INVESTIGATION: Failed contracts, lack of community ownership mar multi-billion Naira Great Green Wall project (Part1)

In this investigative piece, OLUGBENGA ADANIKIN writes on the impact of climate change in 11 northern states in Nigeria where desert encroachment is threatening the survival of rural communities on daily basis. The report also details how the multi-billion Naira projects aimed at planting walls of trees across over 7,700 kilometres of the desert strip from Dakar in Senegal to Djibouti have been dogged with poor project implementation, insecurity,  and weak community ownership of the project. 

THE vast land is harsh and unfriendly. Its cruelty is such that move farmers to tears. Plants are no longer green as expected and farm harvests keep declining. The impact of climate change on rural communities is gradually telling on the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists in the 11 northern states. The affected states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara and Yobe.

Alh. Mohammed Taolu is one of the poor rural farmers in Yanduna, Baure Local Government Area, Katsina State, one of the most affected states in the country.

“We used to have normal rainfall but the rain pattern has changed unlike before,” said Taolu, the 80-year-old maize and wheat farmer. Effect of climate change has affected his crop yields but, he is yet unaware of the actual cause.

Data from the National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) shows that climate change has worsened livelihoods of over 40 million people in the affected states and consumes about 2,168sq km of rangeland and cropland each year, destroying human settlements, inducing forced migration, exacerbating rural poverty and social conflicts. As at 2012, the nation is also reported to be losing 351,000 hectares of landmass to desert annually, thus moving at the rate of 0.5 kilometres yearly.

This represents over 43 per cent of Nigeria’s landmass currently threatened by drought and environmental scourge made worse by depletion of its forest cover which, over the years, has drastically declined to less than 6 per cent as against 25 per cent recommendation of the agency of the United Nations.

Alh. Taolu Muhammed, resting under a tree after his arrival from his farm close to the GGW Project site in Yanduna, Katsina

Poor rural farmers like Alhaji Taolu are among those most affected by desertification and climate change in the region. The threat of climate on man, livestock and the entire ecosystem is appalling, yet the locals perceived these as normal call of nature.

Beyond its effects on food crops, the implication of the harsh climatic variability has increased poverty, affected water supply, sanitation and proper hygiene (WASH) in the worst-hit states.

The threat led to the afforestation programme in the affected region. The pan-African project covers 11 countries in Africa including the 11 States in Nigeria. The nations are Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Senegal. But the project is yet to make any positive impact in Nigeria. Soil top layers are sterile; therefore trees still struggle to survive.

Shrubs along Katsina road preventing sand dune in one of the affected states

Rabiu Osi, 42 years old farmer, husband to Hajara Osi and father of three children believe the change in the weather pattern was normal, despite his declining harvest on yearly basis. He is known for growing Millet, Beans, Groundnut and Maize. An indigene of Yanduna community in Katsina,  Rabiu and his household members also use a wood stove for cooking. There are times when trees meant to serve as windbreakers are trimmed to allow photosynthesis on their crops. His wife, Hajara will often pick-up the trimmed branches, allow it dry and use for cooking, oblivious of the danger of the pollution.

“I had 50 bags after harvesting my beans, millet, groundnut and maize in the last farming season but I used to get between 60 and 70 bags.”

However, as part of climate change adaptation and resilience measures, the NAGGW awarded tree planting contracts in the area to plant mangoes and other fruit crops to support the livelihood of the people. It is believed that Yanduna and people from other affected communities could pluck the fruits, sell and earn some money to meet some of their basic needs since their main source of livelihood is threatened.

This is also evident in Maibara in Yanduwa and Rogogo community in Zango Local Government Area of Katsina. Regrettably, few trees planted in Baure are threatened by artificial deep gullies also made worse by construction activities. The firms involved took advantage of the infertile side of the rough dusty road to excavate the soil for use, leaving the other side for farmers.

Soil excavation by construction firms threatening one of the afforestation project sites in Yanduna, Katsina

In Ganga Community, Daura LGA, Katsina, the situation is far worse. Due to desert encroachment, the community has cultivated several nursery gardens. While some are owned by private individuals solely for business others are operated by associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. It is a fast business for those interested. At the NAGGW project site located in the community, a short distance to NTA Daura, the site located in Ganga has been covered by weeds. It has been neglected and as at the time of visit, the borehole project was already shut down. Prior to its breakdown, the garden was already converted to farmland for all manners of crops by a group of local farmers. The barricaded garden contract was to raise over 76, 000 assorted seedlings and the projects were awarded by the NAGGW to Dabellfari Nigeria Limited (N6,390,932.08) and KLGM International Limited (N2,679,442.5) in 2017 respectively.

