It’s a decision whose time has come

The National Economic Council (NEC) rose from its meeting in Abuja last month with a resolution that states and local governments would henceforth keep their share of the national resource and ecological funds. The governor of Anambra State, Mr Willie Obinao, said the 36 states and 774 local governments in the country would begin to deploy their allocations to meeting ecological challenges. With many states in the South-east and South-South ravaged by erosion while many in the North threatened by desert encroachment, we hope that the special fund will indeed begin to serve the purpose for which it was created.

At a period the forces of nature are raging and Nigeria seems to be at the mercy of the environment, the NEC resolution was indeed very timely. But it would require strict regulation and even stricter monitoring to stop what has become a gross misuse of the several billions of naira going into the fund annually from two per cent of the monthly allocations of the Federation Account and another one per cent from the derivation account.

Without much oversight, officials of both the federal and stategovernments have for several years seen the ecology fund essentially as a slush fund to be deployed for all manner of things. The most glaring 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 electionscampaign of then the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

From available records, the federal and state governments have reportedly misused about N500 billion meant for redressingecological problems in the last 15 years, most of it spent buying vehicles and servicing other dubious projects. A Senate committeeonce uncovered a litany of misdeeds in the application of the funds which included N154.9bn on projects not related to the environment.

In 2002, the fund disbursed N928 million for non-ecological projects, just as N728m was given as a grant to the Presidential Research and Communication Unit. In 2003, N1.9bn also went to non-ecological programmes out of which N800m was given to the Ministry of Aviation for the renovation of the Aminu Kano Airport and N150m to Kaduna State Government to manage sectarian crisis in the state. The sum of N2.1bn went to non-ecological expenditures in 2004 and N2.77bn was spent in 2005.

In 2006, a total of N16bn was spent as grants to Yobe and Ogun States for road constructions while in 2007, N24bn was spent on the rehabilitation of the Shagamu expressway by the Ministry of Works.  In 2008, the sum of N5.7bn was advanced to the Ministry of Agriculture to fight food shortages which was said to be imminent at the time. In 2009, a total of N44.9bn was spent by the federalgovernment to fund its third quarter spending warrant while in 2010, N34.6bn was withdrawn from the fund for “treasury management” bythe federal government. In 2013, N22bn was withdrawn and shared out to some states and local governments, while N2.078bn waswithdrawn towards the building of the Second Niger Bridge, although there is nothing on ground to justify the purported expenses.

While the list of the abuse of the ecological fund is long, it is comforting that the governors have realised that such cannot continue in the face of the challenges that nature is imposing on our country. However, it would take more than a resolve for the states and the federal governments to be responsible in the application of the fund given that habits die hard. There must therefore be institutional changes that will involve not only the three tiers of government but also the National Assembly.