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Erosion wrecks homes, livelihoods in Anambra as Ecological Fund Office fritters intervention fund

NKISI Aroli Street located in Onitsha North Local Government of Anambra State is close to becoming a forgotten ruin due to unstoppable erosion that has continued to devastate the entire community.

Entrance into Nkisi Aroli street looks like a disaster zone, crumbled buildings lined up the sides of the street, house roofs were gone, walls had caved in and previous occupants were nowhere in sight.

The ruins are what is left of people’s homes after a drainage channelling water from different parts of  Onitsha city which run across Nkisi Aroli street collapsed, creating a gully that eventually transformed into a huge valley that destroyed homes, and put human lives at risk.

Residents whose homes have crumbled now live with relatives, while others have embarked on a forced migration away from the town.

Arthur Mazeli, 54, is one of the affected residents whose bungalow was swallowed up by the devastating gully erosion in September 2019, forcing him and his family to migrate from his ancestral home to Enugu State.

Before his house collapsed, Arthur had hoped it would accommodate his entire extended family but the rooms once filled with laughter now are hollowed with emptiness.

His main source of concern wasn’t the loss of the building in which he had spent his childhood, but the graves of his parents about to be completely erased by the landslide.

“Since I lost my house in Onitsha, I haven’t recovered from that experience because it hasn’t been easy for me but I am hoping on God to go past it,” he said.

Arthur and his family had quietly deserted the building when the erosion was advancing towards the house, which ultimately left a section of the building partly collapsed but the gravesite of his parents was spared.

However, with the rainy season approaching, the landslide is likely to swallow the entire building and the graves.

Some of the collapsed buildings in Nkisi Aroli, Onitsha. Credit: The ICIR

Finally, he decided to move the bones of his parents to a different location to preserve the memory of the dead before the rainy season starts.

“Though I lost my ancestral home in Onitsha, the graves of my parents were lying at the precipice of the gully and I didn’t have to wait for the rains to fall and wash away their graves so we had to relocate their graves,” he said.

Speaking to The ICIR, he said the cost of the traditional rites required to relocate the graves was exorbitant and had taken a toll on him since he moved to Enugu. He described the experience as traumatic.

“We spent a lot of money paying people who were involved in moving the graves because there were several traditional rites involved and they were demanding huge sums of money, the experience has really been traumatic for me,” he said.

From Mazeli’s wrecked house, a few steps away are several buildings that have also suffered the same fate. With the rainy season approaching, residents of Nkisi Aroli whose houses are not yet affected live in fear as they can’t sleep at night whenever it rains, hoping that their houses would not fall on them in their sleep.

10 houses collapsed in 3 months

On September 27th, 2019, thirteen families from Nkisi Aroli/Obeleagu communities who were displaced by erosion had written to the Ecological Fund Office, EFO, to urgently intervene to curtail the spread of the erosion and prevent further devastation.

Three months after that letter was sent to the Ecological office, the gully engulfed a total of ten buildings before the start of the dry season which started in December 2019. Whenever it rains, a landslide ensues from the gully destroying farmlands and homes.

The buildings swallowed up by the gully include a thriving primary and secondary school, several residential story buildings, bungalows and a church.

Yet not fewer than 100 homes are threatened by the expanding gully. 

With an estimated depth of 30 metres, and the gully spanning a distance of more than 500 metres, residents have started making plans to leave the area as the rains set to hit full hilt in April.

The increasing rainfall has made erosion and landslides become more frequent in Nkisi Aroli.

For Nwankwo Chuka,29, after completing his first degree in parasitology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka five years ago, it only seemed natural to follow the footsteps of his deceased father in managing the school his father established while he was alive.

He had high hopes to sustain the legacies of his father who had also been a resident pastor and founder of All Christian Resurrection Redeemed Ministry located in Nkisi Aroli, church where Chuka had spent a good part of his life.

The Redeemed Christian School, an educational arm of All Christian Resurrection Redeemed Ministry, was also located in the same premises and surrounded by a single perimeter fence.

In October 2019, he arrived at the school one morning and met rubbles. After an intense rainfall that night, a landslide from the gully had sunk both church and the school.

Speaking to The ICIR, Chuka described the experience as traumatic as he had to relocate the school to a makeshift structure built within one week to accommodate the students but the current location is also threatened by the gully.

