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INVESTIGATION: Failed contracts, lack of community ownership mar multi-billion Naira Great Green Wall project (Part 2)

The second part of this investigation by Olugbenga Adanikin concludes the report on how the state ministries of environment accused FG of excluding it from the GGW project and how the exclusion contributes to the project failure. The report also shows how a clear breach of Public Procurement Act, a sack of forest guards as well as security threats undermine the project.     

THE Adamawa State Environment Ministry largely attributed the failure of the project to the insurgency. Deputy Director of Forestry, Stephen Yerima, during the visit, said when the project started in Mada, nurseries were planted but failed because it was not nurtured. Yerima who acknowledged the physical presence of the GGW recalled how the agency during the early stage visited the communities to distribute mosquito nets.

“The truth is initially, it was achieving a lot of success but along the line, the state ministry was no longer carried along. There was a disconnect between the ministry and federal ministry of environment. Even last year, we just heard they were planting some trees in Bazza area, at least we are supposed to be the main supervisor because Director of Forestry used to be the desk officer. So, truly speaking, it has not achieved its goal though it was good at the beginning.”

The contractors were accused of executing a one-man-show project and left without the active involvement of the people and state ministry. According to him, “contractors executing part of the projects just visited the site, executed and left”.

The ICIR learnt that when an enquiry was made to the federal environment ministry, the state ministry was told the project was contracted out.

Second Left: Alh. Garba Mohammed with other local chiefs during a meeting in Loko community, Song LGA, Adamawa State. They denied such project existed after some deliberations

District Heads of Loko community, Song LGA, Alhaji Garba Mohammed and Aliyu Garba denied the existence of such project, let alone its benefits. Garba was having a meeting with some elders when this reporter visited. He asked them whether they are of the project and everyone denying knowing about it. As the reporter was about leaving,  Garba sent for the former district head, Alhaji Mohammed, obviously to have his input, if such project existed, he replied “no”. Mohammed, in fact, said he had visited the next village to seek medical help, and there was no such project sited in Loko community.

Aside Loko, Pela is another project site. It is about 55.0 kilometres away from Mubi. The community is surrounded by high mountains, and the access road is in poor condition. Heavy security is mounted at an intersection leading to Mubi and the Pela town. The old rusty town is said to have existed for almost a century while it remains a historic settlement in Hong Local Government of Adamawa. The villagers and the traditional ruler however faulted NAGGW for lack of community engagement.

Nursery Garden in Pela Community turned to Beans Farm in Hong LGA, Adamawa State

The ICIR learnt that the last time trees were planted in Pela was about a decade ago when ‘Corper Lateef’’ Umar came for his compulsory National Youth Service in the community. Lateef reportedly schooled at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Umar, 37, an undergraduate at the Department of Geography, Adamawa State University, Department of Geography narrated how Lateef would gather members of the community to sensitise them on the need to plant trees. But since Lateef left, no such activity held in the community.

Umar took his time to show the reporter around the Government Day Secondary School where Lateef had planted trees including the previous GGW nursery garden now turned beans farm due to neglect.

These assessments were done shortly after a visit to the Palace of Pela Traditional Ruler. The GGW project in Madagali village could not be located.

Baba Adamu rep of District Head, Alh Saleh Mamman (Dan Kaden) at the Palace of Pela Traditional Ruler, Adamawa State

“The government brought about 200 nursery seedlings three years ago for planting but we have not seen them ever since. Except the trees planted by the ‘Seriki’ two years ago, we did not see anything similar from the government,” said the 80- year-old Baba Adamu who spoke on behalf of the District Head, Alh. Saleh Mamman (Dan Kaden).

According to Madaki Umar, the local guide, “the people came to plant nurseries and later went away, instead of training the community and inform them of the importance, they just did their job and left.”

In Gezawa community, Gezawa Local Government, Kano State the five hectares, N2.2 million project to plant seedlings for orchard was not located. The traditional ruler, Alh.Kabiru Tanko (Wakili) said the project was not executed. The district head, who is a special assistant to the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi spoke through Mohammed Yusuf. He said the project executed by Impavidus Nigeria Limited in 2017 was awarded for N2,258,884.37.

“If it is within this LGA, there was no such project from 2013/2014 till date but it’s possible it is being executed outside Gezawa.”

Abdul Umar Ibrahim, an NCE Graduate who makes a living through ‘okada’ business, earlier took the correspondent with the fixer across the town before ending the search at the palace. He acknowledged desertification as a threat in Gezawa, hence a 40-year-old garden set up by the community.

“We grew up to meet it and our fathers said it was set up to plant nurseries against desertification. If you go to the eastern part of our local government, they used to buy it and replant in their environment.”

