Nigeria: As Lawmakers Again Beam Searchlight On Ecological Fund Utilisation

Udora Orizu writes that following the devastating effects of flooding nationwide, the House of Representatives has again launched probe into the utilisation of ecological fund for the past 10 years

Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Ecological Fund are currently investigating the total consolidated accruals and utilisation of the ecological fund from 2010 to March 2022.

The lawmakers decision followed the devastating effects of flooding nationwide and outcry from several states for help from the Federal Government as they battle to provide succour for victims of floods forced out of their homes and left without shelter, food and water.

2022 flooding which was described by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as the worst in history impacted thousands of communities and wreaked havoc in all the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT.

According to NEMA, a total of 612 persons lost their lives, 3,219,780 persons were affected, 1,427,370 persons were displaced and 2,776 others suffered various degrees of injuries. A total of 181,600 houses were partially damaged and 123,807 houses were totally damaged. A total of 176,852 hectares of farmland were partially destroyed while 392,300 hectares of farmland got totally destroyed as a result of the floods.

The Ecological fund is an intervention Fund by the Federal Government of Nigeria to address flood, erosion and other ecological challenges in various communities across the country. This special fund was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act 1981, on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission, Decree 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992 as well as the allocation of Federation Account modification order of 2002 subsequently modified the act.

N1 trillion, representing 2.2 percent of the total budget for 2018, 2019 and 2023 was budgeted for ecological and disaster management. In 2018, 2.2 percent of the estimated of N9.120 trillion budget, amounting to N198 billion was set aside for the Ecological Fund; in 2019, the 2.2 percent amount of the budget of N132 billion was allocated for the fund.

Despite billions of Naira that goes into the fund annually, many states abuse the largesse. Without much oversight, officials of both the federal and state governments have for several years seen the ecology fund essentially as a slush fund to be deployed for all manner of things. They do not account for the money; they freely deploy it to areas of priority, often unrelated to ecological issues.

An example was the disclosure in 2006 by the former Governor of Plateau State, Mr Joshua Dariye, that he diverted his state’s N1.6 billion share of the ecological fund to the 2003 general elections campaign of then the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In 2010, Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi detailing the wastes in the use of the funds said: “The Federal Government awards contracts under the Ecological Fund without informing states or requesting states to make inputs, especially on sites that are more critical.

The implication is contracts are awarded for erosion projects, which are either non-existent or outside the priority areas begging for attention.”

As lamentations trail use of the fund over the years, it often ended without actions. The Presidency in October this year, challenged states to give an account of how they spent amounts in excess of one trillion naira, allocated to them from the Ecological Fund to tackle floods and other ecological problems.

Probes by the House

In June 2010, the House of Representatives raised queries over curious withdrawals and loans to agencies and persons totalling N146.594 billion, mainly irrelevant to objectives of the fund. However the parliament took no action.

In April 2022, the lawmakers asked the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Office of Accountant General of the Federation to halt the allocation of funds from ecological funds to some agencies of the federal government until investigations into past allocations to them are concluded.

The affected agencies are the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Agency for the Great Green Wall, the North-East Development Commission and the National Agricultural Land Development Authority.

The House also directed the House Committee on Ecological Funds to investigate the release of the funds. The resolution followed the adoption of a motion moved by Ibrahim Isiaka.

Again, the House of Representatives in June 23, resolved to probe the utilization of the fund for the past 10 years.

The lawmakers resolution followed the adoption a motion sponsored by Hon. Femi Bamisile, at the plenary. The House specifically mandated its Committee on Ecological Fund to investigate the total consolidated mandatory accruals into the Ecological Fund from 2010 to March 2022 and as well evaluate the disbursement of the Fund in line with the provision of the 1999 Constitution from 2010 to March 2022.

The Committee is also to look into the utilization of the Fund by benefiting Governments Departments and Agencies (MDAs) from 2010 to March 2022 and establish infractions (if any).

At the commencement of the investigative hearing on November 7, the House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila declaring the hearing open, said the dedicated pool of resources in the Ecological Fund is intended for emergency response and remediation during environmental and natural disasters.

