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Whither regional commissions

Recently, there was an uproar in the Senate during a debate on a bill seeking the establishment of South-West Development Commission. The establishment of the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) had led to the clamour by other geo-political zones to have such bodies that will cater for their zones in infrastructural development.

Members of the House of Representatives from the South-East, North-Central and North-West had earlier indicated interest in having their own development commissions. This is because of the impression created by those that benefitted from the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and 17 others, sparked a heated debate as it was nearly rejected by some lawmakers outside the South- West, who argued that the proposed commission was not needed by the South-West. The bills, if passed into law and assented to by the president, will bring to seven such regional or zonal development commissions. Already in existence are the NDDC and NEDC.

When the Olusegun Obasanjo administration came up with the idea of NDDC as interventionist agency, it was due to incessant confrontation between the multinational oil companies involved in oil exploration and the people of the Niger Delta.

Whereas NDDC was set-up by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in year 2000 to address obvious development gaps in the nine oil-producing states, NEDC was established in 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari to rehabilitate states in the North-East that had been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. NEDC is charged with the responsibility to, among other things, receive and manage funds from allocation of the Federation Account and international donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency.

It was also part of its objectives to tackle poverty, illiteracy, ecological problems and other related environmental or developmental challenges in the North-East states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. Also, a bill seeking the establishment of the South- East Development Commission (SEDC) was passed by the 8th Senate, but failed to receive presidential assent. However, it was reintroduced in the 9th Senate and has already passed second reading. The North- Central is also demanding a development commission, saying that the region has been devastated by flooding, banditry, terrorism and erosion.

On their parts, the North-West lawmakers also had a quest for development commission, saying that their zone requires the support of the Federal Government to develop its infrastructure and educate its teeming youths, so as to drive the process of development in the region. It is not in doubt that the South- West has had its own share of national challenges, but the region had not been ravaged by calamities or disasters of long durations as experienced in the Niger Delta and North-East.

Hence, there is no strong reason to necessitate a development commission in the mould of the NEDC and the NDDC. The creation of development commissions will lead to the balkanization of the country, as every other zone now wants their share of the ‘national cake.’ It is a nice idea to have interventions through development commissions, but our fears are rooted in the fact that by the time these sectional agitations take firm roots, it may further lead to the calls for a return to regional governments, or even secession.

This move may send wrong signals to the people because many Nigerians at this time are of the opinion that there is the need to reduce the number of federal agencies owing to the lean purse of the Federal Government. More so, there would be overlapping functions in many areas as witnessed in the Niger Delta, where there had been NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Amnesty Programme. All these intervention agencies are perceived to be having the same agenda, which is channelled towards the welfare of the people of the region.

Though these intervention agencies were driven by agitation arising from peculiar situation in the affected areas, the proposed agencies seem to be a creation of political machinations. We think this attitude will see a new twist in the creation of the agencies, which could be tribal in nature. Sponsors of the pending bills seem to have one thing in common – the belief that such commissions, when established, will serve as catalysts to develop the respective geopolitical zones. They have however forgotten that Nigeria is a nation with federating units of 36 states.

As justifiable as the reason for the demand for the new development commissions may sound, there are those who believe that the motivation is all about the desire to corner federal resources and to replicate NDDC and NEDC. Besides, many people now see these agencies as conduits for ‘looting’ the treasury, as NDDC has come to be known for abandoned projects. No doubt, the common reason advanced by those pushing for the establishment of the development commissions for their respective geopolitical zones is that they will serve as catalysts for development; however, there are fears in some quarters that they may end up as agents of destabilisation.

Some of the questions now begging for answers, among others, are: Does Nigeria need more development commissions when the belief is that existing ones have failed to live up to expectation? Where will funding for these agencies come from in the face of dwindling revenue accruable to the Federal Government? Will the Senate not end up increasing the number of federal agencies with overlapping functions? This is not the time for Nigeria to be divided along sectional lines and by sectional agitations. We must ensure that Nigeria remains a cohesive nation that should not be divided by mundane and selfish needs.

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