In most states of the federation, citizens have different tales of woe to tell as to how Ecological Funds appropriated to their states are expended. Osun State has one of the worst tales as the people became almost entirely swept off by the same murky waters which the funds should have mopped up for them. During the past siege, the captors of the people invested the funds in caving the dam of fate which drowned them all in the end. NIYI OLASINDE sheds light on Ecological Funds and how it got lost to the lustful bargains of sacked captors.
GLOBALLY, natural disasters are diverse and of varying kinds, degrees shades and intensity. They range from flood, water erosion, fire disasters, storms, earthquakes and landslides to much newer dimensions like tsunami and eroding continental shelves. It is an effort taken in needless statement of obvious fact that these disasters are enormous and costly; more so, as they claim several millions of lives annually and destroy properties of inestimable value. Down the ages, concerted efforts have been made not only to forestall the recurring decimal but also to mitigate the painful effects that they engender. Even when disasters are human-induced, they are equally, if not more destructive and life-threatening. The high investment outlay incurred in prevention, remedy, relief, reconstruction and cushioning the causes and effects of these disasters are, to say the truth, worthwhile, necessary and responsive.
In Nigeria, there is no exception to the occurrence of disasters-natural or otherwise. The thirty-six-state geographical expression has its own fair share of these disasters. In other words, Nigeria is plagued with many and diverse ecological problems, which vary widely in their magnitude. In the Southern part of the country, for instance, the people are being ravaged by flood and gully erosion. In the past, it was a different ball game entirely in the Northern part, where people had the menace of desertification, deforestation and drought to grapple with. Today, however the trend is changing as considerable parts of the Northern part are also being plagued by flood and erosion. These call more rapidly for intervention to preserve the people and secure for them life that is more abundant, secured, prosperous, fulfilling and glorious.
Available statistics culled from the latest report from the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development has the following declaration, that:
“Land degradation remains the greatest probe in Nigeria. In addition, the country still witnesses high levels of water and air pollution while efforts to reduce the rate of natural resources depletion and desertification are yet to yield significant results.”
Further contents of the above-quoted report reveal that above 90 per cent of the total land area of Nigeria is under severe sheet, rill and gully erosion; with the severest gully erosion accounting for 80 per cent of Nigeria’s total land mass. In effect, sheet erosion brings about impoverishment of the soil as nutrients are washed away, loss of livelihood as farmlands become wasteland, thus increasing the menace of rural-urban migration and pollution; and silting of available sources of drinking water. Rural-urban migration, in particular, brings about over-congestion of urban areas with its attendant negative effects on the standard of living of urban dwellers.
The report showcases other aspects that we can confirm by ourselves as negative side-effects of flood and erosion: Human lives and properties, buildings in particular, are endangered as they collapse into gullies. Already now, there abound over 2,000 active gully erosion sites spread across the country. The dastardly effects of gully are most prominently noticeable in Abia, Imo, Anambra and Bayelsa states. Coastal erosion wrought its own havoc along the nation’s entire coastline, the approximate distance of which is 853 km, having estimated mean shoreline retreats of 2-30 metres per year. This shows a grave danger of rapid eroding of our continental shelves.
It is placed on record that worst-hit areas along Nigeria’s coastline include Victoria Beach in Lagos, Awoye/Molume in Ondo state, Ogborodo/Escravos and Forcados in Delta state, Brass in Bayelsa state and Ibeno-Eket in Akwa Ibom State. In addition to the severe environmental challenges earlier-mentioned for the far-North in this report, wind erosion is a common land degradation factor which frequently sweeps away the top soil. This is due mainly to the fact that in Northern Nigeria, vegetation cover is scarce.
In the past, several attempts have been made to arrest this escalating rate of disasters in Nigeria. First concerted effort, which is supported by proper documentation, was made by the Federal Government through an Act of Parliament enacted in the year 1981. Through this Act, the Ecological Fund was established as a provision from the Federation Accounts.
