INVESTIGATION] The Massive MDG Fraud (2): How Nigeria’s water ministry steals billions, then leave the taps dry

 

Premium Times

Published: July 27,2012

mdg illustration

 

The Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), and its agencies, mismanaged a large chunk of the N30billion it was allocated, between 2006 and 2008, as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) funds, we can authoritatively reveal today.

PREMIUM TIMES’ ongoing investigations into the utilization of Nigeria’s MDG funds show that the ministry, just like its Health counterpart, has mismanaged billions of naira that should have used to provide potable water for some of the over 60 million Nigerians who have no access to clean water.

A 2012 report by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, established that 66 million Nigerians lack access to water. Because almost half the population lacks access to good water, water-borne diseases remain rampant in this oil-rich West African nation, with diseases like dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever and others killing hundreds every year. The scarcity of water has also left thousands of communities with poor sanitation and hygiene.

Some of the 66 million Nigerians forced to consume infected water live in Erin-Omu, a small community of about a hundred inhabitants in the Itesiwaju Local Government Area of Oyo state. People here remain deprived of good water because officials have pocketed funds meant for providing borehole for the community, while filing false report to the capital, Abuja that the project had been executed.

The Erin-Omu water fraud

Sixty-year old Modupeola Oladimeji wakes up at 3 a.m. everyday. In what has become a daily routine, Mrs Oladimeji her daughter in-law and her grand children, with buckets on their heads, immediately commence their journey in search of water. Villagers rely on a contaminated stream, about 200 metres from Mrs Oladimeji’s mud house, and whoever gets there first get the best water, residents believe.  The stream water is used for bathing, washing, drinking and other domestic chores.

“I used to go to the stream to fetch water since I was young,” Mrs Oladimeji, a fish seller, said in Yoruba language. “Now I wake up my daughter-in-law and we join other neighbours to go to the stream. That is where all of us in this village get water.”

Less than 10 metres from Mrs. Oladimeji’s house however, is a huge signboard advertising a borehole that had purportedly been built for the community.

Residents told our reporter the board was erected some years ago when “some people” came to them saying they wanted to provide potable water for the village.

“They told us they were from Abuja (Nigeria’s capital) and that they had come to help us put a borehole there,” Mrs Oladimeji said. “They put the signboard at a spot where they said they had found water.”

During our reporter’s visit to the community, residents rained curses on officials who pocketed the funds meant for their borehole, planted deceitful signboard and then scamper to Abuja to lie that  Erin-Omu had been provided water.
“God will judge them harshly,” one villager said.

Titled “Hand pump borehole at Erin Omu,” according to the message on the board, the project is one of the hundreds of phantom water projects purportedly executed nationwide using funds meant to help Nigeria achieve goals one, four, five and six  of  the MDGS.

Rather than help this country of 150 million people move closer to the MDGs, our investigations have shown that officials in government ministries, including that of water resources, are simply pocketing billions without executing projects for which they were released.

The water resources ministry (and the agencies under it) alone has mismanaged a huge chunk  of the N320billion allocated to it to provide safe water for Nigeria ns and help the country attain the MDGs.

Water for MDGs

Provision of potable water is directly related to goal one of the MDGs and indirectly related to goals four, five and six.  Potable water helps to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger while it also helps to reduce incidence of water borne diseases.

Due to the importance of potable water to the achievement of the MDGs, the Office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Millennium Development Goals (OSSAP-MDGs) chose the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) as one of the 10 beneficiaries of funds meant to achieve the MDGs.

Of the N99.9billion budgeted for the MDGs in 2006, the headquarters of the FMWR was allocated N9.42 billion naira.  In 2007, the ministry got 10 per cent of the N109 billion; while it got 10.8 billion of the N111 billion allocated in 2008.

As independent monitors and evaluators from  the office of the OSSAP-MDGs stated in their reports for 2006, 2007 and 2008, that most of the projects for which the water resources ministry got funds were like that of Erin Omu.
Most of them were phantom projects.

After monitoring projects by the FMWR from the 2006 funds, the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team stated in March 2008 that “most of the projects being handled from the headquarters of the FMWR have not taken off. Overall assessment of progress on all the programmes in the sector has been assessed at about 18.44%.”

Village water projects

Erin Omu typifies the state of most of the village water projects that were to be constructed by the water resources ministry.

