© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Upward review of Ecological Fund reveals NASS’ culpability in mismanagement
By Ruth Olorunbi
“I can say that I have never seen this kind of disaster in my life,” Katsina state governor, Aminu Masari, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as he spoke about the devastating effect of ecological flooding incident which killed 44 people this past month. “I have seen a young groom of three days who lost his bride and still searching for her,” he said.
So far, more than 100 people have been killed this year by multiple flooding across Nigeria, more than 37 years since the Nigerian government set up an ecological fund meant to curb and prevent flooding, among other purposes.
In the last five months since the rains started to fall in some parts of the country, hundreds of people have been reported killed in several states such as Kano, Katsina, Ondo, Jigawa, Niger, Delta and even the Federal Capital Territory, while several people have been left homeless and their properties destroyed. Before the year ends, an additional 380 Local Government Areas in 35 states are expected to experience flooding, Nigeria Hydrological Agency (NHSA) said in its 2018 Annual Flood Outlook.
Food shortages concerns
This raises several concerns, the second biggest being food shortages, following fears of potential loss of life and property across the county. This fear doesn’t seem far-fetched, food outlook from the country’s ministry of agriculture and rural development indicates.
According to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh’s estimation, Nigeria could potentially be “in serious trouble for rice, millet, sorghum and maize next year,” as floods in Nigeria are wiping out farms and forcing farmers to harvest prematurely this year.
“This year has not been a very good year for us farmers. We have suffered damages from the violent attacks on our farms by herders and now flood is washing away our farms. This is not just Katsina’s problem. It affects states like Zamfara, Sokoto, Kano and all over Nigeria,” Tukur Alimi, a farmer in Katsina said.
“In a country where conflicts and insurgency have displaced tens of thousands of people, with properties, crops and livestock worth billions of naira destroyed, one would think fixing the ecological problems that are in part responsible for these conflicts would be a priority by the Nigerian government,” a highly placed member of the Centre for Social Justice Limited by Guarantee (CSJ) a Nigerian not for profit focusing on rights-based approach to public finance management and political finance reforms, said.
In context of Nigeria’s ecological problems are climate-related conflicts that continue to threaten the environmental sustainability in northern Nigeria, peace and conflicts specialists said and are worried that they don’t see an end in sight in the oil-dependent economy as they predict that the conflict will continue to expand to other parts of Nigeria, as Wale Adeboye, Country Coordinator, Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI) Nigeria said.
By security analysts’ projection, Nigeria’s annual loss of up to 350,000 hectares of land to desert encroachment as the Sahara desert advances southwards at the rate of 0.6 km every year, and this by UNEP’s estimates will continue to drive increased competition over grazing land; and will escalate armed conflict between herdsmen and agrarian host communities. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), more than 20 million hectares are reduced annually, putting 35% of the world’s land surface at risk, at the moment.
This, therefore, once again raises the fear of food security in Nigeria. Data from the US Department of Agriculture sees Nigeria’s 2018-19 combined grain imports as expanding more than 50 per cent as Nigeria’s food production shrinks due to herders attacks in traditional grain producing belt of Nigeria as well as rising cost of local production affecting rice, wheat and corn.
Adeboye says violence the oil-dependent economy is not seen as going away “in the foreseeable future” and will “unfortunately” lead to increased dependency on food imports, “as violence likely spreads to other parts of Nigeria.”
Despite interventions, communities are left worse off
The ecological fund office said it had disbursed billions of naira in funding for intervention projects meant to curb flooding across several states in Nigeria. Yet, people like Taminu Zubairu in Kano state and Tola Adekanmbi in Ondo state say they are yet to get feel positive impacts from the projects.
Marred by a history of mismanagement and corruption, the managers of the fund have left the people severely disappointment, according to Tanimu Zabairu, who lives in Kano state, where two major projects funded by the ecological fund are sited.
According to Zabairu, several interventions projects in the state did provide an immediate relief at the inception of the project but as the projects are left uncompleted or abandoned, the communities often time left worse off than they already were.
One of the two projects funded by the ecological fund office is the Gudu Tukuntawa and Zoo road erosion and flood control project contracted to an Abuja-based African Development Company Ltd, an export and import company. Although the project, commissioned in 2015, according to a government record, was classified as 30 per cent completed in 2018, a visit to the project site shows the construction only started “five months ago and that majority of the project was left abandoned,” according to the site supervisor, Joseph Adejoh.
And his team are only working on a two-kilometre channel that would lead to a bridge that may or may not be demolished because it may or may not have met appropriate specifications, adding no one is sure when the project will be completed.
A resident who lives beside the site that seemed abandoned said work had been suspended on the site since 2016. “We just noticed they stopped coming. The worst part is that the water that is being channelled from another place will flood our houses as soon as it begins to rain heavily in the coming months,” Aisha Aliyu, the resident said.