Subsequently, the Act has witnessed two remarkable upward review or modification. These came in apparent response to surges in the occurrence rate of disasters. Decree 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992 took care of those trends. More recently, the Allocation of Federation Accounts Modification Order of 2002 did justice to the Act. The Fund, which originally constituted 1 per cent of the Federation Accounts, was upwardly reviewed to 2 per cent in 1992. Later on, 1 per cent of the derivation allocation was added, thus bringing the total percentage value to 3 per cent.
The breakdown of the amount constituting this percentage is given as follows: 48:5 per cent of it goes to the Federal Government while 24 per cent and 20 per cent are reserved for states and local governments respectively.
Since its establishment 20 years ago, the Ecological Fund has been riddled with much shocking revelations as to its wrong conception and committance. In other words, rather than serving as a veritable tool for addressing the country’s myriad and ever-increasing ecological problems, it has been embroiled in endless controversies, mysteries and shroudedness. These dimensions are a reflection of gross mismanagement of the fund by helmsmen at the various tiers of government.
The first bombshell came in 2006 when the former Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Joshua Dariye opened cans of worms by the revelation that an amount of N1.6 billion Ecological Fund meant for his state had been diverted to sponsor victory for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2003 Presidential Elections. His disclosure came at the instance of receiving the Plateau Consultative Assembly in Jos. He further gave details of beneficiaries of the Ecological Fund meant for Plateau State, which included the PDP South-West (N100 million); PDP South-South (N100 million); and Plateau PDP (N800 million); among others.
In August 2009 however, the Federal Government introduced a new modality into the Fund in a bid to restore sanity to the management of its disbursement and use. Thus, the Federal Government approved a new guideline for the disbursement of the Ecological Fund after due consultations and taking into cognizance all the issues affecting its management and disbursement.
Under the new modality, Drought and Desertification Control was to receive 60 per cent; soil erosion, flood/gully control – 25 per cent, pollution control – 5 per cent; while the administration of Ecological Fund Office/National Committee on Ecological Problems and other emergencies was expected to gulp 10 per cent. These funds were to be disbursed at the discretion of the President.
As contained in the new guideline, the impetus for the review was informed by the need to maximum mileage with the utilization of the fund, on basis of which the Federal Government’s intervention measures was to be focused on areas of natural environmental disasters.
Months after the release of the new guideline, specifically in December 2009, the National Economic Council expressed serious reservations over the disbursement and management of the fund. The council headed by the Vice-President of the time, now President Goodluck Jonathan; with all the governors of the 36 states of the federation as members, had stated that about N200 billion belonging to the Ecological Fund had been spent on questionable projects. The NEC lamented that the stipulated amount was wasted on projects that were either non-existent, shoddily executed or were awarded without due process.
In June 2010, the House of Representatives’ Public Accounts Committee queried the EFO (Ecological Funds Office) on the disbursement of N146.594 billion out of its account balance of N199.3 billion. The lawmakers’ inquiry came on the trail of the financial statement the EFO forwarded to it which showed curious withdrawals and loans to agencies and persons totaling N146.594 billion not relevant to objectives of the fund. Later afterwards, at the maiden edition of the Eco-Fair held in Abuja in 2010, the management of the Ecological Fund came under severe criticisms from stakeholders, including the federal and state governments.
For instance, the governor of Anambra State was reported to have criticized that the management of the fund had been characterized by official corruption. He further alleged that the Federal Government awarded contracts under the Ecological Fund without informing the states or even requesting the states to make inputs, even in sites that were more critical.
Since that time, lots of controversies, accusations and counter-accusations have kept trailing the management of the fund over the disbursement and committance of the fund. In most states, it has been alleged that powerful individuals from the states go to the Federal Government and are awarded contracts for erosion projects, which are either non-existent or outside the priority areas begging for attention.
