By Tajudeen Kareem
Nigeria has a total land area of 983,213 square kilometres occupied by over 200 million people. The interaction of these millions of people with their environment has left indelible marks on the landscape.
Urbanization, deforestation, desertification, over-population and all kinds of pollution are some of the resultant effects of man’s interaction with his environment. These changes occur as the people attempt to acquire their seemingly endless desire for food, shelter, recreation and infrastructural facilities. Though these wants and desires contribute to the development of the country, the unwise use of the land and its resources produce negative impacts on the environment.
It was the resultant degradation that gave rise to the Ecological Fund as an intervention fund by the Federal Government to address the multifarious ecological challenges in various communities across the country. It was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act, 1981, on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission. It was modified by Decree 34 of 1984 and Decree 106 of 1992.
Given the widening environmental disasters across the country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the modification order of May 2002. Thereafter, 2 per cent Ecology and 1 per cent Derivation was shared among the three tiers of government, namely, federal, state and local governments, alongside the existing revenue-sharing formula.
As clearly stated in Section 2(3) of the Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account, etc.) Act CAP 16, LFN, 1990, 1 per cent of the Federation Account be paid into a fund to be administered by the Federal Government for the amelioration of ecological problems in any part of Nigeria. The fund was increased to 2 per cent and subsumed under the Special Funds.
The fund, which originally constituted 1 per cent of the Federation Account, was reviewed to two per cent in 1992, and later 1 per cent of the derivation allocation, thus bringing the total percentage to 3 per cent. The prime objective of this initiative was to have a pool of funds that would be solely devoted to the funding of ecological projects to ameliorate serious ecological problems nationwide.
This fund was managed by the Ecological Fund Office, which gets 2 per cent of the federal earnings. From inception, the fund has been a first line charge and is only released with the approval of the President. The approval was given through the National Committee on Ecological Problems (NCEP), an inter-ministerial body set up in 1985 and headed by the Minister of Environment. It advises the President on the disbursement and management of the Fund, collates proposed projects through four sub-committees, and implements presidential approvals for the proposed projects.
Currently, 2.32 per cent is set aside for the management of ecological challenges nationwide. The disbursement of the funds allocated the Federal Government, one percent; State governments, 0.72 percent and Local governments, 0.60 percent. Specifically, 45 percent of the Federal Government’s share is allocated to four agencies, namely the North East Development Commission, National Agricultural Land Development Authority, National Agency for the Great Green Wall and National Emergency Management Agency.
Since its inception, ecological problems have gulped huge sums of money. But with the increased ecological disasters ravaging the country, Nigeria’s economy has been eroded with the Federal Government budgeting billions of naira annually to curb these ecological emergencies. Indeed, experts project that Nigeria would require over N3.4 trillion to close the ecological gap in the next ten years.
President Muhammadu Buhari since he took the mantle of leadership has continued to attend to the ecological challenges and has approved over 332 ecological projects across the country. While over 260 projects were already completed, commissioned and handed over to the benefitting communities, the remaining ones are at various levels of completion.
The immediate past Permanent Secretary, Ecological Project Office, EPO, Dr Habiba Lawal, at her retirement recently, advocated that more funds be made available for the management of ecological challenges nationwide in order to execute more projects at the States and Local Government levels. To achieve this goal, she pleaded with policy makers and governors to establish intervention agencies at the sub-national level in order to ameliorate the mounting ecological crisis in the cities and communities.
She also suggested that Federal Government agencies receiving ecological funds, in addition to funds from the national budget, should get less from the nationwide ecological funds, explaining that EPO receives zero national budget except the payment of staff salaries.
Explaining further, she stated that only the President approves ecological and erosion-control projects at the Federal level for execution in all the six geopolitical zones across the country. This is coming on the heels of misconception by some elites that requests for ecological intervention in their States were turned down by the Permanent Secretary, EPO.
But how well do the States and Local Governments play their roles in ameliorating the ecological challenges? Prior to the 2022 flood disaster, NEMA wrote at least four letters to all states of the Federation on the need to set up local emergency committees to mitigate the impact of floods.
Surprisingly, only four states complied with the directive, according to the Director-General of NEMA, Mustapha Muhammed. He warned Nigerians to prepare for more floods in 2023 from heavy rainfall while also advising government at all levels to brace up for the challenges ahead by establishing local emergency committees to mitigate the devastating impacts of flood and other disasters across the country.
“Despite the fact that States are collecting ecological and other intervention funds from the Federal Government, when there is a disaster, they look up to Abuja for assistance”, said Muhammed who argued that in disaster management, local governments should be the first respondent, followed by the state and if it is beyond what the state can handle, the Federal Government can intervene.
Nigeria is a signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions on environment. These include those on climate change, waste management, oil and chemical pollution, among others. Irrespective of the global alliance, the country still contends with huge environmental crisis. Regrettably, this year’s flooding killed no fewer than 600 people while an estimated 2.5 million Nigerians were displaced. The most affected states were Anambra, Delta, Kogi, Rivers, Benue, Yobe, Jigawa, Cross River and Bayelsa.
To checkmate the excess release of water from Lagdo Dam, which is located in the Northern Province of Cameroon that covers an area of about 586km and 50 km South of Garoua on River Benue, the Federal Government had proposed the construction of Dasin Hausa Dam in 1982, expected to run across River Benue, about 20 kilometres North of Yola in Adamawa. The dam, which was meant to be a multi-purpose dam would greatly help in checkmating flood in Benue axis and serve as irrigation and hydro power. When completed, the hydro power is expected to generate about 150 megawatts, irrigate thousands of hectares of farmland, and provide navigation from Benue through the Niger Delta.
The Minister of Water Resources, Alhaji Suleiman Adamu has however debunked reports that the release of water from Cameroun was responsible for the perennial and devastating flooding in Nigeria. Eighty per cent of the flood is the water we are blessed with from the sky falling on Mambila and Jos Plateau. The minister explained that trans-boundary water that comes into Nigeria from Rivers Niger and Benue constituted only 20 per cent of the freshwater that flows into the country.
He further stated that Nigeria cannot blame the flood this year on Cameroon but can only blame them for violating the terms of the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding, signed with Nigeria on the release of water. He explained that it took painstaking efforts to sign an MoU requiring Cameroon to inform Nigeria prior to the release of water. “It was signed in 2016. Since then, every year, when the flood season comes, it is the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency that calls them to know their level of water”, said the minister.
On the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa, which could serve as a solution to flooding, Adamu stated that “whether we are able to do the dam or not, we will continue to have floods on the rivers Niger and Benue basins.” He said that it was impossible to build a dam as important and as strategic as Dasin Hausa on River Benue without a detailed feasibility and engineering design, hence the seeming delay in executing the project.
The reservoir, which flows through the Yola axis in Adamawa States down to other adjoining States had resulted to flooding in Nigeria over the years. Adamu noted that he disengaged the consultant that was appointed by the previous administration to work on the dam in 2016 due to shoddy scope of work and the terms of reference. He is hopeful that in March 2023, the feasibility studies and engineering design would be completed.
Before adequate dams are built to contain and control flood waters, all tiers of government must wake up to their responsibilities ahead of the next rain season.
The Permanent Secretary, EPO, Malam Shehu Ibrahim, while commiserating with Nigerians on the recent devastating flood that led to the loss of lives, livelihood and property, has promised a robust engagement with relevant stakeholders, relevant government agencies and sub-national governments in a determined effort to reduce to the barest minimum, the ecological challenges across the nation through efficient and effective utilization of available resources.
•Kareem, mnipr, chief consultant/CEO, ProEdge Limited, writes from Abuja