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Season of development commissions

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Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

A bill seeking to establish a commission to develop the Northwest geo-political zone has passed first reading in the Senate.

It is titled the Northwest Development Commission Establishment Bill 2018 and sponsored by Jibrin Barau an APC Senator representing Kano North.

The Northwest comprises seven states namely Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano and Jigawa. Senator Barau came with his bill barely 24 hours after the Senate had passed the Southeast Development Commission.

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If the Senators work hard, they can finish the Northwest version in record time and take both to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

The Southeast has five states namely, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia.

Apart from a development commission, the zone has used every available opportunity to ask for the creation of one more state in it so that it will have six as other zones except the Northwest which has seven.

No doubt, Senators from both zones and their constituents back home will be fasting and praying for the development commission bills to receive presidential approval and even expeditiously because there is work to be done.

If that eventually happens, it brings to four the number of commissions created by the federal government to intervene in issues of development outside the normal governmental scheme.

Already in existence are the Northeast Development Commission (NDC) which act establishing it was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in October last year.

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Amendment Act 2017 to capture contributions from gas companies also got assent about the same time.

It is good effort so far but it does not reflect in full measure the federal character policy in national operations. There should be greater effort to democratize the creation of development agencies so that no zone is left out.

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For now, the southwest and North-central are hanging which makes the whole thing still look like work in progress. If I remember very well, the narrative of a marginalised and underdeveloped Southwest has been on.

The region also wants the creation of a development commission by an act of parliament to address its deficits.

Maybe its promoters are not working hard enough as others have done because I had expected them, given their strength in almost all things, to have moved much faster.

The North-central has even a more compelling reason to seek a commission.

The same factors that make the Northeast Development Commission expedient apply in the north-central where both the economy and sociology have been decimated by a ferocious tribe of Fulani herdsmen.

In fact, if fairness is maintained, the North-central deserves two commissions.

The first one shall be on the basis of equality of all geo-political zones and the second one for reasons that the zone which is part of Nigeria could not be protected by the federal government against outside invaders.

The responsibility to restore it to baseline conditions therefore lies nowhere but strictly on the shoulders of a complacent central authority.

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I still need to further explain this point. Whereas the decimation of the Northeast is largely self-affliction arising from bad governance by its political leaders, the North-central came under a force majeure.

Instead of building schools, hospitals, roads and other social as well as physical infrastructures that could force a better narrative in a region that ranks lowest in all indices of development, its leaders adopted ignorance and pauperisation of the people as a fundamental policy to imprison them in perpetual darkness so that they, the leaders, can misrule in perpetuity.

This is not saying that other parts of the country including the North-central enjoy good leadership. I am only trying to explain why the North-central in the current allocation of development commissions across the country by the federal government cannot be said to have had its fair share.

The other way to create equity is to return the likes of Ali Modu Sheriff to the Northeast to work and fill the deficits they created before a commission can be allocated to the zone.

If this is not done, it will amount to rewarding the evil of some people with the commonwealth which is repugnant to natural and social justice.

Meanwhile, in addition to a development commission, the Southwest is also seeking a special fund to develop Lagos in view of the burden the city carries as the economic engine room of the nation and fifth largest economy in Africa.

I suggest it should be obliged by the National Assembly which seems to have lost compass and drifted into absurdity.

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I will only add that when my Senator, Ovie Omo-Agege comes later with a bill seeking to establish a fund to develop Ughelli or even Orhomoru-Orogun where he comes from for reasons I shall leave him to state clearly, he should be equally obliged. I will be very angry if Bukola Saraki and others gang-up to suspend him from the Senate for legislative rascality.

I can also explain what has precipitated this season of development commissions in Nigeria.

Somehow, others do not believe that the Niger Delta States which already enjoy constitutionally backed 13 per cent derivation fund deserve the extra attention they are receiving from the centre.

To be sincere, the NDDC is just one of the many initiatives by the Federal Government to calm the Niger Delta and exploit the abundant hydro-carbon resources domiciled in it. There is the Amnesty Programme and there is also the Niger Delta Ministry.

Put together, it seems a basket-full of goodies yet the tempers all of these initiatives are meant to calm in the region have refused to permanently cool. I can also explain this.

First, tokenism as a containment strategy in the Niger Delta has failed and it shall continue to fail in the region and elsewhere.

It is like swallowing continually paracetamol to discharge a serious migraine. That is quackery because no dose of conventional analgesics will be ever sufficient to deliver a cure for migraine.

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Second, conditions in the region have created new economic opportunities for individuals who lash on to them either as freedom fighter or so-called stakeholders to negotiate personal benefits.

Consequently, the proliferation of public bureaucracies to deliver public good in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country, has offered their promoters greater access to plunder the common wealth.

In Nigeria, every socio-economic dislocation is at once an opportunity to evolve a rogue economy.

For instance, one man called Babachir has capitalised on the plight of persons displaced by the Boko Haram war to award to himself a grass-cutting contract in the arid Northeast for N250 million.

Rehabilitation of the Niger Delta militants is now a thriving industry as endless proposals for solutions are invented.

As I write, Mr. Kingsley Kuku who headed the Amnesty Office under President Jonathan remains a fugitive, wanted at home to explain satisfactorily the utilisation of the hundreds of billions of naira allocated to the office under him.

Over all, there seems to be no exception. Governance in Nigeria offers better opportunity to steal than it offers to serve.

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Today, the NDDC has become a huge outpost for failed political actors to financially rearm for a come-back. Good governance does not have multiple definitions. There is also no short-cut to it.

It is either things are properly done for good results or nothing good happens from bad efforts. Creating activities around governance to ambush budgets does not translate to achievements.

I am saying that whatever purpose the development commissions being created left, right and centre are meant to achieve can also be achieved by council chairmen, governors and the President if good governance remains the common denominator.

Alternatively, we can agree to amend the 1999 Constitution and make development commissions the fourth tier of government.

Sincerely, I want to know just what these commissions can do that the federal, state and local governments cannot do. It is the same way we have created the FRSC, EFCC, ICPC to do what a focused police force can easily do.

It seems therefore that governmental tools available at all times to fix Nigeria are never adequate. We are forever searching for new tools like bad workmen.

Yet the wheel cannot be reinvented here in Nigeria. Good governance is a universal constant.

It is the same in Europe, America, Asia and few locations in Africa where it is practised. But in a situation where no known tool ever proves efficient, it means the device being worked upon is an engineering error.

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Nigeria has defied all applications because it is an engineering error. Applications can only work if the country is re-designed to achieve compliance.

For now, Nigeria stands at variance with best practices. Therefore, the existing development commissions and the ones yet to come are mere shadow chasing. They cannot fix the faulty device.

What is more, with the current mind set, I foresee an intensification of the madness whereby the federal government shall be required to create a special commission to handle issues that can be determined by council chairmen or even village heads.

If, however, the spell on President Buhari dissipates, by some cosmic intervention, and he begins to see the need for a complaint Nigeria through restructuring, the Niger Delta for instance shall not require an Abuja-controlled NDDC, ministry or amnesty programme to fix itself.

The capacity for self-help will be available for every section of the country.

In the main, I advise zones yet to have commissions to develop them to send strong lobby groups to the National Assembly to assist their representatives already there to push through their demands. And that is because we are in a democracy in which no part of the country should be left out in the allocation of democratic dividends which include creation of development commissions.

That is my charge to everybody.


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