BusinessDay

Floods raise questions over Nigeria’s ecological fund

The current plight of Nigerians facing the severe impact of flooding across the country has raised questions over the country’s ecological fund.

Many parts of Nigeria, especially the coastal areas usually experience flooding yearly, but this year’s floods have been described as the worst in more than a decade as authorities race to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced.

The development has turned the spotlight on the country’s ecological fund, a first-line response fund established to provide handy resources for the amelioration of environmental problems such as soil erosion, flood, drought, general environmental pollution, storms, tornadoes, bushfire, and earthquakes.

Data collated from the monthly Federation Account Allocation Committee reports showed that between 2012 and 2021, Nigeria set aside a total of N548 billion for the derivation and ecological fund account for the 36 states in the country.

BusinessDay’s findings showed that the implementation of the ecological fund has not made the required impact on flood crisis that has displaced more than 1.3 million people across 33 states.

“Lack of transparency and accountability around ecological funded projects, poor early warning messaging, lack of proactiveness on the part of government and citizens are part of the many reasons why we are facing national flooding challenges and environmental disasters,” said Akintunde Babatunde, the Anglophone Africa coordinator of the Open Climate Reporting Initiative of the British Centre for Investigative Journalism, London.

For Jubril Shittu, CEO of Abuja-based Public and Private Development Centre, the concept of a federally supported, state-managed, locally executed disaster response and recovery is desirable but not yet feasible.

“Flood resilience programmes have substantial cost implications, and there is yet to be a proper discussion on how best to fund them,” Shittu said.

The ecological fund was created in 1981 through the Federation Account Act. At inception, 1 per cent of revenues into the Federation Account was set aside for the fund. In 1992, the allocation was increased upward to 2 percent of federal earnings and is only released with the approval of the president.

Consequent on the directive of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in July 2002 for a review of the Modification Order of May 2002, the 2 percent ecological fund and a 1 percent derivation hitherto under special funds were shared among the three tiers of government along existing revenue sharing formula as follows: federal government (1.46 percent), state governments (0.72 percent) and local governments (0.60 percent).

Beneficiaries of the federal government’s share include National Emergency Management Agency (20 per cent), National Agency for the Great Green Wall (15 percent), and North-East Development Commission (18 per cent).

“The funding for natural disaster mitigation and response needs to change from its flawed approach,” Shittu said.

In its defence, the federal government described the flooding in parts of the country as a state emergency and not a national emergency.

“Each of the three tiers, the local government, the state government and the federal government has a sizeable budget at its disposal, allocated monthly precisely for dealing with these state-level natural emergencies, as well as federal agencies dedicated to doing the same,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said on August 23.

On Tuesday, Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State described the ecological fund paid to the state by the federal government as a “peanut” that can’t even cover a single bridge swept away by floods.

He said: “I would have asked him (Shehu) what this allocation is for dealing with this kind of ravaging (situation) where flood sacks almost eight local governments at once and hundreds of billions worth of assets and livelihood.

Read also: Flooding intensifies Nigeria’s cost of living crisis

“I would bet that if you spend 50 percent of the entire ecological fund in Anambra State in one year, it will be significant but touch 20 percent of the problem. Anambra is a national emergency by itself, by the nature of the ecological challenge that requires special funding and attention because one-third of the land of Anambra is under threat,” the governor said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme.

According to a four-year audit of the Ecological Fund Office carried out by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), various administrations have diverted several billions of naira from the fund to projects clearly not ecological in nature.

For instance, NEITI said out of a total of about N33 billion that accrued to the ecological fund in 2007, the Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Musa Yar-Adua-led governments, between January and December that year, gave N6.8 billion to the Federal Capital Development Authority for projects such as the development of a mall and provision of engineering infrastructure to Kubwa and Karshi satellite towns.

The NEITI report also showed that N4 billion was approved for the Kubwa and Karshi satellite towns engineering infrastructure but N6 billion was released.

The report also showed that between 2009 and 2011, the federal government withdrew about N94 billion from the N141.5 billion that accrued to the fund to finance its budget deficit.

“NEITI called for a comprehensive audit of the fund from inception to date,” the transparency watchdog said.

Last June, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate remittances to the ecological fund and withdrawals from the account between 2010 and 2022, alleging mismanagement of funds by the beneficiaries.

The House mandated its Committee on Ecological Fund to “investigate the total consolidated mandatory accruals into the ecological fund from 2010 to March 2022,” adding that the committee should equally “evaluate the disbursement of the ecological fund in line with the provision of the 1999 Constitution from 2010 to March 2022.”

The committee is also to “investigate the utilisation of the ecological fund by benefiting government’s departments and agencies from 2010 to March 2022 and establish infractions (if any).”