Company search on Dabellfari from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) showed that the firm registered on 8th May 2013 to execute “business of computer equipment, sale and services, general contract, general suppliers, sat installation and wireless service,” thus not related to agro-allied or environmental services.

The name search on the second contractor KLGM revealed that the firm’s file has a ‘caveat’ due to petition against one of the Directors while two other directors, Mr Makinwa Akintunde and Mrs Bent Grace Folashade were already resigned from the company as at the time of the search. This same ‘caveat’ also applied to a director in Dabellfari Nigeria Ltd.

When Mr Keith Llewellyn, Director at KLGM was contacted at the firm’s registered office in Suite 103, APC Plaza, Zone 4, there were no signs of such organisation. At the entrance were names of two different organisations named Jack Ventures Group and Women Inter-tribal Marriage in Nigeria with no indication of KLGM.

Further enquiry was made at the reception but the male receptionist and about three others showed ignorance of the firm. “I have never heard of such company in this office complex,” the receptionist said.

At the registered office of Dabellfari Nigeria Limited located at 25, Lobito Crescent, Abuja, an attempt was made to meet with Mr Dolapo Jamini Bello, a director of the firm. Unfortunately, Dabellfari Nigeria Limited the contracted company does not exist in the location. The address located at the highbrow of Abuja Business District (ABD) is a residential building. According to a young security personnel manning the gate, the residential building has only two offices one of which is into pedicure service.

Abandoned and damaged borehole facility in Ganga GGW Project site, Daura LGA, Katsina

Mallam Bala Lawal (35), a volunteer guard at Ganga nursery garden had to plant cassava, moringa, maize and beans including ‘Yakusa’ which his wives mostly use as soup. He had visited with his children to weed the garden. Lawal, who doubles as commercial motorcyclist said he had to convert the garden to farmland in order to meet needs of his two wives and the nine children.

“The irrigation pipes used to be horizontal to properly wet the nurseries but since it got damaged, children come around to play with it.”

Close observation showed that only a few plants such as Banana, Mango and Guava had survived. The plantain had died until the emergence of the rain, said Lawal the gardener.

“The solar panel on the borehole is also damaged so it affected watering of the nurseries and denied the cattle access to water,” said Nasir Musa, a pastoralist who is conversant with the site. He was at the site to feed and meet thirst need of his cattle but left disappointed. The pumps were no longer functional. Aside from damaged pump, perimeter fence of the borehole facility and nursery gardens have been destroyed. Cattle easily parade in to graze but the 20 years old Musa, was always magnanimous enough to prevent the animals from moving beyond the range to other parts of the garden with food crops. Mallam Ashiru Shehu, another pastoralist decried the walk stretch he takes with his herd to the nearest river since the pump broke down. All these efforts were to satisfy the thirst of his livestock.

As at date, there are very few signs of nurseries planted except shrubs and stunted food crops.

GGW damaged and abandoned water pump built for pastoralists in Ganga Project site, Katsina

Beyond Yanduna in Katsina, there are several other communities threatened by desertification in Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara with GGW intervention projects poorly executed or abandoned in the affected states.

During the investigation, findings further revealed that experiences had caused the locals to plant trees around their compounds. Interventions from selected state governments to plant trees were noticeable aside from those planted during Sallah celebration. For instance, Sokoto state government during the last Sallah planted 6, 000 trees. Beyond those guarded sets of trees, it is more of an abomination for any individual to cut down trees planted at Eid prayer ground. However, trees at open spaces are cut down at free-will for domestic purposes.

Tree falling in no small measure has reduced Nigeria’s forest cover while climate change impact bites harder. It narrows chances of the country move towards realising its commitment to reducing carbon emission by 2020 through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

A recent study from the United Nations Environment stated that ecosystem degradation has cost Africa $68 billion annually coupled with losses up to 6.6 million tonnes of the potential grain harvest. In the northern part of the country where over 12 million people largely in the North West and North Eastern region relies on wood for cooking, survival is becoming difficult as a result of deforestation and excess exposure to smokes.