Ruins of the church and school building that Chuka met in 2019. Credit: The ICIR

“My mother and I had faced psychological trauma from the incident when it happened but we had to get used to it. We built a makeshift structure within one week to accommodate our students but some parents took their children to other schools for fear that our school might collapse and things have not been the same,” he sighed. 

According to a 2018 Global Report on Internal Displacement 17.2 million people were driven from their homes by shocks like landslides, hurricanes and droughts which accounts for an estimated 50,000 people who were forcefully displaced by natural or man-made disasters daily in 2018.

Chuka is still counting his losses, he is yet to recover from the economic fix the erosion disaster had put him in.

“The school had over 600 students in both the primary and secondary before the landslide but it currently has about 180 students which have affected our income. It’s a matter of time before the gully gets to this temporary site which means we have to leave as soon as possible,” Chuka said.

Chuka while narrating his ordeal to the reporter.
Credit: The ICIR

Amaechi Osemeke, a resident of Nkisi Aroli said that the degradation of land by erosion in Nkisi Aroli was worrisome because ancestral lands they inherited from their parents would disappear in a few years if the problem was not solved.

“All these buildings are ancestral homes. It’s not that we came here to build commercial buildings for tenants but with our homes getting destroyed by erosion there’s nowhere to go. I can’t imagine the emotion because some people who lost their ancestral homes are squatting with their relations or tenants,” he said.

Another affected resident, Lawrence Edozie who spoke to The ICIR said he couldn’t talk about the erosion problem because at the time he was mourning his wife who died in March.

“I can’t talk about the pains caused by the erosion in Nkisi Aroli right now, because I no longer stay there anymore. I am living in Nwanwa and I just lost my wife which is enough tragedy for my family. I am still mourning my loss,” he explained.

According to data obtained from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, IDMC, 514,000 people in Nigeria were displaced from their homes in 2019 from natural disasters like erosion and flooding.

However, for climate migrants like Lawrence, life will no longer be as it used to be until the erosion is stopped.

EFO spends 3 per cent of its budget on erosion

Established in 1981, the EFO is tasked with addressing environmental concerns such as erosion, flooding, landslides amongst other natural or man-made disasters that put human lives and properties at risk across the country.

The Ecological Office receives 2 per cent of Nigeria’s total fiscal budget yearly and does not disclose its annual budget publicly despite the provision of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, FRA, of 2007, that mandates government agencies to make their budget public.

Nigeria is a signatory to the Bonn Challenge Initiative and had pledged to reinstate more than 4 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to support life on land.

Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia, and Enugu States have the highest number of active erosion sites in the country, according to a 2017 study published by the European Centre for Research Training and Development.

From May 2015 to September 2019, the Ecological Office had carried out only four erosion projects in each of the SouthEast states over a four year period. 

A review of available records by The ICIR obtained from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, after a request reveals that states hit severely by erosion have received little intervention support from the Ecological Office to curtail their erosion crises.

Between 2007 to 2015, the EFO had received a total of N433 billion as its allocation from the Federal government.

NEITI’s record of erosion interventions to southeastern states between 2007 to 2016, was pegged at N12.7 billion which accounts for a paltry 3 per cent of the total fund that the Ecological Office received to address ecological challenges in the country.

In Anambra State, from 2007 to 2011, the EFO had budgeted an estimated N4.23 billion to address erosion concerns in the state but the actual payment made for the projects to the contractors was N2.16 billion, just a little above 50 per cent.

The other states also share a similar fate. Abia State was expected to receive N2.86 billion from the EFO but the actual payment received was N1.34 billion, Imo State received N1.29 billion from a projected N2.15 billion, Ebonyi State received N496 million from N1.83 billion and Enugu State received N1.39 billion from N2.88 billion allocated by the EFO.

Erosion/Flood control project worth over N900 million in disarray

For residents of Nnobi, Alor and Umudiaokka communities in Idemili/Dunukofia Local Government Areas of Anambra State, their expected dividends of democracy have been turned into a forgotten dream.

With more than eleven families displaced by the gully, the rural agrarian communities are faced with a shrinking landmass.

The erosion project contract whose cost was not publicly disclosed was awarded by the Ecological Office to Utendala Nigeria Limited in March 2019, with Engineering Consult Limited acting as a consultant while the duration of the project was slated for one year.

One year after the project was awarded, there is no notable progress to reflect that work had taken place at the erosion site in Alor, apart from the rehabilitation of street roads and drainages in the communities.

The project was intended to provide road rehabilitation, erosion and flooding control in the affected communities.

