The politics of zonal Development Commissions and concerns over non-performance
It appears the establishment of zonal Development Commissions in the country has become a matter of serious politics and concerns mount that the reasons these agencies were established are seemingly not being adequately achieved.
The main motive behind the set up of the zonal Commissions is generally to foster development in the geo-political zones.
This is because the zones have varied peculiar challenges; the Commissions are designed and mandated to serve as catalyst and to properly settle the numerous problems so as to enhance both socio-economic and political stability.
While some zones are faced with ecological and infrastructural problems, others are confronted with insecurity, lack of education and agriculture, among others.
One of such Commissions is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000, with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta.
In September 2008, President Umoru Yar’Adua announced the formation of the Niger Delta Ministry with the Niger Delta Development Commission to become a parastatal under it.
One of the core mandates of the Commission was to train and educate the youth of the oil-rich Niger Delta region to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity.
Also, there was establishment of the Hydro Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPADEC). It was charged with the responsibility of managing ecological menace due to operation of dams and other hydroelectric power activities in some states of the country.
The Act establishing the Commission was passed by the Seventh National Assembly in 2010 and subsequently signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, about nine years after, the HYPADEC has not properly taken off; exposing communities within the area of operation to serious ecological challenges like flooding, loss of lives, health hazards and loss of farmlands.
On May 8, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Board of the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
The North East Development Commission (NEDC) was established in 2017, after the Bill establishing the Commission was passed by the two legislative chambers. On October 25th, 2017 President Buhari assented to the Bill and signed it into an Act.
The core mandate of NEDC, “among other things”, is to “receive and manage funds from allocation of the Federal Account, international donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency as well as tackling menace of poverty, illiteracy level, ecological problems and any other related environmental or developmental challenges in the North-East states.”
The Act establishing the Commission provides for a Governing Body, comprising a Chairman, a Managing Director and Chief Executive; three Executive Directors (one from each member state not being represented by the Chairman of the Board, the Managing Director and the representative of the North-East zone); one person each to represent the six geo-political zones of Nigeria; and one person to represent the Federal Ministry of Finance; and Budget and National Planning.
On January 2019, the President nominated candidates to serve as Chairman and members of the Board of the Commission. And on April 9, 2019, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Major-General Paul Tarfa (rtd) as chairman and the commission has since taken off.
However, since the commencement of NEDC, other geo-political zones have since started pressing for such to be replicated in their own domains. Many people believed that the establishment of the NEDC by Buhari was clannish. Others posited that the President should have extended the gesture to other zones, since they all have their peculiar issues that needed government attention and intervention.
Due to alleged nepotic posture of Buhari, a lot of persons questioned the establishment of NEDC even as it was mandated to tackle insurgency in the zone. The argument Obasanjo established NDDC was not from the South-South region, and that the current government should avoid doing things that could engender strife in the polity.
The Senate is being inundated with all kinds of bills for Development Commissions. There is a Bill in the Senate seeking for the Establishment of South East Development Commission. It was sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), representing Anambra North.
The bill titled, ‘South East Development Commission (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 ( SB. 161)’ seeks to provide a master plan for the reduction of unemployment while also providing the master plan and schemes to promote the physical development of the southeast.
Also, the North Central Development Commission Bill, sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Services, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, (APC, Niger East), is currently being read in the Senate. The commission, according to the bill, would be saddled with the responsibilities of managing and administering funds received from the Federation account to address developmental issues in the states which make up the North Central geo-political zone of the country.
Similarly, a bill seeking the establishment of the North West Development Commission (NWDC) has passed second reading in the Senate. The bill is sponsored by Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North). Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun Central, APC) has sponsored a bill to establish the South West Commission. Amosun said the region has contributed immensely to the existence of the country; the reason he argued government is expected to fund and solve the existing challenges faced by the zone.
Against the backdrop of the various proposals for establishment of zonal commissions, it appears no region wants to be cheated. Observers say that the contemplation by government to establish Commissions to tackle challenges in some zones while excluding some other zones, smacks of fresh shenanigan in the political system of the country in managing the diversity of nationalities.
The already established Commissions that are being funded by government have not fully achieved their mandates. According to public affairs analysts who spoke to BDSUNDAY, the commissions are at best conduit pipes for some privileged few in government to siphon public funds.
For instance, the Federal Government had appropriated N612, 177,269 for HYPADEC even as management board has not been constituted. With heavy budget, the affected states are still left in dilapidation.
Also, in the Niger Delta region where it exists, the NDDC, till today, has not been able to address the problem of oil spillage; it has remained a major issue. The Ogoni clean-up embarked upon by government is still a mirage. The Senate is currently probing it.
To many pundits, it is more appropriate to adduce that the Commissions serve as agencies used by government managers to settle political allies by way of creating employment opportunities for them.
Of course, it is obvious that even if the commissions were established across all the six geo-political zones in the country, the states will continue to witness underdevelopment and the citizenry would keep facing the dehumanising situations.
Many observers have said that the government was not sincere and that the leaders lacked the political will to ensure the Commissions discharged exact mandates they were established for, and that until the anomaly is perhaps, addressed with a genuine mandate entirely, the problem would still persist.
An Abuja-based development expert, Sanda Jamiu said: “Everything in Nigeria is politicised. It is so because our political leaders – government- do not have genuine intention. The Commissions can only be said to be means of pilfering the public coffers. They are not adequately discharging the mandates for which they were established. In the North East, insurgency is still on the rise even with the establishment of NEDC, just as the situation for Niger Delta states is still deplorable with NDDC in existence for many years.
“The other zones are not wrong to clamour for such commissions because it is their right. But do you think such can change the situation? If finally such commissions are established, the lawmakers that sponsored them will be given room to project their allies for appointment into the Boards and things will still remain the same. Until things are done differently, if not, let every zone have Commission; yet the states under them will still continue to face development challenges.”
Another political affairs analyst, Obi Matthew, who spoke to our correspondent, said: “It is the clannish posture of President Buhari that has triggered the clamour by all zones to demand for Commissions. The government under Buhari is nepotic and does not have the interest of other zones at heart.”
Matthew further said: “Of course, I totally agree with you that the Commissions are not ensuring the development they are mandated. The states are seriously underdeveloped and the commissions are being funded handsomely. It is only hoped that things will change for the better.”
Meanwhile, speaking on the need for zonal Commissions, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said: “Let me say that what we have all agreed is, each geo-political zone should have a Development Commission, but in my view, what Nigeria needs most is proper planning.
“Because, all these channels, is not based on Commission, but National Planning that is followed through. Lagos State is setting the pace in many aspects as a state compared to most of our states. They have been able to, through a well-grounded blueprint, progress faster I think, than most of the states.”
According to Lawan, “I think we need to emphasise our National Planning more, because this is the only way we can address all development challenges in different parts of the country.
“We have some advantages in some areas, and of course, some states in some geo-political zones have comparative advantage than others, these are where we are supposed to focus for the development of the country through investment in those areas that we find in some of the geo-political zones.”
“I think every geo-political zone has something to contribute; definitely, what we need is to ensure that we work to ensure that we exploit and utilise the potentials of the north central, and there are potentials everywhere in all the parts of the country,” Lawan further said.
Solomon Ayado, Abuja