BY CHIMA NWAFO
The World Bank-sponsored Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) is unquestionably a child of circumstance. It was birthed in response to President Goodluck Jonathan’s appeal for support, mainly in fighting the intractable menace of gully erosion in the South-east, and (in Nigeria’s peculiar balancing act) land degradation in the North. There is also no dispute as to the fact that gully erosion is an advanced form of land degradation. Besides the threat of gully erosion, population density in the South-east region is the highest.
As a result, the importance of land in the region can best be captured in the words of the Octogenarian Environmental Activist, Walter Jibunoh, who named his grandson, Anibundu: that is, Land is Life. Sad, our political leaders in the South-east fail to appreciate the wisdom and foresight of that name-statement. We don’t have enough, yet the little on which we subsist, is seriously threatened by gully erosion and flash flood.
The WB/NEWMAP project has eight years to complete its mandate. Somehow, the method of evaluating performance goes contrary to a popular Igbo adage which says: “It is the place where an abomination is committed that the gods are pacified.” There are about 3,000 erosion sites in the South-east region. As a result, the performance evaluation of the WB/NEWMAP project by its sponsors is a bit disturbing, for two reasons. First, available newspaper reports on NEWMAP are published in only one media house. And being a reputable newspaper, it carefully indicates far atop the headline – ADVERTISEMENT – a clear indication that what you read is an advertorial not unbiased/balanced editorial material. Second, two recent events – ‘NEWMAP Results’ Marketplace, held at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja and a ‘Capacity Building Workshop on the New Environmental Safeguards Framework’ – were held at Abuja and Lagos respectively. Far from the scenes of erosions and degraded lands.
Despite Federal Government’s predilection for centralization, one wonders why events that are majorly to resolve a problem in the Eastern Region cannot be hosted there, to enable site-seeing of ongoing projects and the irrecoverable sites by officials from the sponsoring organization. However, if hosting a capacity-building workshop in Lagos could be pardoned, it is difficult to explain how an exhibition on gully erosion could be held in the cool and luxury ambience of an Abuja hotel. Both from the British and American English perspectives, exhibition has a similar definition, according to Wikipedia, which states:
An exhibition, in the most general sense, is an organised presentation and display of a selection of items…. Exhibitions can include many things such as art in major museums and smaller galleries, interpretive exhibitions, natural history museums and history museums; and also varieties, such as more commercially-focused exhibitions and trade fairs. In British English, the word ‘exhibition’ is used for a collection of items placed on display, and the event as a whole, which in American English is usually an ‘exhibit.’ In both varieties of English Language, each object being shown within an exhibition is an ‘exhibit.’
NEWMAP’s exhibition was on its “approach to degraded sites intervention and success story,” whatever that means. But, how much of gully erosion did they exhibit? Ordinarily, results and successes should not be separated from the scene of an examination, from where it could be transmitted. Could it be due to inaccessibility or insecurity that neither training nor visiting of exhibition sites could not be conducted within the region for which the project was initially set up? Fortunately, yours truly visited the region two weeks ago and follows news on the environment. There has not been any security threat beyond the ordinary crimes as elsewhere in the country, including Abuja and Lagos. Yet, both the Federal Ministry of Environment and NEWMAP records agree that then-President Goodluck Jonathan specifically made the request for World Bank support in fighting erosion in the South-east, given the enormity of gully erosion menace in the region. Also, an exhibition on land degradation cannot be best captured in a hotel environment far away from the zones under threat, for which the Project was set up to provide solution. The Anambra State deputy governor was invited to join the team to commend the efforts of the World Bank-sponsored NEWMAP.
There was also a news report that a joint World Bank, Federal Government of Nigeria and Food and Agriculture Organization Mission to the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project commenced from March 14, 2019, ending in November.
The Mission was reportedly led by Maria Sarraf (Practice Manager), including a joint team from the World Bank and NEWMAP led by National Coordinator, Salisu Dahiru. Again, within the mission period, the Team met in Abuja with key government ministries and agencies. This exclusivity oftentimes aids secrecy and opaqueness.