In Bauchi, Alkaleri LGA project was not located. The traditional ruler of Futuk community, Ahmed Mohammed denied the presence of such project but acknowledged the impact of desertification on their agricultural activities. A retired soldier, Mohammed demonstrated knowledge and impact of desert encroachment in his town, saying the trees are planted to slow down winds and to prevent the topsoil and all its nutrients from being blown away.

Alh. Ahmed Mohammed, Futuk Traditional Ruler in Bauchi denied the existence of GGW project in the community

In Faru community, Sabon Birnin Local Government Area of Sokoto State, the contractor, Kinetic International Project Limited was awarded a project that is worth N4.7 million to raise 80, 000 nursery beds. The project was executed. In order to ascertain the exact quantity of the nursery, the reporter took his time to carefully count the nursery which was arranged in 1, 000 per bed. The dug borehole water facility was also functional as at the time of the visit. The project site was well monitored as the wife of the guard with her three children were first to welcome the reporter during the fact-finding trip.

Looting of project funds, insecurity crippling the GGW project

Aside insecurity, community ownership and poor project implementation, corruption also affected the GGW project. Boko Haram insurgency, especially in the North Eastern States prevented the repair of damaged facilities at the affected project sites. It had its share on the success of the afforestation and livelihood development programme.

For instance, a top source in the NAGGW disclosed that capacity building centres built in few of the benefiting states have been completed and painted but not put to use due to fear of attacks. He argued that the agency was contemplating if it should be furnished with empowerment tools or left for the contractors to provide the tools when needed. “It was deliberate to reduce risks,” the source said.

“The project in Madagali started but could not continue due to the Boko Haram attacks. They took seedling there but cannot be nurtured,” Yerima added.

Cattle in search for pasture and water at the damaged GGW water pump in Ganga, Katsina State

Attempted looting from N10 billion approved fund

In the course of this report, it was reliably gathered how a retired Director of Finance and Administration, from the federal ministry of environment, allegedly parted N1 billion from the initial N10 billion approved by the past administration for the project. The said director was allegedly quizzed by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) until it led to new findings.

When Jibril was contacted to react to the allegation, the ex-minister acknowledged to the alleged theft but put the sum at about N900 million, disregarding the N1 billion claim. The incident, he noted happened prior to his assumption as the minister. He went on to explain how swift action was taken by the former Permanent Secretary (PS), Mrs. Fatima Mede adding that necessary investigation had commenced by the relevant anti-graft body after the fraud was reported. He advocated for value for money spent. As at the time of filing this report, investigation on the matter was on-going.

“It was not under our remit and it was a former director of finance that was involved in it. It was not up to a billion, I think it was about ₦900 million but it was recovered.”

Greta Green Wall Fund

He was asked to respond to the level of prosecution. But again, he said the proceeding commenced before his assumption to office. He clarified that the said fund is not in custody of the GGW agency but the ministry stressing that the recovered fund was already paid into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) via a Zenith Bank account.

“I don’t know because I did not meet the case here, it happened before we arrived but we are aware that the Permanent Secretary then took steps and made sure that the money was recovered through the Zenith Bank and sent to TSA. That is what I can say for now. I will not speak about what I don’t know fully but I cannot pretend not to be aware of what happened before. I’m aware it happened. I’m aware the money was recovered. It wasn’t with the GGW it was the Director of Finance in the ministry. I think he must have been pushed away now or may be retired or something because we didn’t meet him here.”

On how much has been released so far from the N10b implementation, the minister again directed the reporter to the GGW agency which he said was not in custody of the money. “If I tell you that over ₦900 million has been recovered into the TSA it means they must have spent some money in the initial take-off of what they have done and mark you; since that take off nothing has been given to them again. So this is what they have been using but I think I have the record somewhere but I don’t want to say something that is not correct. If I have the paper I should be able to say categorically but for now, let us assume that it is what was given to them that have been carrying them till now. We are struggling to also get the releases from the Ecological Fund Office but we haven’t gotten yet.”

Interestingly, further findings revealed that the accused director was framed for the fraud. A highly placed source at the ICPC revealed that the crime was committed by another private individual but the circumstance at which it was committed remained sketchy.

Batch 3 of NAGGW Trained but Sacked Forest Guards in Kano State. Ex-Minister claimed it was a job for the boys but a proper employment structure is being put together from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation to ensure prompt, stable coordination and payment.

“I have been able to confirm that the Commission recovered N925 Million in the Great Green Wall Programme but contrary to your findings the Director, Finance and Accounts was not responsible for the diversion of funds. It was actually done by a private citizen who is currently facing a criminal trial for the offence.”