A story is told about how some houses were flooded by the rain, sweeping away children and women. One of the survivors of the incident, a husband who lost his wife and children were said to have left town altogether. “We cannot say what has become of the man. It is a really terrible day as the flood washed a lot of people including children away that day,” Zabairu said.
The second of the two projects, “Erosion and Flood Control” at Dumbulun, Tsanyawa LGA contracted to UYK Nigeria Limited, a construction company with offices in Kano and Abuja in June, 2017 and classified “100 per cent” completed by the Nigerian government is causing problems for the people of the area mainly because, according to them, the drainage system is too narrow and fails to prevent flooding in the area.
Residents of Kunchi/Tsanyawa Federal Constituency told this reporter that the purpose of the Senate’s constituency project to prevent flooding has not been met as flooding has resurfaced due to narrow drainages constructed.
Abubakar Tsanyawa, a resident of the area who was at the site of the project when this reporter got there, said “this project is nowhere near completed” contrary to the government records which showed that the project was per cent completed. According to him, despite the fact that the project has reached about 90 per cent completion, the narrow drainage being constructed on the waterway after breaking a lake in the affected area is leading flood into their village.
“We are overwhelmed flooding despite the project in our village. When this project started, we thought we were being saved by the government but the narrow drainage constructed is making the situation worse. Erosion water flows across the nook and cranny of the village during the rainy season and we are now calling the federal government to come to our rescue,” Kabiru Isah said.
Galadiman Dumbulum, who spoke on behalf of the village head confirmed the residents’ views.
Kano state is the commercial nerve centre of Northern Nigeria and is the second largest city in Nigeria; it is also known as one of the states worst hit by land degradation and environmental insecurity in the country. “There are thousands of erosion gullies scattered across the 44 local governments of this ancient city,” Nura Haruna Nudi, this reporter’s tour guide said.
Flooding is one of the issues that affect livelihoods of the people in rural Kano, Hassan Ahmed, a farmer/taxi driver said. Although he doesn’t farm in a commercial capacity, he said his friends who do complain bitterly when it begins to rain.
“The only problem we have with rain in Kano is flooding. Flooding makes going out to farm dangerous because the gullies are filled with water and you may lose your balance and fall into the ditches. Once that happens, chances of surviving is very slim. Going on about with our lives and commercial activities become a problem,” a man who simply gave his name as Usman said.
In Ondo, similar stories are told by the people in the state.
‘Our children can’t go to school’
Worst hit states like Kano, Anambra and Ondo still reel from effects of the damages from last year’s during the rainy season; as they face challenges this year’s rain brings with it in spite of several billions of naira in funding towards projects that could give the townspeople some respite from recurrent flooding.
Projects like the Soil Erosion Control Works at Usho/Ise Road, commissioned in November 2015, and the Erosion and Flood Control Project at Aiyeotoro Community, commissioned in June 2017, were recorded as 100 per cent completed by the Ecological Fund Office, but visits to the areas show that the projects do not provide any respite for the people of these communities. An ongoing project, Ondo Township Erosion Control Works, which commenced in November 2017, is said to be 30 per cent completed.
In Aiyetoro, where the multi-billion naira project was cited, parents say their children have difficulties getting to school whenever it rains in their area.
Tola Adekanmbi, a mother of two said she becomes fearful whenever it rains in her community as the resultant flood has been known to wash people away. “I usually don’t allow my children to go to school when it rains heavily because of the flooding. More so, many of the schools are usually affected so what’s the point of exposing my children to danger? Let me just say this, our children cannot go to school when it rains in this place,” she said.
At the time of the visit to the Ayetoro, it had been raining for days leading to severe flooding in those communities and therefore made visiting the to the project site “very dangerous,” according to a journalist, Hakeem Gbadamosi, who collaborated with this reporter on this story in Ondo State.
At Igbokoda in Ilaje Local Government Area of the state for instance, where the sum of N2 billion was intervention project was meant to have begun, residents said the project has “failed to see the light of the day.” Alhaji Kareem Anifowose, a resident of Davog stretch along Ijoka in Akure said: “many houses have been eroded by the flow of water that was not properly channelled due to the lack of constructed drainages. This destroyed houses, fences during heavy rains while some houses have been pulled down.”
Failure of the office
As issues arise with the projects funded by the EFO, many stakeholders are tracing the failure of the fund to the discretionary of the fund manager, that is any sitting president to disburse the fund he or she sees fit and thus, contravening purpose it was created and it’s leading the debate that the National Assembly might be complicit in the mismanagement of the special intervention fund.
“We shouldn’t be having these problems today. These problems were meant to have been taken care of by the ecological fund established in 1981,” Olumide Idowu, Country Manager, Climate Scorecard said, adding that he is not entirely surprised that nearly 40 years after, the problems the fund was meant to solve still notoriously persists.
