How Nigeria’s N400 Million Green Bond-Financed Afforestation Projects Failed

Less than five years after the implementation of the core afforestation projects, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES finds that the projects suffered a major setback because they were poorly implemented.

In 2019, when officials of the Nigerian National Park Services (NPS)- an agency under the Federal Ministry of Environment, approached Aking village head, Ntufam Patrick-Erom requesting land to plant trees under the green bond National afforestation programme, the community leader obliged.

He agreed to share a portion of a hill-top land which was cleared for the purpose. The NPS officials said they preferred a flat area close to the main road. After weeks of searching, the park officials found land by the roadside and some villagers convinced them to plant without the consent of the village head and the “landowner”.

After planting some seedlings of mangoes, bitter kola and bush mango (Ogbono trees), the park placed a signpost bearing “Osomba”–a neighbouring community, instead of “Aking” on the plots planted. This angered the owner of the land and the Aking village youth, who misinterpreted the gesture to mean their community land is about to be grabbed.

“When the lady who owns the land saw this, she was angry and she asked them to leave her land,” the village head told PREMIUM TIMES.

“Even on their signboard, they wrote Osomba instead of Aking, so our youths were annoyed and they scattered everything,” he said.

Mr Patrick-Erom said he could not intervene when the incident occurred because he was hospitalised due to his illness.

Aking village is one of the seven communities mapped out for the implementation of the green bond afforestation projects in Cross River National Park. It is about a three hours’ drive away from the Calabar municipality.

The village is a rural settlement tucked along Oban village road in Akamkpa Local Government Area of Cross River State where the Cross River National Park’s head-office is sited.

Subsistence farming is the major occupation of the Aking people. Crops grown by farmers of this community are mainly oil palm, cocoa, cassava, among others, coupled with local brewing (tapping) of alcoholic beverages (kaikai) and palm wine from oil palm trees and raffia palms by locals.

Contrary to the alleged violent reaction from the Aking community youth towards the project, Cletus Asuquo, a council member of the community who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES during a visit to the project site in August, said the green bond project failed because the Park officials did not consult properly with the community village head and the landowner (his wife) before planting was done.

“They wanted to collect the land by force, and it is the only thing my in-laws inherited from their late father, that was why the youths reacted,” Mr Asuquo said.

Green bond

Green bonds are debt instruments intended to encourage sustainability and to support climate-related and other types of special environmental projects.

Specifically, green bonds finance projects aimed at energy efficiency, pollution prevention, sustainable agriculture, fishery and forestry, the protection of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, clean transportation, clean water, and sustainable water management. Also, they are used to finance the cultivation of environmentally friendly technologies and the mitigation of climate change.

In December 2017 and June 2019, Nigeria issued two green bonds worth N10.69 billion and N15 billion respectively. It was heralded as the most ambitious initiative of its kind anywhere in the continent of Africa at that time. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, became the first African nation and fourth globally after Poland, France, and COP 23 President, Fiji, to raise a debt instrument for the sole purpose of financing climate smart (mitigation and adaptation) projects.

The objective of the initiative was to fast track Nigeria’s low carbon development pledges as enshrined in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) document submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and as well create massive job opportunities for the citizens.

The move offered the country an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in its green financing agenda, while giving exposure to new investors and solidifying the country’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement which was endorsed in 2015.

According to the Department of Climate Change (DCC) at the Federal Ministry of Environment, N1.99 billion and N1.22 billion was earmarked for the afforestation programme in the first and second series of the green bond issued in both years (2017 and 2019) respectively.

However, Nigeria’s Conservator General, Ibrahim Goni, in response to PREMIUM TIMES’s Freedom of Information request, said the National Park Service received N433.1 million in two tranches (N225.3 million and N207.8 million) between 2018 and 2019 for the implementation of afforestation/restoration projects within support zone communities of the seven national parks in the country.

“A total of N433, 119,500(Four Hundred and Thirty-Three Million, One Hundred and Nineteen thousand, Five Hundred Naira Only) was received by the Service for implementation of the Afforestation/Restoration Projects for Two years of the Projects in some Support Zone Communities of the 7 National Parks as detailed below: 2017- N225, 315, 000( But was released in July, 2018) 2018- N207, 804, 500( But was released in September, 2019).Total- N433, 119,500,” Mr Goni said in his FOI response letter dated September 21 to PREMIUM TIMES.

