Another Daylight Robbery: House of Reps Proposed N385bn Special Ecological Fund (2)
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
CONTINUE FROM YESTERDAY
Today, it is difficult to define the extent and limits of the Ministry of Water Resources and those of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; political craftiness has taken the front burner; and scarce resources are been squandered with impunity.
Heavy budgetary allocations for flooding and related disasters are made every year, yet, our situation appears to get worse with each passing year, despite the various windows of huge interventions. It is a shame that this government, and indeed successive administrations to some extent, think they owe nobody any explanation how these funds gets expended, while they scheme for fresh reasons to secure additional funding.
This is a continuous rip off that must stop, a day light robbery that must be challenged, despite that we no longer have a Gani Fawenhinmi or Fela Kuti, who once upon a time with the likes of Olisa Agbakoba, would stand up to demand explanations; especially when those at the political control towers stretch their games to insult our collective intelligence; leaving the citizenry at unending risks of one disaster after the other.
We must correct the present state of anomie, challenge the squandermania and incompetence; and arrest the disaster control racketeering and convoluted conspiracy. It is not enough for the presidency to simply admit inadequacies and errors, it must take steps to sanction and demand accountability and restitution, if the presidency must not be viewed as culpable.
A statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu that disaster management efforts have been clearly overwhelmed in view of the challenge of providing aid to the large number of displaced peoples in flooded states like Bayelsa State, aftermath of Ms. Sadiya Umar-Farouq’s volta-face, is dismissive and unacceptable.
Garba speaking for the president said: “The challenge of bringing succour to the large number of the displaced people in Bayelsa and other states, the restoration of their damaged property and farmlands washed away have clearly overwhelmed disaster management efforts so far but that is not to say no efforts are being made.
“The huge need for everything from foodstuff to tents, blankets and mosquito nets; anti-malarial and other drugs clearly indicate that more resources are needed, not only by the disaster management agencies at the center but also by those at the State and local council levels that are structurally, the first responders.”
It is inconceivable what the president really expect Nigerians to do with the soulless assurances. Since the House of Reps and indeed the National Assembly is not an end unto itself, the time has come NASS must compile the full list of financial representations in the ecological and disasters management control system; and launch a probe of all fundings, from 2010 to date.
NASS should investigate and come out with a law of the organs of state that must participate in disaster management and control, to stop it from becoming an all comers affairs; as is currently the case; where perhaps tomorrow, the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) could also announce participation as an arm of statutory control.
In 1981, the Federal Government of Nigeria established an Ecological Fund to cater for ecological challenges across the country. Designed to enjoy a statutory 1% of the federation account, was in 1992 reviewed upwards to 2% with an additional 1%, bringing the total to 3% of the national net earnings.
The objective was to have a consolidated and handy pool of fund to address all related ecological issues anywhere in the country; and hence was recently reviewed to be a tripartite intervention fund in May 2022 between the three tiers of government; federal, state and local government.
It is believed that roughly N1 trillion, representing 2.2 per cent of the total budget for 2018, 2019 and 2023 was budgeted for ecological and disaster management by the federal government.
According to records, in 2018, 2.2 per cent of the estimated of N9.120 trillion budget, amounting to N198 billion was set aside for the Ecological Fund; in 2019, the 2.2 per cent amount of the budget of N132 billion was allocated for the Fund, while in 2023, 2.2 per cent of the N21 trillion budget indicated N462 billion allocation for Ecological Fund.
Despite these budgetary allocations, details of accruals and monthly/ quarterly releases to states and federal agencies are not reflected in the website of the Ecological Fund Office. A search of the budget implementation report on the matter also did not yield disclosures.
As Nigerians hit the blind alley in their quest to know what has happened to the fund, there are indications that state actors are seriously farming for state instruments to create diversion one of which is the trading of accusations and counter accusations over what is in the account, who collected what and for what use.
Thus far, the failure of the federal government to give proper account of the fund has led analysts into speculating that the monies may have been squandered.
It is also believed that the familiar allegations and counter allegations, spiced with notices of investigative probe by the federal government are the usual smokescreen deployed by office holders to cover their tracks and escape prosecution; since such probes are rarely fruitful or meaningful to the extent of recovery.
It is therefore not surprising that President Muhammadu Buhari embarked on that familiar road when in October 2022, Nigerians discovered that the fund has been emptied with no commensurate ecological project executed anywhere.
To bamboozle the citizens into believing records and due diligence is being carried out on the Fund, the federal government through the self same state actors or others, commences their magic as the cabinet accuses the state governments and demand explanations, while the state government also call the local government and ask to be furnished with the report of what it received.
It will be recalled that the House of Representatives in June, launched a probe into the utilization of the ecological fund since 2012. While this is not the first time the fund is being probed by our assembly of largely recycled, unproductive lawmakers, it is interesting to note that nothing beneficial has ever emerged out of such fake probes.
This odious atmosphere notwithstanding, this presidency that consistently lay claim to honesty and accountability, and also repeatedly assured of promoting transparency in government businesses didn’t fail to plead its trademark innocence in the matter.
In fact, the presidency angered by public outcry that it has failed in the area of disaster management, urged the citizens to direct its anger at the states and local governments, which Aso Rock claimed received the lion share of the ecological funds.
While it is not a bad idea for the presidency to insist that the other tiers of government should render account, it is morally and officially more compelling for President Buhari and his appointees in the relevant departments to lead the process by publishing its own projects, programmes and expenditure.
It is very curious that given this year’s massive flooding and its ripple effects, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ministry of Water Resources and the National Emergency Management Agency has not deemed it fit to submit itself to voluntary probe, through the publication of its individual projects, programmes, and expenditures.
Under our harsh and painful circumstances, it will be unacceptable for government to make any pretension to being just and upright.
Thus, unless and until the probe of the Fund in the past twelve years is genuinely carried out and missing monies recovered and offenders prosecuted, the Presidency and NASS should take full responsibility.