“Again, the 2012 flood or any other flood since the establishment of an ecological fund should not have happened in this country if the fund had been used for the purpose it was created. But what we have seen is that the disaster the fund was meant to prevent keeps on happening year in year out. I grew up hearing about the ecological fund and what it was meant to do, and now, sadly, it has not done much to mitigate these preventable and unfortunate disasters,” Idowu said.
According to him, the problem with the fund is that it was left at the discretion of an incumbent head of state to be managed as he or she deems fit.
“Who is going to track the president? The fact that the Ecological Fund is placed under the presidency means that there the president has the power to do as he wishes with the fund and there is no one to query him. This is where the National Assembly should have stepped in and performed an oversight function on the fund. The best way would have been to set up independent managers for the fund but we are yet to see that happen,” Idowu said.
Is the senate culpable in alleged mismanagement of the fund?
Despite lack of oversight in managing the fund, the Nigerian Senate appears to want to increase the special intervention fund. Yet there are numerous allegations of misappropriation, theft and failures of the ecological fund, going by the bill that has passed the second reading in the Senate; prompting several stakeholders to view the accusation of mismanagement of the fund by the Nigerian Senate disingenuous given that in one hand, it alleges that the sum of N500 billion of the fund was misappropriated and in the other, it is asking for an upward review of the fund from the Federation Account.
In 1981 when the fund was first established, it originally received one per cent of the Federation Account but was reviewed upwards to two in 1992. Documents obtained from the Senate show that currently, Senator Mohammed Hassan has sponsored a bill to review the ecological fund upward from two to three per cent.
Members of several civil society organisation wonder what might be the justification or rationale behind the quest to increase deductions from the Federation Account to three per cent from the initial two per cent, given that nine years ago, a similar bill asking for the exact same thing was thrown out by the Senate. They are also asking why, unlike previous instances, the Senate is trying to keep them out of deliberations on the proposed bill.
Other watchdog agencies including Center For Climate Change and Environmental Studies have asked why the National Assembly has not up until now found ways to regulate the fund, especially as several studies such as Management of Ecological Fund and Natural-resource Conflict in Northern Nigeria have indicated. The studies have shown that the fund was “utilized to serve private interests” and has “led to the escalation of natural-resource conflicts in northern Nigeria.”
“We are perplexed by what is happening in the Senate regarding this bill. Why is the Senate keen on increasing the ecological fund when right now they have not found any solution to the challenges facing the bill?
“The bill sponsored by Senator Hassan was the same bill thrown out by the Senate in 2008 when the then Senator Grace Folashade Bent proposed an upward review to 3 per cent. Why has the Senate allowed Senator Hassan’s bill to pass the second reading?” the source at CSJ asked.
Same bill, different sponsors
A comparison of the two bills, one by Senator Bent in 2008 and the other by Senator Hassan in 2017 showed that the later is a duplication of the earlier bill seeking to repeal the same non-existent Act as the first bill.
In the bill initially sponsored by Senator Bent, the senator proposed back in 2008 that the National Assembly enacts a fund that “shall be maintained and administered under the authority of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces or as designated by the President” and “there shall be paid into the Fund not less than three per cent of the total consolidated revenue of the Federal Government from the annual budget.” The bill did not seek to provide oversight for the fund at the time. Instead, it sought to repeal the “Ecological Fund Act 36 of 1988; and the Ecological Fund (Amendment) Act 106 of 1992.”
The bill “failed to pass as the Acts it sought to repeal did not exist” according to an official in the Senate who is familiar with the matter.
Nine years after, the bill resurfaces almost verbatim except for a few alterations and seeks to repeal the previous ones almost a decade ago. This time, with Senator Hassan as its sponsor, the bill has passed the second reading at the Senate. And like its predecessor, the bill did not seek provisions of oversight functions over the fund. Although Senator Mohammadu told reporters that the Senate has resolved to enact a legislation to establish and regulate the operations of the Fund and other similar funds given that the ecological fund was operated like a ‘slush,’ at the free will of the incumbent, there is no evidence in his bill or anywhere else that the Senate made such resolution.
Multiple calls placed to Senator Bukar Ibrahim, Chairman, Ecology & Climate Change Committee, seeking clarifications on the bill and other investigations, went unanswered. The first call was placed in Abuja at 13:02, July 18, 2018, while other calls were subsequently placed thereafter. The last call to the Senator was placed at 15:02, August 30, 2018, and that also were not answered.
The mismanagement of the fund meant to check ecological problems that affect millions of Nigerians put the country’s attainment of 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda in jeopardy, said Dr Aminu Zakari, Executive Director, Centre For Climate Change and Environmental Studies, Abuja.
This investigation was supported by the Ford Foundation and International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).