According to the letter, the tree planting projects were awarded to two contractors: Hamkool Global Services Limited and Suarez Global Resources Limited. The government gave the contractors five months to complete the work, while the timelines for the trees would take three years to be established.

Key Findings

But now, less than five years after the full implementation of the core afforestation projects funded via proceeds of the bonds, a five month-long investigation by PREMIUM TIMES found that the projects suffered a major setback because they were poorly implemented. We found that the projects suffered as a result of poor community participation, and inadequate needs assessment, and because the tree planting contracts were awarded to individuals (firms) with little or no afforestation experience.

During a recent visit to several locations of the project sites implemented within communities in Cross River and Edo State national parks respectively, PREMIUM TIMES observed that the projects were far from successful.

Meanwhile, in May, at the Summit of Heads of State and Government 15th Conference of the Parties (Cop15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria has forested over 6 million hectares of land through its historic green bond project.

“Nigeria had successfully forested over Six Million, One Hundred and Ninety-One Thousand, Three Hundred and Sixty-Three (6,191, 363) hectares of land through the green bond project, while targeting to increase the nation’s forest cover to 25 per cent in line with global best practices,” the president was quoted to have said while addressing leaders at the summit in Côte D’Ivoire at that time.

Before the president’s claim, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation last year revealed that afforestation projects captured under the green bond programme implemented at Old Oyo National Park in Oyo State were poorly implemented.

Contrary to Mr Buhari’s claim, a report by an international group of researchers revealed that tropical forests’ potential for regrowth is substantial if they are left untouched by humans for about 20 years.

According to the report, soil takes an average of 10 years to recover its previous status, plant community and animal biodiversity take 60 years, and overall biomass takes a total of 120-year period.

Mr Goni agreed it takes longer for reforestation to be achieved. “With your background, do you think a forest can be created in one year? It is good you have clarified from me, no matter how fast a plant can grow, you cannot form a forest of any species in less than five years,” Mr Goni said.

Mr Goni gave a different reason for the failure. He lamented that a majority of the trees planted under the green bond initiative died as a result of late planting of seedlings, fire outbreaks, youth restiveness and droughts among other factors. He said efforts to replant (beat-up) were ongoing in some parks while some areas are “no go areas” because of banditry activities.

“For Gashaka park, they are doing well. Our problem is Kainji Birnin Gwari and the Borno sector in the Chad basin; we have even lost that sector. So you can’t talk of the green bond there. For Birnin Gwari, it is a no-go area,” Mr Goni said.

The Cross River National Park Conservator of Park (CP), Zanna Lawan, said the green bond projects were spread across seven communities (Aking/Osomba,Ekuri, Obung, Okarara, Akamkpa urban, Busi and Wula) within the two divisions of the park in the state but that unfortunately, fire outbreaks, and youth restiveness- communal clashes, made the projects a failed venture.

The Okomu Park CP Augustine Obekpa, said the green bond projects were implemented in three communities; Inikurua, Iguafole and Igolo, but that after planting, there was a seizure of rainfall which caused many of the plants not to survive.

Observation and limitations of the projects

Cross River National Park

One of the several projects funded from the proceeds of the green bonds issued within the aforementioned periods was the “restoration of degraded areas in Cross River National Parks” in the South-Eastern zone of Nigeria.

The park occupies an area of about 4000 square kilometres of pristine tropical moist rainforest ecosystems, with montane mosaic on the Obudu plateau and surrounded with about 106 communities.

It is split into two distinct non-contiguous divisions: Oban and Okwangwo. The former occupies the larger parts of the park area (3000, which stretches ecologically into the Korup National Park in the Republic of Cameroon, bearing high species (flora & fauna) diversity.

Of the seven communities where the tree planting projects were carried out at the park, officials of the park could only show this reporter two sites (Akamkpa and Busi communities) they said were “viable”. But this reporter independently tracked others at Aking village.