It has also been a source of concern that due to lack of transparency in the execution of ecological projects across the country, the fund has not achieved the objectives for which it was set up. Other anomalies which have continued to mar the effectiveness and impact of the fund are attitude of contractors hired to remediate some of the ecological problems in the country, poor standards of projects executed and misappropriation and/or diversion of fund.
BUT all the foregoing criticisms are far less than the problems imposed by governors of states for which the funds are meant. Most of the times, these state governors siphon the funds, which are diverted to other uses, especially for political purposes, electoral fraud or compromising judgment in court litigations. The saddest part of it is that in most of these states, the share of the fund that rightly belongs to the local government councils are never disbursed there. The effect is that no ecological project could be implemented at that level that is closest to the grassroots. It is the local government that should be in best position to accurately appraise situations on ground and determine which particular ones require priority attention.
In Osun State, the people felt the devastating effect of this untoward practice for an upward of eight (8) years that the administration of the ousted impostor ‘Governor’ Olagunsoye Oyinlola lasted. As a matter of fact, there is nowhere or no other state where this absurdity has taken its ugly toll than in Osun State during the siege. The recurring flood and erosion disasters and attendant loss of lives and properties, and the accompanying infrastructural decay deepened due to negligence caused by misappropriation of Ecological Fund allocated to the state and its local government councils from the Federation Accounts, courtesy of the Oyinlola-led administration.
For a complete period of Seven (7) years, confirmed sources revealed to OSUN DEFENDER Magazine that the reason for recurrent flood and erosion disasters in the state could not be divulged from the fact that Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola mismanaged accumulated Ecological Fund for that period to pursue hideous agenda that could not in any way touch the lives of the citizenry positively.
According to impeccable sources, the entire accumulated Ecological fund that accrued to the state and its 30 local government councils, with the inclusion of the Ife East Area Office ran into about N30 billion in seven years. This attitude portrays Oyinlola as a monster who does not care in the least for the welfare and good living of citizens, so far as his selfish needs are fanned.
Authentic sources confirmed that Oyinlola’s approach to the issue of Ecological Fund was just to notify the council bosses, who were his hand-picked prefects and puppets, whenever the fund was appropriated. He would then inform them that he had borrowed the fund for executing some vital projects which in actual fact were phoney projects not traceable anywhere. This was the same fate that befell all illegal deductions from other categories of monthly statutory allocations accruing to the council areas and illegal deductions from workers’ monthly salaries in the state.
One strange use to which the Ecological Funds of the Oyinlola days were put was to prosecute his illegal perpetuation in office. The first in the series was how he spent fortunes out of the funds to prosecute the first Governorship Election Petition Tribunal led by Justice Thomas Damar Naron. About N3 million of the fund was squandered to rub the palms of the judges on the tribunal panel in procuring a compromise of justice by the Tribunal. In addition to this, a whooping sum of N1 Billion was spent on luxury cars which he doled out as parting gifts to the judges.
Also, in getting justice perverted during the trials of the first appeal suit filed by the ACN gubernatorial aspirant in the state, Engineering Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, the former impostor ‘governor’ allegedly spent another N3 million. By these serial lavish spendings, Oyinlola proved to have seen victory at the trials and his continuous stay in office as a factor that was larger than life. This is more sacrosanct when the opportunity costs of these diverted funds are considered. The spirits of lives lost in the disasters he should have spent the funds to forestall and the sweats of innocent, law-abiding and responsible citizens whose valuables were lost in the various disasters shall haunt him till eternity.
Even during the Election Petitions Retrial Tribunal sittings that followed the compromised first appeal, Oyinlola behaved to type as a ‘squandermaniac’ once again by lacing the pockets of the Justice Ali-Garba-led panel of judges with N6 Billion. These looting and spending sprees stand Oyinlola out in history as the public enemy number one in Osun State. Posterity will not forgive him for his disservice to the State of the Virtuous.