a 2016 WAEC report put the state in the 29th position. Of the 48,818 candidates that sat for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination [WASSCE] in the year, only 8,801 scored the minimum higher institution admission requirement, representing 18 percent of the total figure.
“IT IS AN ABANDONED PROJECT”
Azeez Ayinde Olayinka, the provost of the health institution, said the school was an abandoned project and declined to respond to all questions posed to him on May 8 when we visited the school. Instead, he asked FIJ to direct all questions to the “owner” [Amere.]
“I would not be able to say much in response to your questions because we did not move in without the owner’s consent. You can meet with him for that. It was an abandoned project and we revived it from its moribund state before taking over,” Azeez said. “It is not just a constituency project; it is owned by someone and the person is Honourable Amere. He is the source who can answer your questions.”
LOCAL INSPECTORATE OF EDUCATION SPEAKS
FIJ spoke with Mr. Ibraheem Lateef Toyosi, the local inspector of education for the entire council area, in his office. He told FIJ he didn’t have enough information to respond to our inquiry because he was new in the area.
“I was recently posted here from the ministry of education. I have not been adequately briefed. But by July, when we would have completed school examinations, I would have done my findings from my superiors and inspection tours of this domain,” he said.
“Some questions need to be answered. How can a public facility built to accommodate secondary school students be in the hands of a private individual? Who gave them the permission to be using it? Are they paying rents, and into whose pocket is it going? Is the health school even licensed to operate in such an environment? Who licensed it? I would work to find answers to these and many other questions, and then, I would revert to you.”
When asked to give us the phone number of the state ministry of education’s permanent secretary, Toyosi said he did not have it.
AMERE SAYS “THEY ARE TEMPORARY USERS”
This newspaper presented the report of its findings to the lawmaker on Monday. On Tuesday, he responded via WhatsApp, promising he would do the needful to rectify the situation.
“Thank you for your call. No rent was collected for the temporary use of Amere school. They are all temporary users. The facilities remain the property of the federal government,” Amere said.
He further said, “I have a name to protect. Rest assured that I will do the needful to rectify the situation.”
An exclusive report by Sahara Reporters in 2016 revealed that Nigerian lawmakers inserted a humongous sum of N100 billion in the appropriation bill for the year to cater to constituency projects. The amount was intended to foot the construction of more than 2,516 projects in different communities. Without a doubt, the money for implementation of the subject of this investigation would have been derived from the said budget amount.
Available records record does show that the projects [the secondary school and the skill acquisition centre in the first part of this report] have any public trail. In its 2016 constituency project report, Tracka, an active-citizen engagement platform, said it was able to track 24 constituency projects in Osun State, while tens of others were untraceable. Why? Unspecified project location and unreliable description were responsible, despite the fact that Osun State got one of the highest allocations for constituency projects for the said year.
FIJ found that out of the 24 projects Tracka tracked, the tax-funded school in Amere and the skill acquisition centre in Igege were not part of them. In fact, the organisation could not successfully identify any constituency project nominated for Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa federal constituency for the year 2016.
Insincerity of lawmakers, as seen in this report, has further exacerbated the decreasing level of public service delivery in the country, particularly in rural settlements.
Editor’s Note: Some names have been altered to protect the sources’ identities.
This is the second of a two-part article. Read the part one here.
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