Maria Sarraf was said to have expressed satisfaction with the progress recorded by the project in the control of gully erosion and land degradation by NEWMAP-participating states, evidently showcased at the exhibition. She never bothered to see one site or completed project.
“Earlier, Salisu Dahiru, the National Project Coordinator, NEWMAP, had welcomed participants with the roll-out of significant implementation results achieved, from inception over the years by the project, in the various sites and areas of intervention. The Task Team Leader, Dr Amos Abu, acknowledged the hard work and commitment of NEWMAP project teams from the Federal across the 20 participating states. He said NEWMAP is a reality-check programme, which has “made positive contributions in the lives of the people through its numerous interventions. What speak for us are the results: the difference we are making in the lives of the people.”
It appears nothing new has been recorded since Dahiru granted an interview to the News Agency of Nigeria in August 2019, where it announced its achievements so far. Given the paucity of current information, it is important to reproduce my reaction to that report entitled “Of NEWMAP and Irrecoverable Erosion Sites in the South-east.”
“NEWMAP said it has ‘reclaimed over 70 active gully erosion sites and 2,500 hectares of degraded land across the country, in less than six years.”’ Mr Salisu Dahiru, National Project Coordinator of NEWMAP who disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on August 13, 2019, added: ‘The hectres of land were reclaimed through afforestation projects in the northern part, while civil work construction and bioremediation measures were carried out on the active gully sites in South-east.’
This sounds impressive. But to some critical minds, it’s like bikini: it exposes much but what is concealed is even more. Given that in Nigeria, public projects are measured in naira terms and not value and morality of the contract, one may also examine how much NEWMAP expended to achieve the feat vis-à-vis what is yet to be done.
The report quoted Mr. Dahiru as saying: ‘The projects were achieved through the $500 million given by the World Bank as an advance to cover phase one of the projects. NEWMAP got additional grant of $3.96 million from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and $4.63 million from the Special Climate Change Fund to support the projects. The Federal Government also contributed $150 million equivalent as part of its counterpart contribution for staff salaries, trainings and office accommodation, among others.’
That is not all. Beneficiary states usually pay counterpart funds before any project could be executed in their domain, irrespective of urgency or threat to livelihood. “Affected states also contributed a matching grant of about 10 to 12 per cent of the total cost of the civil works,” Dahiru added.
Confirming available data, he noted: ‘A study earlier conducted on gullies in Nigeria revealed that over 3,000 active gullies were scattered in different parts of South-east alone.Some of the gullies in the South-east were as deep as 100 feet that could contain more than five-storey building; and government’s attempt to recover some of these sites were not successful. Looking at the results recorded by NEWMAP in all of these severe gully sites, the issue is not the number of sites we reclaimed, but the critical gullies we were able to handle and reclaimed.’”
But another dimension is that rather than focus on gully erosion and flood remediation, NEWMAP’s progress report claims to provide financial aid and empowerment and community development projects to individuals and communities whose identity remain vague. In a way, this, too, agrees with the World Bank’s acclaimed “Mission to end extreme poverty and reduce inequality in the world.” But the way UN agencies goes about it in Africa could be worrisome. The more they give, the poorer we become, even by their own records. Yet, they don’t bother to ask questions.
Majed Hamed, World Bank Lead Regional Safeguard Coordinator, said: “The new safeguards will build into our projects updated and improved protections for the most vulnerable people in the world and our environment. We also will substantially increase our financing of the safeguards to make sure this works as intended – with enough funding for both implementation and building capacity in countries so that they can play a more active role in protecting people and the environment.”
But, according to the UnitedNations, “despite the positive global trend, poverty rates in Africa have increased; with Nigeria as one of the countries topping the list as six people fall into extreme poverty every minute.”
Latest World Bank post on NEWMAP features “Detailed Financial Activity as of November 30, 2019” (beginning from 2012). Given the history of foreign loans and donations to Nigeria through the years, one would have expected the chest-beating performance evaluations to be testimonies directly from the people of the zones or providing credible evidences of completed projects and the locations, including the irrecoverable ones, and why they are so deemed.
*Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org; +2348029334754.
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