While noting that the objective of the investigative hearing is to gather data to design public policy and guide governance decision-making, he however assured that it is not an exercise in witch-hunting or score-settling.

Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka frowned at the absence of majority of the states, Ministries Departments and Agencies of the federal government who were invited didn’t show up, neither did they send representatives.

He vowed that the committee would recover the fund and pump it back into the main ecological account and ensure proper usage.

At another sitting on November 16, the lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction when the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ahmed Mustapha, told them that the agency following the flood disaster reached out to and responded to over 1,427,370 displaced persons in all the states of the federation and the FCT.

Mustapha also said that the provision of food and non-food items for immediate relief and building materials to facilitate long term rehabilitation of the impacted population is still ongoing.

Frowning at the statement, Hon. Oghuma Johnson (APC, Edo), accused the agency of favouring a particular region of the country in their relief materials distribution selection process.

The lawmaker before walking out of the sitting, told the DG that he’s partial and the impact of their distribution claims hasn’t been seen or felt in his constituency and Edo state as a whole.

Johnson said, “In the whole of my area, we do not have any assembly members and you said you informed assembly members from my state and I am here. It is my own federal constituency that is swallowed up by the flood. I moved a motion concerning my federal constituency and that is the only way they communicate to you. I do not have any personal relationship with you. I don’t have to ask you for anything because I do not need anything from you.

Corroborating Johnson statement, the Committee Chairman Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka (APC, Ogun), said, “Everything starts and ends at your table. Nobody is asking for any special favour. But what you are doing if they (lawmakers) are carried along, the pressure on them will lessen. And I am telling that here as we are seated here, there are three members from Ogun State here, including I as the Chairman of this committee.”

Also, Hon. Adewunmi Onanuga (APC, Ogun) said that she has written twice to the agency with regards to issues in her state and constituency, not once has anyone called her back.

While saying that she has issues with the way the agency is being run, the lawmaker, claimed that not once did they get any information with regards to what NEMA is doing in the whole of that South West.

Meanwhile, the DG giving details of consolidated accruals and ecological fund utilization from 2011 – 2022, explained that the sum of N112, 137, 641, 074.17 was expended in disaster management activities across the country.

He however noted that unlike other appropriated funds, balances from ecological funds are rolled over to the next fiscal year.

For 2010 expenditure, the NEMA DG said that the documents could not be sighted as they were vandalized during the ENDSARS protests, and police extract to that effect has been obtained.

Earlier, the Committee Chairman, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka frowned at the absence of Ministries Departments and Agencies of federal government and Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) at the probe to defend the amount they received and how it was spent.

The lawmaker threatened that the House might rescind its decision on any support given to the 774 local governments and MDAs if they continue this way.

Isiaka said, “Apart from the yearly appropriation which you are entitled to, the National Assembly still stepped up the ante by creating you; or those that had been created before, you have an amendment to the law that created you, and we now create a space in there says ‘take money from the Ecological Fund to support you.’ Why we became a bit worried is because the same father that created some of these agencies – that is the National Assembly, through legislation and law – has now said ‘let us talk and review what we are doing,’ going forward, for us to know where you have challenges.

“Unfortunately, many of the agencies became evasive. The situation we are right now, we are not expecting and hoping that such will repeat itself in 2023. You can see the people that we are fasting because of? They are eating lunch. That is ALGON. Last week they refused to come and today they refused to show up as well.

“We are 774 local governments in the country and by the present provision, the entire local governments the 774 of them are taking 0.62 per cent from the Consolidated Revenue Account as their ecological fund. But now, for two times running we have invited them to come and share with us. It is so sad and unfortunate that this is the third time we would ask them to come and they did not. Why is ALGON not here?”

This is not the first time such a probe is taking place in the National Assembly. Only time will tell if the lawmakers will take serious action this time or if it will go down in the books as one of the many “no action” probes of the parliament regarding the fund utilisation.

Quote

Despite billions of Naira that goes into the fund annually, many states abuse the largesse. Without much oversight, officials of both the federal and state governments have for several years seen the ecology fund essentially as a slush fund to be deployed for all manner of things. They do not account for the money; they freely deploy it to areas of priority, often unrelated to ecological issues

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