Asked if it was possible for a private individual to access such fund without connivance with a public office holder, the source responded saying, “it is very possible.”

“Investigation revealed that the private citizen presented forged documents to the Bank and cloned the Director of Finance’s phone. He pretended to be the Director when the bank called to verify the authorisation of payment to companies listed in the forged documents,” the source added.

Usually, the ICPC posts on its official website corrupt cases it is handling, but the information could not be located on the official website.

But further discovery revealed that the accused person is a lawyer named Adeola Adeyanju. He allegedly forged the payment schedule of the ministry to withdraw from the ministry’s First City Monument Bank (FCMB) account where the approved sum for the GGW project was domiciled. The total sum was 924, 989,776.89. Fortunately, it was gathered that Mrs. Mede had issued standing instruction that she should be alerted each time money is withdrawn from the GGW account. This reportedly raised the red flag in the ministry when the lump sum was withdrawn.

The accused through his firm, Detwinx Global Service Limited, and other companies allegedly owned by his associates, Alo-zen Pharmacy Ltd, Afazuwa Ventures, De-Ormat Furniture Company and Felitex Global Enterprises had earlier got the fake contract, forged signature of the appropriate authority before receiving the payments.

The recovered sum was eventually presented to the former PS, Mrs. Mede and former Director General of the NAGGW, Ahmed Gon by Barr. Ekpo Nta, former DG of the ICPC.

Based on contract data gathered from the Budeshi platform of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), some of the project costs and locations were tracked to the remotest location in Sabon Birni, few metres to the Niger Republic. Project sites in Hong, Adamawa State; Futuk in Bauchi and other sites were also visited.

(Video of Afforestation project along Yanduna, Baure Road, Katsina) 

For instance in Sokoto State, Ungwar Lalle village residents in formerly captured Boko haram territories shared how a volunteer guard at the GGW borehole project site was once kidnapped.

“When the watchman was employed, the following year he went to Kano for training. The very night he arrived was when the thieves came.”

Successes and Recommendations

In 2017, a project worth N2, 663, 325 was awarded to reactivate Borehole facility in Unguwar Lalle village, Sabon Birnin Local Government, Sokoto. It was executed by Amijapp Nigeria Limited.

The project was functional as at the time of visit. CAC search conducted by Ilimi Chambers further revealed that the firm registered on 17th February 2011 was listed to “carry on the business of engineering work in all ramifications, to render engineering consultancy and Allied Services etc.”

During a visit to the project site residents were excited about the project repair and applauded the agency for the intervention. Though, the project location used to be a den of insurgents and kidnappers for years, the criminals have terrorised the community and stole submersible pumps. However, it has regained peace but the once kidnapped guard was said to have been owed for three years.

Initially, the people were very reluctant to take the reporter to the actual location of the project apparently due to past experiences coupled with being strangers in the community. In Unguwar Lalle community, the youth were engaged as manual labour during nursery preparations and after planting, were relieved and asked to leave. As a result, only a watchman was present keeping eye on the borehole facility and the nurseries.

Rehabilitated Borehole Facility Project in Unguwar Lalle, Sabon Birnin LGA, Sokoto State where a sacked forest guard turned volunteered security was once kidnapped

Rehabilitated Borehole Facility in Unguwar Lalle, Sabon Birnin LGA, Sokoto State where a sacked forest guard turned volunteered security was once kidnapped  

“You cannot keep going to a place where you are not being paid. You will see a lot of trees planted here. It’s only the watchman that’s keeping eye on them but I can tell you the trees are serving the purpose,” said Alhaji Usman Ladan, a community leader who spoke on behalf of the gardener. He expressed disappointment over the development stressing that the volunteer also has family and responsibilities.

“As I told you, for many years, he has worked without being given a Kobo.” He was said to be the only one that benefitted from the federal government training.

“The trees are now growing. It’s getting very big.” Clearly, the project is working but people were not fully engaged. “We are ready to help but the only situation is on the part of the government,” he added.

Great Green Wall admits weak project implementation, breach of Public Procurement Act  

Dr. Bukar Hassan, new Director-General of the agency expressed dissatisfaction over the project implementation. The last time he visited the project site was in 2014 but he could not hide his discomfort than to throw his weight behind the result findings of the investigation. “When you say the community are complaining that they are not being carried along, it’s absolutely not appropriate. They should be because the infrastructure is being provided for them,” he said.

Hassan said from the beginning meetings were held with the community about the project implementation and why the rural dwellers must be at the centre of its execution.

