28 March 2016

Nigeria: Investigation - How Nigerian Officials Stole Billions Meant for Flood Disaster Victims

(file photo)

Corruption and climate change vulnerability produced a near-fatal cocktail in several communities of Delta State after hundreds of hunger-torn flood victims, denied of basic relief materials, resorted to eating corn seedlings, which unbeknown to them were already treated with pesticides.

Women, children and the elderly were the worst hit in a mass food poisoning that was initially mistaken by local health officials for an outbreak of epidemic.

Overnight, hundreds of people in communities like Ossissa, Isele-Egwu, Olor and Onu-Aboh were left looking gaunt with bloated tummies and sunken eyes, forcing families who could afford it to rush their sick members to hospitals while others resorted to prayer houses.

This mass poisoning recorded in 2012 in Ndokwa-East Local Government Area of the oil-rich state exposed the underbelly of the flood disaster management and victims' rehabilitation committees set up by the State in the wake of a ravaging flood that washed away homes, farmlands, roads, bridges, markets and businesses across 22 states of the federation.

With corrupt government officials routinely diverting cash, food and relief materials meant for disaster victims, the survivors were left with little recourse but to feast on the only thing that was supplied in abundance - the pesticide treated corn seeds doled out to victims, in addition to cassava stems, to encourage them to begin a new planting year.

The 2012 flood disaster in Nigeria remains one of the harshest spinoffs of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Delta was one of the 22 states ravaged by flood after neighbouring Cameroon was forced to release water from its Ladgo Dam, leading to an unprecedented overflow of many rivers, especially Niger and Benue. Hundreds of kilometers of urban and rural land in those states were inundated by flood.

According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report of the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) 363 lives were lost, thousands of livestock drowned, over two million people displaced and N2.29 trillion worth of properties and economic means washed off.

Delta received N500 million intervention fund from the Federal Government to assist flood victims in the state. This was in addition to internal funds already set aside by the oil-rich state for the same purpose. In one of his numerous speeches during the crisis period, the then governor of the state, Emmanuel Uduaghan, announced the allocation of 49 trucks of food items to internally-displaced people in the state but it didn't appear that those eating pesticide-treated corn seedlings saw any of the food trucks. A cash relief of N5,000 to adults and N3,000 to youths was equally announced but the monies instead went into private pockets.

Mr. Alexander Nwanji, a farmer and cassava-mill entrepreneur trained by ActionAid in Good Governance and Citizens Participation told PREMIUM TIMES that nobody in his Ossissa community received any cash or food items. Official records had it that 11,810 internally displaced persons were took refuge at the Oleh camp alone in Isoko Local Government Area of the state.

It is difficult to say how many, if any, received the cash payment. But with three kids fed with only one packet of noodle, the disaffection and neglect in the camp was such that the IDPs began to "discharge themselves" from the camp.

In the face of starvation, many abandoned the camp in search of friends and families to take them in.

The next time the governor came calling, the same thieving officials who had diverted foods and pocketed cash meant for the displaced persons told him that they had successfully helped most of the flood victims to return home. The number of people left in the camp was only 3,640.

If the governor smelt a rat he did not say it. However, in the course of yet another speech before television camera, he found it necessary to throw in this:

"I beg you in the name of God do not short-change or divert these materials to other persons or channel them for personal use. Let them get what they are supposed to get because that is why we have trust in you," the governor said.

Alluding again to widespread official corruption, this time in the data collation of flood victims, Mr. Uduaghan would at another location plead against the falsification of data and using same for personal gains.

The governor was directing his words at members of the Flood Fund Management Committee, political appointees and state lawmakers who had invented clever ways to make fortunes out of the pervading misery.

Alexander Nwanji, a victim, told PREMIUM TIMES that although he lost both his farm and cassava mill, his name didn't appear on the official list of farmers to receive post disaster assistance. He also did not get the N5,000 meant for adult IDPs. He accused politicians and government officials of populating the list with ghost beneficiaries, adding that the 11,810 IDPs at the Oleh camp alone were robbed of about N59 million.

Other people who told this newspaper they got nothing from the flood relief funds included Larry Onyia of Ashaka village and Benjamin Ogbogu of Igbukwu village who said the only thing he got was a mattress and that that came from an oil company operating in his community.

Officials in Delta were evasive when this newspaper sought their comments on the administration of the N500million relief fund the state received from the federal government.