In 2006, 21 small town village water supply projects were to be built across the country. However, according to the M& E team, that didn’t happen.
“Of the 21 small town village water supply projects that were to be built in different locations across the country, eight recorded no progress whatsoever and there were no reports on 11,” the team stated in its report submitted in March 2008.

Apart from the 21 village water supply projects, money was also released to the FMWR in 2006 for the construction of 449 motorized boreholes across the country. Two years after money was approved for the boreholes however, work had not started in any of the 449 locations. The ministry however told the M&E team that “contracts had been awarded and that contractors were already mobilizing to work.”

It is not only the headquarters of the FMWR that was indicted for mismanagement and non-performance, agencies under the ministry were found equally culpable.

The River Basin scheme

Although the 12 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA) across the country were established to make water provision for domestic and agricultural uses easy for Nigerians, many of them have become bywords for mismanagement and inefficiency, investigations show.

Six kilometres from Erin-Omu lays Igbojaiye, an agrarian community. In other to make agriculture easy for the Igbojaiye farmers and also provide safe water for the town and other nearby communities of Otu, Baba-Ode, Okaka and so on, the OSSAP-MDG decided to fund the construction of a small earth dam in Igbojaiye.

To achieve this, the OSSAP-MDG approved N900 million to the Ogun-Osun RBDA in 2006. Apart for the Igbojaiye dam, the money was also to be used for 59 rural water projects.

But were able to establish that the dam was not constructed, while 36 of the 59 water projects were also not done.

Again in 2007, another N1billion was approved for the Ogun-Osun RBDA for projects including the Igbojaiye dam. While the Igbojaiye dam was again not constructed, only 16 per cent of the other 105 rural water projects were done.

The construction of the dam finally commenced in August 2009, after officials have pocket a large portion of the funds released for the project.

When our reported visited the project site, Lukman Aweroro, the engineer representing the contractors handling the project claimed his firm was only  awarded the contract in Aug 2009. He refused to disclose the contract sum but stated that the project would be completed in three phases.

The community members at Igbojaiye were only interested in the completion of the project and were unaware of the repeated financial allocations for the project

“The project has been on since (Shehu) Shagari regime. They abandoned it for a long time. We’re happy they have started again.” said Ajayi Kehinde, who holds the traditional title of Sobaloju of Igbojaiye in the community. “We don’t know for how much they are doing it, but they should just try to complete it this time.”

The Ogun- Osun   RBDA is however not the only one guilty of fraud and non-performance. Other RBDAs performed just as poorly.

In its 2007 report submitted in 2009, the M&E team stated that “the projects handled by the RBDAs have recorded varying levels of progress but overall performance has been unimpressive.  Several projects have not commenced at all.”

Hoarding Information

In other to conceal their shady deals, the water resources ministry and the various RBDAs embarked on a course to frustrate the independent monitors.

In its March 2008 report, the M&E team stated that “all the M&E teams reported difficulty in gaining access to project and contract documents that would enable them to identify and access progress achieved on the projects.”

This refusal to provide relevant information was linked by the evaluators to non-existent projects.

“It would not be out of place to suggest that in many of the projects, such project information was perhaps even non-existent,” they said.

The ministry’s refusal to provide relevant information and documents by the FMWR and its parastatals continued till 2010. This was reflected in the 2008 report which was concluded in 2010 by the M&E team.

“Access to information was problematic, particularly access to information about projects in RBDAs,” the report stated

No comment

In a manner reminiscent of how monitors were frustrated by denial of information, six months during which letters and several visits were made to its headquarters, the ministry is yet to provide responses to questions asked by our reporter. Our enquiry to the ministry bothered on phantom projects, cost of projects, misappropriation, official indictment, and so on.

Spokesperson for the ministry, Olawunmi Ogunmosunle, who initially directed our reporter to a certain chief engineer, finally stated after several weeks of enquiry that “we will get back to you once we are ready.”

The ministry never got back to us.

However, the new spokesperson for the ministry, Boade Akinola, asked, on Thursday,  that the questions be re-sent to her after our reporter again visited the ministry on Tuesday during which he was told that he would still be contacted. When the ministry failed to contact us, another visit there, on Thursday, led to Ms. Akinola explaining that she had just assumed duties at the department, and that the questions be resent to her.