Like the Aking village, PREMIUM TIMES visit to the park in August revealed there were no green bond afforestation projects at Ekuri, Obung, Wula and Okarara communities respectively. The Park officials said the projects could not be implemented effectively due to communal crises and fire outbreaks they experienced during and after the planting process.

After over two hours of bumpy navigation through highly dense oil palm plantations and shallow streams crossing, this reporter arrived at the green bond site at the Akamkpa community.

The signposts stationed at the project site when our reporter visited indicated that seedlings of oranges, mangoes and bush mangoes were planted in 2019. Only a few stands of mango and orange tree crops were seen sparsely distributed and growing on five hectares of land at the Akamkpa community.

Although the Park’s Head of Planning, Research and ICT, Innocent Asuquo, said they planted 500 seedlings of the aforementioned tree plants each, only a few mangoes and oranges survived.

Interestingly too, the project area was used to grow cassava by community members who initially offered the land.

Mr Asuquo explained that the unrelated crops were planted as a strategy for weed control and maintenance of the project site by the community until the seedlings planted are well established, based on permission by the park.

However, of the two thousand trees planted on the project site at the Akamkpa community that year, this newspaper counted just about a hundred trees of mangoes and citrus standing, and a few Bush mango trees.

Many of the seedlings planted did not survive, but relatively, citrus (oranges) did better in the community, officials said.

Asked if soil testing was carried out on the project areas before introducing the seedlings to the project sites, the officials said “nothing of such was done,” and that the planting of the seedlings was done mainly by locals employed from the communities without pre-scientific checks.

“There’s a need to employ the services of experts or soil scientists to tell us if this kind of soil will be okay for the plants we planted here, but nothing of such was done,” Mr Asuquo said. ” They just gave us the go ahead from Abuja and we carried out the planting.”

The officials believe that the projects would have panned out differently if they had employed the services of a specialist, botanists, to provide professional guidance on what needs to be done whenever the seedlings planted are not doing well.

“None of this was in place during the implementation of the projects,” the official said.

Overtime, Mr Asuquo said we discovered that most of the seedlings planted were wilting away for no reason.

“If an expert was around, he could have told us if there is inadequate moisture in the soil or something else happened that makes them wilting away.But nothing like this was done, in future we would need this kind of services to ensure that the viability of the site is guaranteed,” he added.

Similarly, at Busi community in the Obudu plateau axis of the park, the green bond project site also suffered a major setback. Only a few trees of oranges and mangoes were seen trying to survive the swampy environment they were planted in.

The site is located at the Okwangwo axis of the Cross River National Park and is about six to eight hours’ drive from the Calabar municipality. It hosts a large chunk of Nigeria’s primary forests. However, logging and massive deforestation are some of the thriving business activities that stare commuters in the face along the Butatong community road leading to the green bond site.

At the Busi community green bond project site, the Okwangwo division sector officer, Justina Undelikwo, said they planted oranges, mangoes, bush mango and bitter kola, and that the community members were interested in the project.

But members of the community attached to the green bond site said the project failed due to lack of maintenance, inability of the community members to buy into the project, coupled with massive stealing and late planting of the seedlings.

They said community members lost interest in the project because they thought they would be gainfully employed by the park after the implementation of the project, but since this did not happen, they lost interest in the project and it affected the maintenance of the site.

Solomon Akwu, one of the elders in the community who goes by the nickname “Mr Bakassi”, noted that the project failed because tree seedlings were planted in late October when the dry season had commenced, causing most of the seedlings to die off.

“The ones that could survive we helped them to survive. But even when they were planted in the swamp, some still died, ” Mr Bakassi said.

Akwu David, another resident of the community said the projects failed because most of the seedlings were stolen by the neighbouring communities after planting was done.

Aside from this, PREMIUM TIMES observed that the Busi community project was implemented in an already established forest area, instead of a degraded land area as stipulated in the green bond project guidelines published by the environment ministry on its website.

Some of the surviving seedlings of citrus and mangoes seen at the site are still struggling to grow under canopies of already established trees which are depriving the young seedlings of access to direct sunlight.