The State Ministry of Environment wouldn't provide information in respect of the utilisation of the funds. Rather, its spokesperson, Anita Ohagwa, directed enquiries to the Bureau of Special Duties under the Governor's office, where the spokesperson, a woman who would not give her name, said, "we had nothing to do with flood relief funds. Go to the Emergency Management Agency."

However, the Director of the Emergency Management Agency said he was new on the job and could not comment on the utilisation of the funds. As it is Delta, so it is in other states

Investigation of corruption in the administration of the 2012 Flood Relief Fund took this newspaper to five of the affected states - Kogi, Anambra, Delta, Benue and Oyo. The Federal Government had provided N17.6 billion as relief funds from which the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory got N13.3 billion while Federal bodies received N4.3 billion for victims support.

In addition the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had announced that a total of 40, 000 metric tons of food items were to be taken from silos and distributed to flood victims.

Authorities in Abuja had, even before a flood impact assessment was done, released N9.7 billion for food and agricultural seedling and N2.5billion to the Ministry of Health for disease control.

The flood relief fund was further swollen with contributions from the organized private sector mobilized by the Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee.

Led by billionaire businessman, Aliko Dangote, the 34-member committee garnered N12 billion in fund raising. Mr. Dangote donated N2.5 billion; N200 million of which he gave to the Kogi State government. Among others, Globacom boss, Mike Adenuga, gave N500 million; Zenith Bank's Jim Ovia and businessman Arthur Eze donated N1 billion each while the then governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, gave N1.8 billion on behalf of the Nigeria Governors' Forum. Construction giants Julius Berger, RCC, Dantata, Setraco were also reported to have donated generously.

Flood victims, initially euphoric with the announcements of big monies donated towards their cause. would soon be plagued with rising misgivings. It was gathered that rather than translate the funds into palliatives and post-crisis rehabilitation, the fund managers in the various states instead went into a contest of who can be more disingenuous in fund diversion. They crafted promises and lies in equal measure and dished same out to the public through press releases.

In Benue, a regime of lies

In Benue State for instance, flood victims at Gyado village, along the Makurdi-Gboko road, recalled that the Commissioner of Environment at the time of the disaster, Eugene Aliegbe, on a local radio station to say that the Benue State Government used the relief funds to build clinics in the affected local government areas as well as drainages along the Markurdi-Gboko road at a cost of N300 million.

Our investigations, however, revealed that no clinic was built. Residents said the only drainage constructed along the Gboko-Makurdi in the wake of the 2012 disaster was from the Ecology Fund.

Former IDPs spoken to in Benue State included Tsav Reuben, a business man; David Awuhe, Friday Yua, Christopher Idoko, all farmers; Terkimbi Osu, also a farmer; and Matina Ukagye, a septuagenarian. From Makurdi to Agatu Local Government Area it was the same story of self-help with the ordinary people saying they were "abandoned and left to suffer with no compensation either in cash or in kind."

At Mu, a community on the outskirts of Makurdi, the septuagenarian Matina Ukagye, said, "it has been difficult to eat and we are in hardship. My family lost rice, maize, cassava farms and about five persons to the flood disaster."

Tsav Reuben said he would never forget how water submerged his entire neighborhood with houses deep in water up to the lintel.

"We lost an entire economic foundation to the flood. Our farms are gone and with the monies meant for our economic rehabilitation stolen by the government, it is not only the present that is endangered but also the future of our children," Mr. Reuben said.

Efforts to speak to the new Commissioner for Environment were rebuffed by the ministry's spokesperson, Simon Aliegbe, who insisted there was no information to be given in respect of the utilisation of flood relief funds. No accountability in Kogi

In Kogi State, the threat of the River Niger, which submerged most of the entire Ibaji local government area in 2012, was still evident in October 2015 when this newspaper visited.

On the road to Ibaji, from Idah, the River Niger had already consumed villages both to the left and right. And there was just such a little land to walk before getting to a point where it was only possible to go farther by boat.

Since 2012, displaced people have been taking refuge on the Idah-Ibaji road, with absolutely no attention from government. Almost living like destitute in shanties, the IDPs said they were hoping the water would recede sufficiently enough someday so they can go back to what used to be their homes.

Victims who lost their farms like Acholo Abel and John Eguda said they got nothing in assistance from the government even though they were asked to fill forms for compensation.

"I have four children and one wife and we were rich with our large rice farm," Mr. Abel said, standing on the road where he and his family were taking refuge. "But flood took away everything. They brought forms for us to fill. But they gave us nothing. Now life is difficult for my family though we have been able to return to subsistence farming by ourselves without any help from government."

