10 September 2012

Nigeria: Desert States Lose Out in Ecological Funding - President's Hometown Gets the Lion's Share

Several states that are prone to desertification have lost out in the provision of the 2011 ecological projects, just as the hometown of President Goodluck Jonathan receives the largest share of the allocation.

Official documents obtained by Daily Trust show that of the N41.9 billion the Federal Government earmarked for ecological projects in 2011, Otuoke, the president's hometown, emerged as the biggest beneficiary with a project worth about N5 billion.

However, ten northern states, most of which are prone to desertification, did not get a single ecological project for that period.

The northern states left out are Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, Borno, Kebbi, Gombe, Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa, the documents reveal.

There are also some states in the south that did not benefit from any project during the period. They include Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Rivers and Edo States.

Officials at the Ecological Fund Office in the Presidency, however, insisted that the states left out had benefitted in previous ecological funding and that the current system of allocation is based on "requests that emanate from the states".

It is a constitutional provision that one per cent of the federally accrued revenue be set aside for tackling ecological challenges that include desertification, drought and soil erosion, among others.

N5bn for Jonathan's hometown

Documents from the Ecological Fund Office, however, show that the allocation for projects commencing from June 2011 to July 2012 is lopsided in favour of south-eastern states and the president's hometown of Otuoke in Bayelsa State which gets the biggest project.

The Bayelsa project was for the reclamation works at the site of the Federal University, Utuoke, awarded at the cost of N4.997 billion. It was awarded in July last year with a completion time of seven months, one of the documents shows.

Further analysis of the document, which contains details of all the projects awarded, shows that of the N41.9 billion that went to the ecology account, the Federal Government only awarded contracts totalling about N19.5 billion from June to October 2011 and released only N3.5 billion to the contractors by that time.

The document also indicates that the second biggest project was located in Kaduna State, Vice President Namadi Sambo's home state. It was for the work on sludge pits at the Kaduna Refinery Petroleum Chemical Company in Rido community, awarded at the cost of N1.8 billion.

However, the document shows that no single kobo was released for it up to the end of the second quarter of this year, even though it was awarded in December last year and was planned to be completed last month.

The state also got another project, Zaria Erosion Control, awarded in September 2011 at the cost of N31.96 million, and was expected to be completed last July.

In terms of quantity of projects, Anambra tops the list with five projects on erosion control, dredging and flood control, awarded at the total cost of N3.5 billion. Imo too had five projects at N1.6 billion.

Abia State follows with four projects at the cost of N1.8 billion, Enugu had three projects at the cost of N2.6 billion, Akwa Ibom had two at N386 million and so had Ogun at N173 million.

Ebonyi State got N1.5 billion project for the channelisation of Iyi Okwu and Iyiudele stream in Abakaliki.

Other states that had at least one project are Benue (worth N111 million), Sokoto (N94 million), Taraba (N293 million), Adamawa (N129 million), Niger (N70 million), Ekiti (N198 million), Bauchi (N319 million), Cross River (N146 million), Kano (N72 million) and Plateau (N106 million).

The ten northern states left out are among those with severest ecological problems in the country, experts said.

Dr Abba Kagu, a lecturer at the Department of Geography, University of Maiduguri, had recently noted that drought and desertification remain the major environmental problems affecting most parts of the northern states, which according to him, are responsible for the loss of about 351,000 square kilometres of the nation's land mass.

The problems, many said, pose a serious threat to both the lives of most residents and the means of their livelihood - agriculture.

The Provost of College of Agriculture, Gujba, Yobe State, Malam Mulima Idi Mato, said one of the negative effects of desertification is that it blows away soil fertility and renders the soil barren.

"The moisture in the land which can support crop production is obtained within 15-30 metres of the soil, but once there is desert manifestation, it will be difficult to have a good yield," he said.

Experts and officials of environmental agencies argued that government's intervention was necessary to address the problem, and blamed neglect for the deterioration of the situation.

"No state is left out"

But officials at the Ecological Fund Office said that there was no state of the federation that was left out of ecological funding.

In a document sent to Daily Trust last week, they said: "The Ecological Fund is an intervention facility disbursed at Mr. President's discretion/approval.

"Since it was established in 1981, there is no state that has not benefitted from the fund.

"In the past, grants were made directly to states to implement projects in their domain; this was however discontinued due to misuse of the fund as the states could not account for its utilization."

They listed various projects executed across the country through ecological funding, adding that "every state of the federation has benefitted from the fund either in form of direct grant or through projects.

"Katsina has benefitted to the tune of N2.0B, Yobe - N2.1B and Zamfara - N1.4B. 19 other earlier approved projects are currently on-going in different parts of the country at a total cost of N2.7B."

They, however, declined to state exactly which year those projects were awarded and when they were carried out.

They said that projects were not based on a yearly basis and that those states that were not included in one aspect had benefitted in others.

"It must be mentioned that projects recommended to Mr. President by the National Committee on Ecological Problems, NCEP, for approval are selected from the list of requests that emanate from states," they added.

"Not a single kobo received"

However, some state governors have complained that their states had been deliberately neglected, despite repeated requests for ecological projects.

Niger State Governor Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu, whose state one of the documents says has benefitted with N70 million worth of ecological project in 2011/12, said that the state has never received any amount from the Ecological Fund since the inception of his administration in 2007.

"The (Niger State) government is yet to receive even one kobo from the ecological fund despite the state being faced by many ecological challenges, including flooding of the riverine areas of the state annually," he told members of House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on the Environment when they visited him in Minna recently.

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