Likewise, there are no provisions for efficient and seamless irrigation structures across all the green bond sites visited.

“Some of the Conservators of parks did not carry out the green bond projects as directed, they did a poor job,” a top official of the park who does not want his name mentioned since he was not permitted to speak on the issues told this reporter.

He said most of the CPs of some parks did not implement all the directives contained in the green bond criteria served to them.

Another official said the Top-bottom approach used in the implementation of the project largely triggered the failures of the project across the parks.

Besides this, PREMIUM TIMES observed that lack of mobility, far distance and access roads to some of the project locations are part of what crippled most of the green bond tree planting projects. As some of the parks do not have vehicles to carry out site monitoring across the project areas.

Similar condition in Okomu National Park

By October this year, it will be three years since the Okomu National Park implemented the green bond afforestation projects in three communities bordering the park, but the project failed.

The park is about an hour drive (60 km) away from north west of Benin City municipality and just 20 minutes’ drive away from the famous Okomu oil palm plantation company.

Formerly known as the Okomu Wildlife Sanctuary, Okomu National Park hosts a forest block within about 1,082 kilometres square in the Ovia South-West Local Government Area of Edo State.

The Okomu park officials said the green bond tree planting projects were implemented in three communities– Ugolo, Iguafole and Inikurua respectively, but that many did not survive.

Site visitation to two (Ugolo and Iguafole) of the three project sites in late August revealed that almost all the trees the park claimed to have planted in 2019 did not survive. However, it was observed that the park started replanting of a few citrus seedlings but the leaves are being eaten up by caterpillar pests.

“We are trying to see how we can get the chemicals that we can spray to eliminate the caterpillars,” Mr Obekpa said.

He said most of the seedlings of oranges and bitter kola planted in 2019 did not survive because they were planted when the rainy season was almost done.

“So it really affected the survival rate,” the park CP said.

Mr Obekpa lamented that part of the challenges they faced at the initial stage of implementation of the project was the land allocation crisis with the community.

“After planting some people said that the land belonged to them, and we reported the issues to the community chief and it was resolved,” he said.

Environmentalists lament

The findings by PREMIUM TIMES have alarmed environmental activists and ecological experts who questioned the planning and execution of the projects across the parks.

“There is so much lack of transparency in the character of most officials when assigned with responsibilities especially when money is involved,” said Ajele Sunday, National Coordinator, Voice of the Earth initiative (VOTEi) in Edo State.

Environmentalists have also criticised the monoculture approach of growing tree crops like oranges on five hectares of land to achieve carbon sequestration.

“How do you expect Citrus trees to take the place of a forest or afforestation that will be capable of sequestering (trap) atmospheric carbon?” Queried Mr Sunday. “Monoculture planting can never take the place of a forest, therefore cannot serve the purpose of a forest,” he added.

In a scathing review of the green bond afforestation projects implemented in the State, the environmentalist said, “It is appalling that such a beneficial project goes down the drain without achieving the desired result. Therefore, in order to find a cover up, all you get is lies upon lies.”

“I challenge the NPS to come out with their integrity test if at all they consulted any environmentalist, nor created an awareness to any of the communities,” he said.

He said, “Very unfortunate that none of the Communities the NPS claimed to have worked are in the know of this project. Very unfortunate that the government will come up with good ideas and some privileged people will just make it not reliable.”

Similarly, Peter Oru-Bete, executive director of Biakwan Light Green Initiative (BLGI), an afforestation-driven indigenous group based in Calabar, described the green bond projects in the state as a novel program that failed to serve their purpose because the community entry process was wrong.

“The community entry process was quite wrong. The community did not properly buy into the projects from the history of site selection… There was no proper engagement of the community… ,” said Mr Oru-Bete who conducted a qualitative analysis of the failed green bond project site at Aking/Osomba community.

In his review, the environmentalist said the park mode of entry into the community triggered a crisis between the two communities ( Aking and Osomba) by placing a signpost bearing Osomba on a project site implemented on land that belongs to the Aking community.

“Traditionally, this will ignite conflict between the two communities. Those two reasons might be responsible for the community rising against the projects,” he said.