"Na for this road we dey sleep because water don displace us. But wetin we see for 2012 pass this one," Mr. Eguda said in Pidgin English.

Michael Ojone, leader of about 10,000 victims, who fled from Kogi to Ogwugwu in neighbouring Anambra State, said, "we were compensated but very little."

He went cynical as he narrated how the National Emergency Management Agency provided mattresses, second-hand clothing, palm oil and five bags of rice "for 10 thousand people."

Mr. Ojone confirmed that Kogi State government gave each village cash compensation. However, while there were victims who got nothing at all eventually, those who did got "just about N1,500" as compensation.

"But then this a country we found ourselves, where those who were not victims got from the money," said Mike Abu, media aide to the Deputy Governor, Yomi Awoniyi, whose office handled the flood issues.

The Deputy Governor's office explained how Kogi State utilized the N500 million flood relief fund given to it. Mr. Abu said N300 million was spent to build a post-flood housing estate in Lokoja. N131 million, he said, went to the affected local government areas and the victims got N500,000 each to start a new life when they were leaving camp.

The deputy governor, however, said only victims in Lokoja, a relatively less affected community, got N500,000, while victims in the worst -hit places like Ibaji either got no compensation or got a paltry N1,500. Try as we did, however, this reporter could not find any victim in Lokoja who confirmed receipt of N500,000 as claimed by officials.

Talem, a taxi driver, who was a flood victim, furiously countered the official claim as he thundered: "Na who dem give N500,000? It's a lie!"

Blessing Edogbe, also in Lokoja, said: "We were victims; the River Niger displaced my family and we lost all our valuables in the house. Even the flood killed someone in that house. But we were not given N500,000. I am not sure any victim was accommodated in the post flood estate they said they built. We had to move to Okene and abandoned our means of livelihood. It was difficult at that time."

In Akabu, Kogi-Kotonkarfe local government area, Abdurahman Ibrahim said the state government promised to relocate upland about 30 communities affected by the flood to avert future occurrence.

"Not only that they reneged on the promise to relocate us, we did not get anything as compensation," Mr. Ibrahim said.

"Yes, we had plans to relocate people in the communities prone to flood but resources were limited," Mr. Abu said, adding that the Kogi State Government had appealed to the Federal Government for assistance to build infrastructures that would avert future flood event.

"It is not what we can do alone but there has not been response from the Federal Government," he said.

In Anambra State, 58 communities in eight local government areas were affected by the flood.

The government's interim report states that a total of N537 million was spent on the resettlement and rehabilitation of 125,000 victims of the flood disaster.

In communities like Aguleri Otu and Nzam in Anambra East and Anambra West LGAs respectively, victims said they received "little" compensation from government. Anambra State claimed it contributed N128 million to the resettlement fund; N400 million came from the N500 million it received from the Federal Government, and another N9million coming from public donors.

In some areas like Atani in Ogbaru local government area, victims like Josephine Osadebe said there was no relief or compensation from government.

"We were abandoned by the government even though we heard big money came from Abuja," Mrs. Osadebe said.

Checks in Oyo State produced similar tales of woes, although the state also received N500 million from the Federal Government. Residents at Apete, Oju oja, Papa Alago, waterside said they were abandoned even though the flood washed off businesses like car wash, fish ponds, restaurants and barbers' shops from their communities.

They said relief materials like food items and mattresses came only once and were provided by a federal lawmaker.

The University of Ibadan was seriously affected by the disaster. But the University's Director of Communications, Tunji Oladejo, said no assistance was received from the Oyo Government.

"We raised appeal funds; so, there was no assistance from Oyo State Government," he said.

Efforts by our reporter to get information in respect of the utilisation of the relief funds from the offices of the Deputy Governor and Head of Service were unsuccessful. Shortchanged by corporate bodies

Just as government officials in their respective states robbed the flood victims, some corporate organisations may have deliberately taken advantage of their misfortune.

It was gathered that many of the corporate bodies failed to redeem their pledges included in the N12 billion raised by the Dangote committee. The then President Jonathan had wooed corporate donors with tax incentives if they would donate to the flood relief fund.

However the Dangote committee would later disclose that, in what was a new form of corruption, some of the companies merely made big pledges, took the tax incentives but refused to redeem their pledges.

Meanwhile, in June 2013 and April 2014, the Dangote committee announced intention to build housing estate and other disaster relief infrastructures in 22 states.

But no such infrastructure provided by the committee exists in any of the five states of Anambra, Oyo, Kogi, Benue and Delta at the time our reporter visited.

The investigation was done with the support of Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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