Few minutes after going to press, a ministry spokesperson called PREMIUM TIMES to say our questions had been forwarded to the appropriate departments and that the minstry would get back to us once the answers are ready.

RBDA won’t talk

At the Abeokuta, Ogun State, headquarters of the Ogun-Osun RBDA, the spokesman, Femi Dokunmu, would also not respond to our enquiry.
“The approval for somebody to provide information on such a matter is an issue only the Minister (of Water Resources) can approve,” Mr. Dokunmu said, referring us again to the water resources ministry.

A highly placed source at the Ogun-Osun RBDA however stated that our enquiries caused jitters as top officials of the agency fear that it might trigger a probe of its activities.

“Our people think you were sent here secretly by the National Assembly. Nobody wants to talk to you officially,” our source, who does not want his name mentioned, for fear of victimization, said.

Blame the President

A member of the civil society group that carried out the Monitoring believes it is the failure on the part of the Presidency to act on their recommendations that has allowed the corruption to continue.

“There is a quarterly meeting, the Presidential council on the MDGs where the President is briefed on what exactly is happening,” said Jibrin Ibrahim, while explaining that the President is aware of all their reports.

While the OSSAP MDG office through its spokesman, Kene Offie, says it is checking corruption in its activities by ensuring that ministries found culpable are not given more MDG funds, Mr. Ibrahim says that is not enough.

“If we are really going to do the anti-corruption struggle, you need to have sanctions for people who do not perform,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

“My recommendation is there must be a mechanism in the Presidency that now follows up on this report and identifies those agencies where there is suspected graft and pass on that information so that ICPC and EFCC can follow up to investigate what happened to the money. But at that level, it is really executive action that is necessary.”

Nigerians still suffer

While the water resources ministry continues to hoard information and the Presidency refuses to act on recommendations by the Monitoring and Evaluation teams, Nigerians like Mrs. Oladimeji continue to suffer from lack of potable water.

“We don’t even want to know how much they have collected or spent. Let them just help us and come and give us the water,” Mrs. Oladimeji said

The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided support for the report.

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4 responses to “INVESTIGATION] The Massive MDG Fraud (2): How Nigeria’s water ministry steals billions, then leave the taps dry

  1. This is a great shame.Are we really serious about our desire to be within the fold of the 1st 20 countries of the world by year 2020?
    The administrators of the MDG and their M&E unit should also share part of the blame for releasing money to the ministry when previous releases were not accounted for. Besides, the M&E reports coming 2 years after the release of funds for the projects is too long.
    A way to check this shameful and criminal act is for the MDG to assume the responsibility of making payments directly to the contractors. The ministries can handle the contract procedures while the MDG manages the funds.

    • Thanks for this comment Mr. Hanidu. What is wrong is not whose responsibility it is to pay contractors. The corruption problem in Nigeria can only be solved if we have good leadership that will put an end to the current culture of impunity.

  2. Why should a federal ministry be constructing water projects in small towns? – a job which an LGA can do. Why can’t the MDGs funds be used to help the LGAs to do the work they are supposed to be doing? Is not the power-distance between the Federal govt and the small towns/communities a window for “culture of impunity” and corruption to flourish in projects execution? If not corruption, why is it that in Nigeria, FGN is doing state govt’s work and State govt doing LGA’s work and the LGAs do next-to-nothing except payment of salaries?. And the poor communities are left at the receiving end as in the case of Mrs Oladimeji at Erin-Omu village.

    • Mr. Nasser, thanks for looking in and weighing in on the subject of MDG fraud.

      The answer to your question can only be answered by the Federal Government which has been doing a lot of things unconstitutionally with regard to budgetary allocations.

      The Federal constitution does not allow States to collect LGA Federal govt. budgetary allocations but this has been going since 1999 because States say there is no capacity at the LGAs. I wonder how LGAs can build capacity if they are not given their allocations directly the LGAs to develop.

      The LGAs need to make use of the services of constitutional lawyers to correct what in effect is a travesty.

      The same practice the FGN adopts with regard to its budgetary allocation is being used for disbursing MDG funds. This practice encourages corruption because funds are controlled from a point that is quite remote from the beneficiaries. As we all know water supply can best be managed if done at the lowest possible level. This will allow the participation of communities in every aspect of water supply projects which will minimize fraud.

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