A signpost showing the firms involved in the erosion project.      Credit: The ICIR

 

The ICIR sent a Freedom of Information, FOI letter to EFO on February 12, requesting for the details of contracts and specific projects carried out by the Ecological Office in Anambra State between 2014 to 2019.

The receipt of the FOI request was acknowledged by the ecological agency and a reply was received on March 6, three weeks later, stating that the request was still being processed. This action breaches the FOI Act that compels government agencies to respond to an FOI request within seven working days.

 A former staff of Utendala Nigeria Limited who had worked with the firm on contractual terms and privy to details of the contract told The ICIR under the condition of anonymity that over 80 per cent of the total contract sum had been paid to the contractor.

“The contractor received 30 per cent initially to kick start the project and subsequently was paid 50 per cent,  but as it stands now it looks like the current state of work does not commensurate with the amount spent so far,” he said.

When The ICIR reporter visited the communities in March to ascertain the level of progress at the erosion site, it was clear that the reality on the ground was a contrast of what the project intended to achieve.

There was no machinery or equipment indicating the presence of the contractor at the erosion site, even as the gully threatens residential buildings, and distort the landscape of the communities.

Uzoma Igbonwa, President General of Alor community told The ICIR that he was dissatisfied with the pace oat which  the contractor was handling the project because the damage by the erosion had worsened under his watch compared to when he started the project.

“I have had my reservations about the contractor with his handling of the erosion project, for one year now it’s been one week of work and then they would abscond for another week. This has allowed the rains to create more damage if you go and take a look at the site. The gully is worse than before,” he said.

He said the community would be writing a petition to the Ecological Office to make complaints.

He said the erosion damage would require four times the amount spent initially to fix the problem.

“It’s very disturbing that there has been no change since the contractor started work on that site since 2018. My house is very close to the gully, it’s just a matter of a few showers of rain before it will encroach my house if it is not addressed. We are petitioning the Ecological Office and attaching pictures to compare the state of the gully two years ago and there is no difference,” he said.

Construction firm with a fake address

The ICIR reporter could not contact the management of Utendala Nigeria Limited, as the company had no website or digital presence online, apart from a few news reports that hinted at some government contracts the firm had handled in the past.

However, on a billboard at the project site, the recorded address of the contractor was given as  “Platinum Plaza, suite B2B, Jahi, Abuja,”  and when the reporter visited the supposed office at exactly 11:24 am on Monday, 4 May, the inscription on the doorpost was different. 

The office was occupied by a charity organisation named “Emmanuel Ayaba Foundation”, upon enquiry from the reporter Emmanuel Ayaba, who runs the foundation told The ICIR that he had never heard the name of the engineering firm before and his charity organisation was not affiliated with the engineering firm. 

“Well, I have not heard the name of that company before, what we do at Emmanuel Ayaba Foundation does not involve engineering or construction work,” he said.

On May 27, the EFO’s deputy spokesperson Joel Oruche brokered a meeting with The ICIR after the reporter shared his findings with him. Present at the meeting includes the project manager of the erosion project, Hycienth Godwin, Director of soil erosion and flood control at the EFO, Felix Okeke, and an engineer introduced as Nwachukwu.

At the meeting, they jointly presented a document that provided a progress report at the site which they said was at 85 per completion stage and due diligence was carried out in the award of the contract which was supervised by the staff of the EFO alongside a consultant to monitor the progress of work.

When The ICIR reporter confronted them with the findings of the fake address given by the contractor, and a video showing the poor state of the erosion site when he visited Alor community.

Oruche said the non-existence of the contractor’s office was not the problem of the Ecological Office but the contractor because the EFO’s main concern was to execute the project.

However, they declined to reveal the cost of the project saying as civil servants they were not obliged to reveal the details of the contract unless they were authorised by the permanent secretary, saying the scope of the contract did not make the erosion site a priority in the project.

The document issued by the Ecological Fund Office concerning the contract. Credit: The ICIR

At the meeting, Hycienth affirmed that the focus of his firm was to address roads and drainages which he confirmed to be 3 km in total, stating that the gully control was a palliative measure by the firm to fill the eroded area with earth fill materials and not its priority.

Worried about the poor work done by the contractor at the erosion site, Chris Oyeka, a resident said the gully was endangering the livelihoods of residents on a daily basis with the rainy season.

“There is a major problem in Alor as we are in the rainy season houses, more homes are likely to go down if the contractor doesn’t get on with work at the erosion site when the rains come,” he said.

