Despite the donation of N17.6 billion by President Goodluck Jonathan to flooded states and relevant agencies, Adeola Akinremi and Paul Obi find out that the funds are not enough to return victims to normal life, essentially because of the mismanagement of the nation’s Ecological Fund
When Senator Joy Emodi, the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters visited Anambra State recently she talked about the flood. She insisted something was wrong with the fund raising method for the flood victims.
She said, “It is not enough for us to be contributing things for them now. What happens to them after the recession of the flood’’?
Emodi may not be alone in her quest for a better administration of fund for flood control and its damaging effect that has recently placed Nigeria on the global map of tragedies, the current Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekeremadu feels the same way.
According to Ekeremadu, “We have spent billions since 1999 and I’m not aware of any site that has been done. We have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of Environment and Ecological Funds and we have not seen any work, it is money down the drain. We need to address this issue. If it is possible to investigate ecological funds, it is better. I think we need to find out what they did with the money. Ultimately we need to find out what has happened to the money since 1999.”
Perhaps, with the vulnerability of the whole country to environmental disasters now worsened by the flood, not many would doubt that, the idea behind setting-up of the Ecological Fund has abruptly been defeated. The fund set-up in 1981 to finance the mitigation of ecological and environmental disasters has indeed veered off from its cardinal points of preventing environmental disasters.
THISDAY investigations show that Ecological Fund has been turned to a mere money sharing exercise for purpose other than the reasons it was set-up, as senior civil servants in Abuja and some governors collide to share among themselves large chunk of money from the relief fund.
Speaking on the level of corruption that surrounds the Fund, the Federal lawmakers recently pointed accusing fingers to the government officials and the States Governors. Commenting on the bizarre management of the Fund, Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Account, Senator Ahmed Lawan sums it up this way, “Ordinarily, one would have thought that those officers and civil servants who were entrusted with the operation and management of these accounts would apply the funds properly, but we have discovered mismanagement and misapplication in these accounts,” he said.
“Many States would apply for the Ecological Funds and when they are given, they would just go and buy cars or build roads. So, it is not only about giving the states the funds; it is about the states applying the funds properly.” Lawan’s position has also been given impetus to at various times by members of the Senate and House Committees on Environment led by Sen. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Uche Ekwunife respectively.
As at the last count, civil servants charged with the responsibility of managing the Ecological Fund were said to have squandered about N400 billion with nothing to show for it. And since most of the funds are disbursed among the 36 States, the Federal Government has not shown any commitment to protect the Fund from abuse.
For instance, there are cases where governors turned the funds allocated to their States to private funds for personal transactions. To wit, there is a current investigation into how a former governor in the north central diverted the Ecological Fund into his personal credit card to pay for personal expenses.
Since 1999, the Ecological Fund has suffered tremendous abuse and mismanagement through its routine Federal allocation to local governments. A part of the Fund shared with the local government are said to be put to be used at the discretion of the state governors with no clear application of the Fund on the right projects. THISDAY findings show that there has also been no accountability mechanism and there is no follow-up from the Fund office in Abuja.
With the recent flood ravaging the country, many are raising eyebrows about how transparent those entrusted with running the fund have been. Statistically, there is hardly any state of the federation that is not facing one environmental challenge or another. From the threat of desertification in the sahel region of the country cutting across Yobe, Borno, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, Adamawa, to gully erosions in, Imo, Edo, Anambra and Abia States, to flood and environmental pollution in Oyo, Nasarawa, Kogi, Benue states, to landslide and ocean surge in Cross River, Lagos, Bayelsa and flaring of gas in the Delta region, no part of the country is spared. But the Ecological Fund is failing to meet those challenges.
In a flood that has so far displaced about 25 percent of Nigerians according to the government record, President Goodluck Jonathan during his visit to Lokoja last week to assess extent of damages caused by the flood had to make a passionate appeal to victims who have lost valuables, especially those who collected loan from the banks not to commit suicide. It is an admittance that the Ecological Fund that should serve the ‘first Aid’ purpose is failing the victims.