DG National Agency for Great Green Wall (NAGGW), Dr. Bukar Hassan Reacting to the Story at the Agency’s Headquarters in Abuja

“You are working in a desert and the place is a desert because there is no water. You also want to put up something that will need water, this means you have to provide the water before you bring the thing on board and the water needs to be sustained, so the only way you can sustain it is if you bring the people around on board…..”

“……..the borehole switch problem is just N5, 000. The villagers will spend N5,000 times something looking for water but they won’t spend the N5, 000 to repair it because you did not just carry them along,” Hassan added.

The DG was obviously upset for the agency’s breach of the Public Procurement Act saying adherence to the Act will be in the agency’s interest. He wondered how an IT company won bids to execute nursery preparation for tree planting projects. Aside, he said the communities should have been empowered to grow and supply seeds for plantation rather than awarding such contracts to businessmen at the city centres.

“We will have to take that up as well. The procurement process is very clear unless if you don’t want it. You have to do due diligent on every company you are giving job. Due diligent doesn’t mean it should have money but what is the antecedent of the company? If the firm just buys flags and sell, will you want it to dig well for you? There are two problems, one, he may not have the financial capacity, two, he may not have a rig to execute the job.”

Sustainable Solutions 

Despite all the shortcomings, it is never late for the NAGGW to re-strategise and improve on the project implementation process. It is important to get the communities fully involved, keep the traditional leaders in the know, thus encouraging them to drive the process at the grassroots with the strong support of the state ministry of environments.

Aside, the government need to expedite action to fully employ the 400, 000 forest guards earmarked for the project in the 11 states and improve its monitoring and evaluation process. Climate-smart agriculture is the modern technique that ensures farm practice is carried out without destroying the environment. Hence, farmers need to be equipped with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to increase productivity and yet protect nature.

For instance, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is currently executing a $193.8 million smart agriculture project known as the Climate Change Adaptation and Agribusiness Support Programme in the Savannah Belt of the country. At least seven northern states are involved in the six years programme that started in 2013.

An email sent to the FAO to determine amount so far released as an intervention for the GGW project is yet to be replied as at the time of filing this report. The FAO is also executing similar smart agriculture project in few states in the northern region.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was mailed through Ms. Camilla Nordheim-Larsten, the contact person to ascertain sum released to the federal government from its $8 billion commitment but no response was received.

However, as part of new measures to fix the problem Hassan disclosed plans to sponsor selected officials of the agency to understudy the GGW project implementation in Senegal where reasonable success is being recorded. He attributed Senegal’s success to right project execution starting from women groups – it provided water, technical backups, irrigation facilities, training and ensure that all the communities have associations where developed seeds are being grown under the close supervision of ministry officials.

He further invited this reporter to share his findings on the field with directors in the agency in order to renew the agency’s strategy on better project implementation.

Renowned environmentalist, the Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey advised further that people should be at the centre of the project. He described the GGW initiative as an opportunity to reforest the affected states and improve the livelihood of the affected desert-threatened rural communities.

Bassey tasked the host communities to plant indigenous species to revive the environment. He tasked them to avoid toxic chemicals and genetically modified seeds thus building an economic zone of well-being, peace and social cohesion.

“Northern Nigeria ought to be greener than the Southern Niger Republic. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And it is all about environmental management. Annual tree planting exercises have turned into a hollow ritual because they don’t gain traction with the people.  The people have to be in the centre of any environmental regeneration effort. The Great Green Wall project offers opportunity and could be a catalyst to reforesting the states impacted by desertification.

“My recommendation for this to happen is to see the 15 km swath of land as an experimental space and this should be one with a scrupulously holistic manner. We should learn from success stories in our neighbouring countries, in particular, Burkina Faso and the Niger Republic. In both countries, we find examples of successful efforts by farmers to regenerate drylands.  In Burkina Faso, the example is of a farmer, Mr Yacuba Sawadogo, who has raised a forest in that country using indigenous technology and knowledge.

“Through a technique known as Zai technology moisture and nutrients are retained by ridges made of stones and rocks in various configurations. I have had to privilege of visiting his forest as well as farms using the same technique. There is nothing exotic about the approach and there are no artificial or chemical inputs. The farmers use their own meagre resources to great effect.

“In Niger Republic and in other countries, Tony Rinaudo, an agronomist has developed a technique that involves growing up trees from existing root systems. He found that roots of trees that may have been cut were often still intact. He refers to these root systems as “underground forests”. His work is based on selecting the right plants, pruning and protecting until they grow into trees. These approaches require effort, commitment and a change of attitudes. The two examples I have cited are of individuals that have been named co-recipients of the Right Livelihood Award or Alternative Nobel Prize for their solid work that could turn the dry Sahel into a forest zone if their methods are adopted and upscaled.”

 

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