Also, Mr Oru-Bete said the worst thing that largely affected the Cross River State green bond projects was that the timing was wrong.

“The trees planted in the State did not survive because they were planted very late, seedlings died naturally because they were planted around September and October, very late,” he said.

“Not yet Uhuru”

While it is evident that the core purpose of the green bond initiative to fast-track Nigeria’s low carbon development pledges as contained in its NDC document, and as well create massive job opportunities for the citizens has suffered a major setback, and has not been largely felt, Jubril Adeojo, Managing Director, Smefunds Capital Limited, which facilitates investment in climate impact projects, said the green bond failures implies that we (Nigeria) keep wasting funds and taxpayers’ money.

“The implication is that we keep wasting funds and taxpayers’ money on unproductive projects and without real impact on lives,” Mr Adeojo said.

In 2012, green bond issuance amounted only to $2.6 billion. But in 2016, it began to sprout, amid a surge in Chinese borrowers who accounted for $32.9 billion of the total–more than a third of all issuances. While the interest is global, the European Union and the United States were among the leaders too.

In 2017, when Nigeria issued its first green bond, green bond issuance jumped to a record high, accounting for $161 billion worth of investment worldwide, according to Moody, a rating agency. But growth slowed a bit in 2018, hitting only $167 billion, and later rebounded the following year due to an increased climate-aware market.

According to Investopedia, Green issuances reached a record $266.5 billion in 2019, and nearly $270 billion the following year.

Even when Nigeria was the fourth globally to have issued green debt security as of 2017, between 2014 and 2021, the United States was and still the leading country in terms of issuance of green bonds, followed by China, France and Germany fourth.

Meanwhile, the World Bank is a major issuer of green bonds and has issued $14.4 billion of green bonds since 2008. These funds have been used to support 111 projects around the world, largely in renewable energy and efficiency (33%), clean transportation (27%), and agriculture and land use (15%).

One of the bank’s first green issuances were used to finance the Rampur Hydropower Project, which aimed to provide low-carbon hydroelectric power to northern India’s electricity grid. It produces nearly two megawatts per year, preventing 1.4 million tons of carbon emissions.

Ironically, with Nigeria’s failure to establish woodlots and economic trees for climate change mitigation through proceeds from the green bonds issued, the country has also failed to achieve the 4,938 t/CO2 emissions reduction and the 8,579 estimated job creation within this period(2017 & 2018)

“The failure of the green Bond project is a double tragedy for future generations,” said Razaq Fatai, the Africa Policy and Advocacy Manager for the ONE Campaign.

He said, “First, they (the Nigerian government) have to repay the debt for a mismanaged fund, and secondly, they would be confronted with the negative impact of climate change which we have failed to effectively and efficiently address today.”

“We need a strong accountability mechanism to make sure that future green bonds, if any, will achieve the desired results,” he added.

Key recommendations

Mr Sunday explained that for the NPS to achieve optimal results for a gigantic protect such as the green bond afforestation, he said they ought to have organised awareness programs in educating beneficial communities on the menace of deforestation.

This, he said, will create the need for the Communities to see the projects as their own and its benefits.

“But they prefer to do it in secrecy,” he added.

On his part, Mr Oru-Bete said, “For me, I feel there should be a mentorship program that should take no less than a year, the community should be able to raise the nurseries, and when it is mature they should take care and plant the nurseries themselves so that they will own the process. Then the NGO and the park will be monitoring the process.”

Martins Ergot, Executive Director of Development Concern, an environmental NGO based in Cross River State, said the green bond project in Cross River should not have been scattered across many communities.

“I expect that if they can define 2 to 3 hectares within the national park, especially close to the buffer that they think they can regenerate, they can do that. I don’t think it should be widely scattered. That will not clearly (for feasibility studies) give us an account of what we would like to see,” he said.

In his remarks, Chief Executive Officer of NGOs Coalition for Environment in Cross River State, Odigha Odigha, said the park should do more by strengthening their stakeholder’s exercise because if people know, they will buy in and there is a likelihood of the project to achieve its goals.

“What people don’t know is there is a likelihood for them to abuse it or work against the program,” he added.

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