Already, in the wake of the ravaging flood, President Jonathan inaugurated the National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Co-Chaired by Messers Aliko Dangote and Olisa Agbakoba.
Dangote told reporters in Abuja after the inauguration of the committee by Jonathan that it plans to raise the cash to complement the government’s efforts at mitigating the effects of the disaster. According to him, there is a plan by the committee to generate N100 billion for flood ravaged States and victims. On his own account, Dangote Donated food items worth N50 million and N150 million in cash to the victims of recent flood in Kogi State.
Also, the Federal Government has raised a total of N17.6 billion to tackle the flood currently ravaging the nation.
Speaking in a national broadcast on Tuesday October 9, President Jonathan said that out of the total sum of N17.6 billion, the Federal Government has allocated a total sum of N13.3 billion to affected States while Federal Government agencies whose activities directly impact on the current flood amelioration programme will receive N4.3 billion. Out of this amount, the government, through its agencies, has so far expended the sum of N1.409 billion in providing short gap measures to the flood victims.
It is in that regard that the Ecological Fund is now under the stethoscope to bring the managers of the Fund to accountability. Given the unquantifiable damage caused by the flood, it will be difficult for the abuse of the Fund to varnish from the radar of public scrutiny, at least in the near future. A source within the Ministry of Environment with close links to the Ecological Fund told THISDAY on condition of anonymity that the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ecological Fund office is pathetic.
The source who would not want his name in print said, “If 2 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and budget is set aside for Ecological Fund for the mitigation of environmental disaster, and we are still facing this rate of flood and natural disasters due to poor drainage system, poor environmental planning, and in the outbreak of the flood we are still struggling to raise fund for the victims, then, it’s a sad thing.”
The source further told THISDAY, that aside the two percent funds given to the office annually, “the World Bank in 2005 budgeted $1 billion dollars to be spent on environmental pollution around the world and Nigeria was given 40 percent of that amount which was meant to cater for environmental pollution in the Niger-Delta, where are those funds today?”
All efforts by THISDAY to speak with officials at the Ecological Fund office proved abortive as the Permanent Secretary, Dr. MacJohn Nwaobiala, was not forth coming when THISDAY approached the office. Those spoken to declined to comment claiming they were not authorise to do so.
But, in a haste to put in cosmetic measures to assuage the pains of the flood victims by the government with the flow of new fund, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), has called for the judicious use of the Federal Government Relief Funds in order to tackle the identified health and social problems caused by flooding.
The NMA in a press statement signed by its President, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, also urged government on the need to put in place appropriate measures to prevent a re-occurrence.
Meanwhile, the NMA leader has said that it was alarmed at the possibility of epidemic outbreaks in camps where victims of the flood disaster are being sheltered based on its preliminary findings during the recent tour of some of the flood ravaged communities in Nigeria.
Dr Enabulele also said that in most of the communities visited there was poor waste disposal system and inadequate toilet facilities while the underground wells, boreholes and surface water which are the sources of water in the flood ravaged communities, have been polluted, with attendant risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, gastro-enteritis and such others.
In particular, he said that in some of the camps visited, there were already outbreaks of diarrhea with some reported deaths of displaced persons, poor personal hygiene with evidence of dermatitis and scabies, resulting from inadequate supply of potable water and inadequate food supply.
Although, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim admitted that the flood did not come as a surprise and puts the blames at the door steps of the flood victims who did not heed the warning of impending doom requesting them to relocate, the mismanagement of Ecological Funds domiciled in his office perhaps should be blamed also.
Today, Nigeria population and its socio-economic is threatened by an unprecedented flood never experienced since 1935 that keeps tongue wagging about the government seriousness in protection of lives and properties in disaster management.
From the tattered houses in Ibaji, Kogi State, Shonga rice farms in Kwara State, Uke in Nasarawa State, and Cross River States to the luxurious mansion of President Jonathan in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, natural disasters like flood knows no class, both the rich and the poor also cry whenever they occur.