By Adedapo Adesanya
President Muhammadu Buhari has been given a deadline by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to investigate the spending of Ecological Fund by governments at all levels—federal, state and local- from 2001 to date.
In a letter dated October 22, 2022, the group asked Mr Buhari to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, and the appropriate anti-corruption agencies to look into how the funds have been spent for the last 21 years within seven days.
This became imperative following the ravaging floods in most states of the federation, which have claimed more than 600 lives and have rendered many homeless.
SERAP said it was worried that the huge amount of money released to state and local governments to tackle this issue had been squandered by officials.
The organisation wants “suspected perpetrators of corruption and mismanagement [to] face prosecution as appropriate, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, and any missing public funds should be fully recovered.”
In the open letter signed by its deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “trillions of ecological funds have allegedly gone down the drain. The resulting human costs directly threaten human rights – rights to life and to a place to live – rights that your government has an obligation to protect.”
The rights body said, “Irrespective of the cause of a threat to human rights, your government still has positive obligations to use all the means within its disposal to uphold the human rights of those affected.”
SERAP also said, “Although ecological funds are shared across the three tiers of government and emergency management agencies, the funds are managed and supervised by the Federal Government.”
It reminded Mr Buhari that his “government has the legal obligations to hold all tiers of government and emergency management agencies to account, and to trace, find, and recover any missing ecological funds.”
“Your government has the legal obligations to address the calamitous consequences of flooding for the human rights of millions of people and to prevent and address some of the direst consequences that climate change may reap on human rights, especially given the disproportionate impact on vulnerable people and communities.
“Your government must use all means available to it to prevent and address the threats to human rights that result from climate change and to provide access to effective remedies for victims when these rights are violated.
“Your government has a positive obligation to protect individuals against the threat posed to human rights by climate change, regardless of the causes.
“Your government also has legal obligations to effectively address the aftermath of the flooding, such as deterioration in health, diminishing access to safe drinking water and susceptibility of the areas affected to disease.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Climate change also has the potential to exacerbate existing threats to human rights in the country. Rising global temperatures will jeopardise many people’s livelihoods, increasing their vulnerability to poverty and social deprivation.
“In order to uphold its constitutional and international human rights obligations, your government must respond to the impacts of the flooding and of climate change generally.
“According to the audit of the Ecological Fund Office carried out by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the total amount allocated and received by the fund from December 2011 to November 2016 was N277 billion.
“The operations of the Fund from 2012 to 2016 reportedly showed that some of the disbursements were not utilised for the purpose for which it was established. During these periods, N74,170,932,645.20 was released to State Governments to solve ecological problems in their states.
“Impunity for corruption in the management of Ecological Fund will continue as long as high-ranking public officials go largely unpunished for their alleged crimes. By pursuing these allegations and taking the evidence before the court, the truth will be revealed and justice best served.
“SERAP is seriously concerned that years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the spending of Ecological Fund and entrenched impunity of perpetrators have undermined the ability of governments at all levels and emergency management agencies to prevent the impact of flooding on the human rights of socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians, and to respond to the problem effectively.
“Allegations of corruption and mismanagement have undermined the ability of authorities at all levels to invest in drainage systems and to tackle soil erosion and climate change challenges across several parts of the country.
“SERAP also urges you to direct Mr Malami and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to urgently identify and ensure access to justice and effective remedies to affected victims,” it said.
“SERAP also urges you to direct Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal Government to publish details of allocations from the Ecological Fund to the Federal Government, the 36 state governments, Abuja, the 774 local government areas of the country, and the National Emergency Management Agency, as well as state emergency management agencies between 2001 to date.
“SERAP urges you to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor the spending of Ecological Fund by the 36 state governors, the 774 local government areas, as well as all emergency management agencies across the country funded through the Ecological Fund.
“SERAP is concerned that the funds released for ecological projects are characterised by mismanagement, diversion of funds, substandard and abandoned projects fully paid for. Ecological funds have also been allegedly spent for other purposes, such as election campaigns and political patronage.
“Prevention of corruption in the spending of Ecological Fund, and preventing and addressing the challenges caused by climate change are serious and legitimate public interests.
“There is a legitimate public interest in ensuring justice and accountability for alleged corruption and mismanagement in the management of Ecological Fund.
“Nigerians have the right to know how the public funds budgeted to address ecological challenges are spent. Publishing the details of allocations of Ecological Fund since 2001 would promote transparency, accountability, and reduce the risks of corruption in the spending of the funds,” SERAP added.