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The ecological fund and the cans of worms

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Homes flooded in Nigeria

Mallam Garba Shehu put me to this. In an FRCN programme last week, the suave senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity asked us to get into the habit of interrogating our governors and local government chairmen on how they have been spending the ecological fund given to them every month.

My antenna went up. I do not know much about the fund. I have taken no special interest in it. Shehu said that the states and local governments receive 1.4 per cent from the federation account as ecological fund while the Federal Government takes only one per cent every month. And yet, when the ecology, in a bad mood, visits our communities with disaster, as in devastating floods in Benue and Kogi states, we tend to excoriate the Federal Government for either letting it happen or leaving the victims without succor or both. He thought it was unfair. I thought so too.

So, I set off on the trail of the ecological fund. And I stepped into a cesspit of opacity, lies, obfuscation, a web of mind-boggling corruption and criminal deceit in how the fund is supposedly spent in tackling the challenges of ecological problems caused by man or nature. In other words, the fund is infected with the Nigerian virus. The more we wish to know, the less we know.

First, I stepped a few steps back into the history of the ecological fund. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the fund was a pragmatic response by President Shehu Shagari to what was then a problem that had the potential to grow and overwhelm the nation at a point in its development history. Shagari set up the fund through the federation account act of 1981. I think what triggered his immediate response to the ecological problems, real or potential, was the Bakolori dam crisis and the annual bad mood of the small stream that snakes through parts of Ibadan city, called Ogunpa. Every year the stream unleashed its unbelievable destructive power on the people living along its banks.

Under that act from which it derived its legitimacy, the fund was allocated one per cent from the federation account. This was considered adequate at the time as an intervention effort to ensure that Nigerians in areas prone to natural or man-made ecological problems would receive instant succor to begin the delicate and painful process of rebuilding their lives.

But because of the growing ecological challenges in the country, it became necessary to pump more money into the fund. Decree 36 of 1984 and Decree 106 of 1992 raised the percentage of the fund accruable to the fund from one to two per cent. A further modification to this was effected in the federation account order of July 8, 2002. This raised the total to three per cent. Under the law, the fund is administered on the instruction of the president through the Ecological Fund Office headed by a permanent secretary.

The sharing formula is 48 per cent to the Federal Government, 24 per cent to states and 20 per cent to local governments. Twenty per cent of the Federal Government’s share goes to NEMA. So, why do the states and the local governments still put the responsibility for tackling ecological problems entirely on the federal government? This is the question Shehu wants us to ask our state governments and local government chairmen. Good.

At its inception, the fund had the following four mandates: a) to reduce ecological problems nationwide to the barest minimum; b) to facilitate quality and effective implementation of the projects; c) judicious and equitable utilisation of the fund and d) effective management of the ecological fund projects.

I have gone to this length to show that the former president took measured steps towards managing the ecological problems he surely knew would be greater than the annual Ogunpa menace in Ibadan. Today, the country is beset with annual floods, oil spillage, air and water pollution, the sure but gradual encroachment of the desert in the northern parts of the country and destructive erosion, particularly in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones.

The problem is not that we have ecological challenges. No nation is without some form of these challenges. It is a matter of degree. The problem is that 36 years after the fund was set up with increased allocations, it has been turned into a feeding trough by the privileged few who are laughing to the banks and by their actions, condemn their unfortunate compatriots, victims of natural and man-made ecological disasters, to a life of agony, deprivation and poverty.

I tried to get information on the monthly allocations to the states through the Ecological Fund Office through its website. I found nothing. Should facts about the allocation of the fund to the federal, state and local governments be hidden from us, the citizens? I do not think so. The fund allocated to the ecological fund is a public fund. The public deserves to know whether the money allocated to the fund at the federal and state levels is spent in accordance with the core mandates of the fund. But the opacity of the operations of the fund points to this inescapable fact: corruption is the name of the game.

So here are some of the sordid facts about the fund that, in a normal country, would embarrass the state and shock the people. A senate committee looked into the operations of the fund a few years ago and was stunned by the unsightly worms wriggling in the can of the ecological fund. It found, and this has not been denied, that N154.9 billion of the money that accrued to the fund was spent entirely outside its mandate.

Here is a partial glimpse of where some of the money went to so far. In 2002, N928 million was spent on projects unrelated to the ecology; in the same year, N728 million was given to the Presidential Research and Communication Unit – and to be sure it was not researching into ecological problems; the following year, 2003, N1.9 billion found its way into non-ecological challenges; out of this money, N800 million was paid to the ministry of aviation for the renovation of the Aminu Kano Airport, Kano; Kaduna State government received N150 million from the money for the non-ecological problem of settling a sectarian crisis in the state.

In 2004, non-ecological expenditures gulped N2.1 billion; and 2005 saw a N2.77 billion drain on the fund for things totally unrelated to ecological problems. In 2006, Yobe and Ogun states were given a total of N16 billion grants from the fund for road construction. The Federal Ministry of Works took N24 billion from the fund in 2007 for the rehabilitation of the Shagamu expressway. The fund went to the rescue of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to fight food shortages deemed imminent at the time with a N5.7 billion largesse in 2008. I cannot remember if we experienced such food shortages at the time.

The litany of the misuse of the ecological fund is long but we cannot fail to note these: In 2009, the Federal Government took N44.9 billion from the fund to fund its third quarter expenditure warrant; the following year, 2010, the Federal Government again dipped its hands into the till of the fund and withdrew N34.6 billion for a non-ecological problem called ‘treasury management. And in 2013, the Federal Government withdrew N22 billion from the fund and shared it among some state and local governments for purely political reasons.

If you look further into this cesspool of corruption and can see through the web of corruption, lies and deceit, you would see that the building of the second Niger Bridge, on paper, benefited from the fund to the handsome tune of N2.078 billion. Don’t try to cross the river at the site of that bridge because, well, there is nothing at the site worth N2.078.

I could go on. But what is the point?


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