In one of its reports, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also attributed air pollution as the world largest single environmental health risk with a record of 4.6 million deaths annually. Other findings put the statistics at 5.5 million deaths yearly while about 60, 000 women are reported to be victims of domestic carbon emission in Nigeria. So deforestation and climate change are twin environmental issues that must both be tackled to save northern communities and their livelihood.

How the Great Green Wall was meant to check desertification, improve rural livelihoods 

The GGW is expected to address most problems associated with desert encroachment. It all started when the Federal Government through the Ex-Vice President Nnamadi Sambo, on May 24, 2013, approved the sum of N10 billion for the afforestation program in the 11 affected states. The initiative is Nigeria’s component in the AU regional programme initiated by the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to the AU leadership in 2005 to cushion desert encroachment. Though, first introduced in the 1980s by Burkina Faso’s former Head of State, Thomas Sankara, the essence was to plant walls of trees from Senegal to Djibouti and reclaim lands already affected by the Sahara Desert. It was also meant to revive the livelihood of the rural inhabitants, revive the entire ecosystem, provide potable water and employ youths as forest guards among others.

At the regional level, the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall was created with a harmonized regional strategy adopted in 2012 by the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN). This followed the launching of the Action Against Desertification program by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Union (EU) in collaboration with African and other regional partners.

The Initiative was expected to lead to the sustainable management of land, water and vegetation on up to 2 million hectares of croplands, rangelands and dryland forest ecosystem per country, protection of threatened dryland biodiversity, and the sequestering of 0.5 to 3.1 million tons of carbon per year.

This was how Nigeria’s component of the Pan African GGW project commenced with the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) set up in the Environment Ministry and later became the NAGGW.

At first, it got N3.3 billion solely for project work plan from the N10b approved by the Jonathan-led administration. Contracts were eventually awarded for the supply of seedlings, construction of boreholes and planting of trees etc. Aside from the lump sum, there was EU and FAO support of 20m Euros (N8.2 billion) and $4 billion (N1.4 trillion) from the United Nations which totals (N1,452,260,000,000).

According to findings, the $4b commitment was joint support from France, African Development Bank (AfDB), Global Environment Facility ($115 million), World Bank ($1.9b) and aid from some African leaders. Also in 2015, during COP21, the AfDB President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina revealed that the Bank has so far released $12 billion for the project and pledged to mobilise an additional $50 billion to provide clean energy for Africa including the Sahara-Sahel region.

Meanwhile, $8 billion joint support commitment was made by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to support all 20 African countries including the 11 primary nations and Nigeria’s 11 frontline states.

With all these commitments, expectations were high that the land restoration and human livelihood support programme should by 2018 achieve a very significant mapped-out objective. Obviously, it showed there is a clear link between realising the project and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda.

Some of the objectives based on the GGW project action plans include: developing and implementing an integrated approach to Sustainable Land Management (SLM) that is crucial to minimizing land degradation, rehabilitating degraded areas and ensuring the optimal use of land resources for the benefit of present and future generations. It also includes developing and promoting sustainable agriculture and water management practices; ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems, using appropriate techniques and technologies and improving information sharing and cooperation among stakeholders. Other objectives are strengthening systemic and institutional capacity for enhanced desertification governance and resource mobilization; improving scientific knowledge on desertification and drought phenomena, and effective monitoring and evaluation for impact.

From all indications, the nation still has lots to do in achieving these goals. Nothing is being heard of the amount released from the commitments and fund expended so far in executing the project. The Minister of Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, during an exclusive interview, explained that he was not fully aware of the N10 billion approved sum, as it was not approved by the current administration. “The ₦10billion you are talking about, I am not in the full picture of it because it did not happen under my view…..we must be transparent, we must do the right thing and we must make sure that our people get value for their money.”

The NAGGW is yet to release an official statement on the amount so far released either from the treasury or from the international commitments. NAGGW Head of Information Media and Publicity, Mrs. Daze Larai, said the commitments were all promises yet to be fulfilled when contacted.

The former President Goodluck Jonathan, during his administration had stated that Nigeria will require between N85 billion to N100 billion to implement the project, revive livelihood and construct industries in the affected region, thus need to source funds from external channels.

Despite the seriousness it received, especially during the official flag-off, the project is still foot-dragging and bedevilled by corruption and poor implementation. Findings at the project sites revealed that the actual beneficiaries who are rural dwellers were not fully involved in the project execution process. Hence, project sustainability became a concern.

