Africa’s big message at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt is that the countries responsible for causing climate change must pay up. A significant acceleration in adaptation finance is needed, considering the UN Environment Programme’s estimate that the 2020 target of US$100 billion a year won’t be met until 2025 due to rich countries’ unkept promises.
Better access to international financing is vital, but it’s equally important that African governments manage the funds accountably. The recent recurrence of devastating floods in Nigeria, and the country’s history of mismanaging its Ecological Fund, highlight the challenge.
In 2010, flood waters submerged about 90 000 hectares of farmland and in 2012, floods affected about seven million people. A year later, some 35 000 people were impacted, and in 2018, Nigeria declared a national disaster following severe floods.
And since last month, residents in 34 of the country’s 36 states have been struggling to cope with massive flooding. The recent disaster displaced more than 1.4 million people, killed over 600, and damaged or destroyed about 440 000 hectares of farmland. The disaster was linked to the release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam in Northern Cameroon, heavy rainfalls, overflow of local rivers, and the impact of climate change.
While much has been said about the floods’ effects, it’s essential to consider how corruption and unaccountable spending of the Ecological Fund contributed to the problem. The Federal Government of Nigeria established the fund to address various ecological challenges in communities across the country. It was created through the Federation Account Act 1981, on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission, and then modified in 2002.
The fund initially constituted 1% of the Federation Account, and in 1992 this was increased to 3%. The aim was to devote a pool of money to projects that would ameliorate serious environmental problems nationwide. The fund now also covers flooding, which is a direct consequence of climate change.
Data collated from the monthly Federation Account Allocation Committee reports show that between 2012 and 2021, Nigeria set aside N548 billion for the derivation and ecological funding account. Given that the country is at high risk for graft, sums of this magnitude are vulnerable to misappropriation and fraud – with dire consequences for citizens suffering the impact of climate change.
Cases of corruption surrounding the administration of the Ecological Fund have drawn the attention of the National Assembly. House of Representatives members raised concerns that state and federal authorities were diverting ecological funds, and in June, a probe was launched into the use of the fund over the past 10 years.
After the recent floods, President Muhammadu Buhari questioned public criticism of the Federal Government since state and local authorities had received most of the ecological funds set aside for disaster management. However evidence suggests that corrupt spending of the fund cuts across all three tiers of government.
Diversion and graft relating to the Ecological Fund have a long history in the country. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative audit report shows how the government’s beneficiary agencies diverted or embezzled the fund over the years.
In 2013, N2.5 billion was released from the fund to the Nigerian Army to relocate and develop a new barrack. In 2015, N1.47 billion was diverted to Gombe, Nasarawa and Yobe State governments to help cover the cost of damage to public property and places of worship during the 2011 post-election violence. The audit report noted that these expenditures don’t qualify as costs that the Ecological Fund was created to support.
In 2018, the former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, was convicted on a 23-count charge including money laundering and diversion of funds to private companies and individuals. This included N1.162 billion from the Ecological Fund meant for the state. In 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission prosecuted Niger State’s former governor for money laundering after he withdrew N800 million from the state’s N2 billion Ecological Fund.
Fraud and corruption will undercut climate change interventions and decrease the scale of adaptation infrastructure. Ecological funds need sound integrity and oversight frameworks to reduce their vulnerability to misuse.
First, the National Assembly should intensify the ongoing probes into the use of the Ecological Fund over the past decade. Second, more transparency is needed on the budgeting and spending of the fund.
Tolutope Agunloye, a Project Manager at the civic organisation BudgIT, told ISS Today that without citizen engagement, transparency doesn’t automatically lead to accountability. Regular public releases of budgetary information can help advocates and civil society ensure that the fund is used to tackle environmental disasters.
Oluwole Ojewale, ENACT Organised Crime Observatory Coordinator – Central Africa, ISS
Image: © Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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