There has been a series of probes by the National Assembly at different times on the use of the multi billion naira disbursed to states and local government areas as ecological fund.
Predictably, the reports of these probes, like most of such actions by the lawmakers, often ended up on the shelves where they are deliberately left to gather dust.
We recall that in April 2022, the House of Representatives asked the ministry of finance and the office of accountant general of the federation to stop the allocation of funds from ecological funds to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Agency for the Great Green Wall, the North East Development Commission and the National Agricultural Land Development Authority, pending its investigation into the use of the funds. Sadly, nothing concrete came out of the probe.
Only recently, there were reports of the failure of states to appear before the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) panel probing the ecological funds, an indication that the states have something to hide.
The PCC panel noted that no fewer than 27 states shunned its invite to provide explanation on how funds disbursed under the ecological fund were expended.
Specifically, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Zamfara, Benue, Borno and Cross-River, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe and Imo, refused to appear before the committee.
In January 2023, the 36 states and 774 local government councils received N4.6 billion and N3.8 billion respectively, amounting to N8.4 billion as ecological funds disbursement. There are available records suggesting that the subnational governments received no less than N69 billion as income from the ecological funds between 2021 and January 2023.
However, according to media reports, the 36 states of the federation received not less than N300 billion as ecological funds between 2017 and 2022.
It is worrisome, in our view, that in spite of this huge allocation which is clearly meant to reduce ecological problems across the nation, some communities across the states continue to battle with erosion and other disasters for which judicious utilization of these funds would have helped to mitigate.
With increased devastation arising from frequent erosion and other natural disasters, which often led to both loss of lives and property on a wide scale, Nigerians are are demanding for an effective management of the fund.
Popular opinion among discerning Nigerians is that the ecological funds are among monies that get misapplied the most with its expenditure often shrouded in secrecy. This widely held allegation of mismanagement, has prompted the challenge on the subnational governments to provide a detailed account of how the monies were utilised.
Indeed, this widespread concern about abuse or misapplication of the ecological fund is what informed the decision of the PCC to set up a probe panel with the sole aim of finding out how the funds were applied by the states.
However, rather than appear before the committee to provide sufficient proof of how the monies received were expended, the states shunned the panel suggesting clearly that they have no plausible explanation to give for the apparent mismanagement of the fund.
In an interim report, the PCC panel noted that the stakeholders in the Ecological Funds value chain were not operating on the same page.
Curiously, the committee uncovered what it termed ‘lack of harmony between the amount obtained at the office of the accountant general of the federation and the amount received by the states as ecological funds.
As a newspaper, we find it appalling that, as the PCC committee noted, the figures quoted by the states were lower than the figures obtained from the office of the accountant general of the federation.
The nation may well be dealing with two complicated and indeed, worrisome scenarios here. One is the fact that states have refused to come clean on how they utilized the funds and the other being discrepancies in the figures between the state and the office of the accountant general.
While the states must endeavour to appear before the PCC panel and give detailed account of how the ecological funds are being expended, there should be a holistic inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the discrepancies.