For instance, in Gidan Gabes town, Munjibir, Kano state, the contractor, Aquaview Investment Limited got N1,168,475 to plant seedlings at the 5 Hectares Woodlot plantation. The project was executed but most of the nurseries were dead as at the time of visiting the project site while others were stunted due to lack of water. No borehole facility was provided with either for the community or woodlot plantation. According to the community, efforts were made to drill the ground for portable but the contractor equipment hit rock underground so the idea was later jettisoned.

Muhammmed Bello, gardener at the GGW Project site in Gidan-Gabes Kano pointing at a stunted nursery due to poor access to water    

“The contractor came to plant the nurseries during the rainy season. Everybody took part in the planting and was paid for the job but we were not employed to continuously monitor and water the plants.”

“As you can see, the nurseries have died because they are not being taken care of,” one of the residents who took part during the temporary engagement said, adding that “there was no training or directive from the contractor not to cut trees except for those newly planted.”

When the firm name search was subjected to Corporate Affairs Commission, it was not located in the commission database of registered companies.

Setbacks militating against GGW projects

One of the concerns of the various host communities and stakeholders was that about 700 forest guards initially trained by the federal ministry of environment, specifically in Kano state were sacked while the stealing of submersible machines at the project sites went on the increase. The affected people, mostly in need of basic amenities lost hope of being engaged and to earn incomes due to government decision to halt the recruitment process. According to the locals, there was no training to build their capacity.

Incidentally, the sack was contrary to the objective of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel National Strategic Action Plan (GGWSAP) which stated that about 4,500 forest guards should be recruited and trained with 450 extension officers engaged across the affected states. Moreover, 60 million drought resistant tree seedlings ought to be planted for the establishment of the adjoining belt and over 100,000 people to be engaged in the planting process.

However, the projects still have relatively no forest guards. Few local guards met at the project sites were either volunteering or owed. So they are moved to convert nearby spaces to farmlands to make a living unlike other nations like Senegal, Ethiopia where the GGW is being executed with forest guards, recording more significant success.

“It is jobs for the boys before the environment minister became Emir of Nasarawa in Nasarawa State, Ibrahim Jibril said. According to him, most of the recruited persons have not been performing their duties as expected. But he was quick to say that efforts were on-going to develop a structured system in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (OHSF), such that when new recruits are engaged, they would be captured in the federal government payment system and those close to the GGW project sites would be employed.

“When you look at the way of recruiting people just because they belong to a political party, I can go on and say give me the supporters of All Progressive Congress (APC) and let them work here but then they will have that sense of entitlement because they belong to APC and APC is in government in the state or the local government or federal, so they do not need to work; that was what happened before. At that time, the idea was not to get them permanently engaged, it was to give them just a period of months to sustain the trees and even at that, lots of them were not reporting, so when the time expired and there was no budgetary provision for them, they had to stop.”

Logs of wood being arranged for sale at the GGW project site in Gidan Gabes, Minjibir, Kano

Senegal, one of the project member nations is being applauded for its success. It has so far planted 11.4 million trees and restored 25, 000 hectares of degraded land while Ethiopia has restored 15 million hectares of land. Nigeria has reclaimed 5 million hectares of degraded land and created 20,000 jobs, according to the UN agency to combat desertification.

In Adamawa State, the project almost totally failed except in Mitchika and Vintim village where it succeeded. It was also faulted due to weak harmonious relationship between the state and federal government. Normally, state directors of forestry ought to be the desk officers for the project while federal staffs work with the directors. Findings, however, revealed that the relationship between the two key officials has dwindled over time.

    The project is also being implemented in Mada, Guyuk LGA; Mubi North, Loko in Song, Bazza in Michicka, Pela, Hong LGA among few other locations in the state.

    The Deputy Director of Forestry Department, Mr. Stephen Yerima, who spoke after getting a nod from the Permanent Secretary was willing to speak about the dysfunction in the project implementation process but sought approval from the PS.  “In Loko, it was a total failure. Even a single seedling could not survive because people were not sensitised about taking ownership. Initially, people were involved but later the guards were sacked, ” he explained.

    Click here to read part two. 

    This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

    Olugbenga heads the Investigations Desk at The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at [email protected]. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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