Worried about the poor work done by the contractor at the erosion site, Chris Oyeka, a resident said the gully was endangering the livelihoods of residents on a daily basis with the rainy season. 

“There is a major problem in Alor as we are in the rainy season houses, more homes are likely to go down if the contractor doesn’t get on with work at the erosion site when the rains come,” he said.

Financial records enmeshed in ecological fraud

On March 6, 2017, the Ecological Office awarded a contract worth N1.257 billion for the canalisation and desilting of Okoko and Ogbagba rivers in Osogbo, Osun State, with a completion period expected to last for 10 months.

The contract details showed that N30 million was earmarked as compensation to owners of marked-to-demolish buildings and economic trees that would be affected by the project. 

An audit report of the accounts of the Ecological Office conducted by the Auditor General of the Federation, AuGF revealed that there were no records to show that the payments were made. There were no receipts, invoices or approvals to show proof of the expenditure.

In a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Ecological Office, Habila Lawal, the AuGF directed her to recover the monies and remit to the national treasury but that request was never honoured and the money was not accounted for, the audited records show.

It is not unusual for misappropriation of ecological intervention funds to take place at the Ecological Office without questions being asked going by reports from previous audits of its financial records.

Some of the contracts from the Ecological Office are assigned to companies that seem to exist only on paper according to the audit report from the office of the AuGF.

Between 2012 to 2014, the audit team from the AuGF’s office discovered that there was a compulsory 2.5 per cent deduction made by the Ecological Office from several contracts awarded to engineering firms for ecological projects that were shared on a 60 to 40 per cent basis with the executing agency. 

The monies were traced and found to be stashed in two major banks in Abuja, namely Fidelity Bank branch located at Plot 267, Tafa Balewa Road, Central Business District bearing the account number, 5030033322 and United Bank of Africa, UBA, located in Garki with the account number 1013600986. 

Investigations by The ICIR revealed that the name of the UBA account currently is ECOLOGICAL FUND OFFICE/OSGF(PROJECT ADMIN) which is also linked directly to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF, currently headed by Boss Mustapha while the Fidelity Bank account was inoperative at the time.

The criteria for the 2.5 per cent deduction adopted by the Ecological Office was a flagrant breach of Nigeria’s public service financial regulations and extant circulars but the ultimate beneficiaries of the monies still remain sketchy as the expenditure was classified as recurrent expenses which are not within the purview of the audit team.                                               

Audits of the Ecological Office financial records from 2007 to 2015 show that $2.5 billion allocated for environmental remediation projects had been misappropriated by civil servants at the Ecological Office in connivance with contractors while Nigerians grapple with the horrors of climate change.

The watchdogs are quiet

On March 14, 2018, Senator Mohammed Hassan representing Yobe South Senatorial district described the ecological fund as a “slush fund” due to illegal withdrawals from the Ecological Fund Office account for reasons not consistent with the objectives of the ecological fund during a bill presentation on the misuse of intervention funds by the EFO at the house.

 The fund has over the years been operated like a slush fund deployed for varying purposes according to the whims and caprices of the incumbent,” he said at the hearing.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is Nigeria’s leading anti-graft agency responsible for investigation of economic and financial crimes in the country.

The ICIR showed the spokesperson of the EFCC, Dele Oyewale its findings on the failed projects by the EFO to contractors who abscond without completing the job after collecting more than 50 per cent of payments and also the reports from the office of the AuGF.

The wuestion was asked to ascertain if the EFCC had carried out investigations into the misappropriation of funds at the EFO and if it had, what was the outcome of their investigations. 

“The way we operate is if there are such issues as you have said and a petition is not placed before the commission to that effect then we cannot go out of our way and act on it. Without a formal petition since these cases have to go through the courts then we don’t have substantial allegations that we can work upon and there is practically nothing we can do. 

“If you are able to find out if a petition has been raised to these allegations you have mentioned then I can go and look for it and check if we have carried out an investigation on that matter or not,” he said. 

His statement that a petition has to be written to the commission before an investigation into economic and financial crimes can commence contradicts Section 7(a) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act 2003.

The Act confers special powers on the EFCC, “ to cause investigations to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organization has committed any offence under this Act or other law relating to economic and financial crimes.          

Okoduwa Rashidat, spokesperson of the Independent and Corrupt and Related Practices Commission, ICPC, when contacted by The ICIR to know if the agency had carried out investigations on the financial misappropriation, but she could not be reached as she failed to respond to calls, text and WhatsApp messages.

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