The House of Representatives on Wednesday uncovered documents on how the National Agency for the Great Green Wall allegedly spent a whopping sum of N81.2 billion on planting 21 million trees across 11 frontline states.
The States are: Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Yobe and Borno.
The lawmakers who spoke during the investigative hearing into the ‘Utilisation of ecological funds released to National Great Green Wall from 2015 to date’, expressed displeasure over the conflicting financial reports submitted by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and the Agency, queried some of the expenditures carried out during the period under review.
According to the lawmakers who spoke after scrutinizing the documents submitted to the Ad-hoc Committee, the sum of N697.372m and an additional sum of N500m, as well as N480.657m, spent on renovation of office accommodation; N11.28bn on capital projects as well as claiming ownership of some projects carried out by lawmakers under Constituency Project as its project and exclusion of three States in the tree planting exercise.
The lawmakers also queried the rationale for Wareho using multi-billion naira in the Agency’s account for several years without returning such unutilized funds to the government’s coffer in line with extant financial regulations.
While lamenting that the Agency did not carry out any audit of its finance since inception, the lawmakers frowned at the humongous amount spent on capacity building and other subheads that are alien to the mandates of the Agency as encapsulated in the Act.
Worried by the inability of the Agency to substantiate most of the tree planting projects carried out so far, the lawmakers who spoke on their independent findings argued that 80 per cent of trees planted by the Agency did not survive.
Recall that the sum of N1bn belonging to the Agency was fraudulently laundered by some officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment in 2015 but was recovered by Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences.
The illicit transfers were carried out in collaboration with some financial banks and the Bureau de Change, according to the investigators.
According to the 6-page documents with Reference No: BKS/CSO/CON/NASS/005/082 dated 22nd August 2023 submitted by Central Bank of Nigeria, the total sum of N9,465,960,382.57 was domiciled in the Agency’s account from 2015 to date.
In his presentation, CBN Director, Mr. Samuel Okudere disclosed that out of the seven accounts opened by the Agency, only one was a mandated account.
Meanwhile, the documents submitted by the Accountant General of the Federation, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Madein showed that a total sum of N19.378bn was released from the Derivation & Ecology Accounts to the Agency from February 2019 to date.
In addition, the Agency also received the sum of N11.02bn as capital expenditure through the AGF.
According to the AGF’s Director, Mrs Irene Nwangwu, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the release of N2.309 billion to the Agency as a September 2020 Statutory 5 per cent Ecology Fund.
While responding to questions from the lawmakers, NAGGW Managing Director, Dr Yusuf Bukar, the Great Green Wall Act which was signed by Mr. President in 2015, enables the Agency to implement the Nigerian component of the programme as an initiative of the African Union being implemented in 11 Africa countries to coherently address the problem of land degradation, desertification, drought, climate change and livelihood of affected communities.
He disclosed that the Agency planted one million trees in Borno, Yobe and other states, the sum of N2.4bn was released in the first phase, and N7.3bn was released in the second phase, respectively.
He added that the Fund accruing into the Agency’s account include: 15 percent of the ecological fund for the Great Green Wall, contribution of fund from the natural resources development fund and gifts, loans and grants in aid from national bilateral, multilateral organisations and donors international and development agencies as well as individuals.
While affirming that the Agency gets funds from Donor Agencies, he couldn’t provide relevant documents on the amount received so far.
While responding to questions concerning various infractions in the implementation of its activities, he however affirmed that the Agency has deviated from its original mandate.
Speaking during the flag-off of the investigative hearing, Speaker Tajudeen Abbas explained that the Ad-hoc Committee was mandated to investigate:
All releases, all funds received from International organizations or Donor agencies from 2015 to date; All budgetary and other Federal allocations to the National Agency for the Great Green Wall from 2015 to date; the utilization of ecological funds released to the Great Green Wall by the international organisations; All contracts awarded to various contractors for the project from 2015 to date; and the total sum received through the policy and the level of compliance with the goals and objectives of the projects.
Abbas who was represented by Hon. Dickson Tarkir explained that the objectives of this investigative hearing are: to gather data to ensure the programme is optimally implemented, identify challenges affecting the execution of the project, expose corruption, and guide the new administration in the continued implementation of this policy which is crucial to both the well-being and the security of our nation.
Furthermore, expenditures of public funds and ensuring such expenditures are in line with this hearing fulfils the parliamentary responsibility to set down rules and of public interest and annual budgetary provisions, not forgetting donations from both domestic and international donor agencies.”
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Hon. Isma’ila Dabo observed that the persistence of these environmental challenges despite funds put into the programme from both the federal government and international partners necessitated this investigation to provide fair hearings to all parties and for all issues affecting successful implementation of the project to be brought on the table.
He noted that “after this hearing, we shall embark on, an on-the-spot assessment tour to all the projects executed under this scheme to ascertain the claims.
“The Ad-hoc committee is resolute in undertaking this assignment in the interest of all Nigerians. We are not here to scandalize any individual or organization but only to ensure that public funds are utilised for the purpose they are meant for. We will not shy away from pointing fingers where necessary, not out of personal animosity but simply in the national interest of our nation.”