Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Taming Floods Through Robust Engagement

Tajudeen Kareem
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 mark on the landscape. 

Urbanisation, 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 affect the environment negatively.

The resultant degradation 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, as recommended by 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, two percent ecology [fund] and one percent derivation [fund] was shared among the Federal, state and local tiers of 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, one percent of the Federation Account is to 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 two percent and subsumed under the ‘Special Funds’.

The fund, which originally constituted one per cent of the Federation Account, was reviewed to two per cent in 1992 and, later, one per cent of the derivation allocation, thus bringing the total percentage to three per cent. The prime objective of this initiative was to have a pool of funds 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 two percent of the federal earnings. From inception, the fund has been a first line charge and is only released with the approval of the president, as approved 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. 

To fix national infrastructure ravaged by flood this year, President Muhammadu Buhari has requested the National Assembly to approve N819.5 billion as part of a supplementary budget. The extra funds are needed to fix road, bridges and farmlands.

Currently, 2.32 percent is set aside for the management of ecological challenges nationwide. Of the funds to be disbursed, the Federal Government gets one per cent, state governments 0.72 per cent and local governments 0.60 per cent. Specifically, 45 per cent of the Federal Government’s share is allocated to four agencies, namely the North East Development Commission (NEDC), National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Since its inception, ecological problems have gulped huge sums of money. But with more 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 10 years. 

Since his administration came into office, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has continued to attend to the ecological challenges and has approved over 332 ecological projects across the country. While over 260 projects have been 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 for more funds be made available for the management of ecological challenges nationwide, to execute more projects at the states and local government levels. To achieve this, she pleaded with policy makers and governors to establish intervention agencies at the sub-national level to ameliorate the mounting ecological crisis in the cities and communities. 

Also, she suggested that Federal Government agencies receiving ecological funds, in addition to funds from the national budget, get less from the ecological funds (which will help pay 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 of the EPO. 

But how well do the states and local governments play their roles in ameliorating the ecological challenges? Before 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.

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 and advised government at all levels to brace 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 the state, 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 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 help in checkmating flood in the Benue axis and serve as a source of 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 floods 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 trans-boundary water that comes into Nigeria from the rivers Niger and Benue constitute only 20 per cent of the freshwater that flows into the country.

“Nigeria cannot blame the flood this year on Cameroon but can only blame them for violating the terms of the memorandum of understanding in 2016, 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 rains come, 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 the flood, 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 reasoned that it was impossible to build a dam as important and as strategic as the Dasin Hausa on River Benue without a detailed feasibility [study] and engineering design, hence the seeming delay in executing the project.

The reservoir, which flows through the Yola axis in Adamawa State down to other adjoining states, resulted to flooding in Nigeria over the years. Adamu noted that he disengaged the consultant appointed by the previous administration to work on the dam in 2016 due to the shoddy scope of work and the terms of reference. He was hopeful that, come 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 rainy season.

While commiserating with Nigerians on the recent devastating flood that led to the loss of lives, livelihood and property, the permanent secretary, EPO, Malam Shehu Ibrahim, promised 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 utilisation of available resources. 

Tajudeen Kareem
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