By ABBA MAHMOOD —
The recent rejection by the House of Representatives of the bill seeking to establish a South-East Development Commission is a vindication of what this column wrote on Thursday, June 2, 2016, under the title “Do Not Create the Proposed NEDC”. That column opposed the so-called North-East Development Commission or any other development commission at all except that of the Niger Delta which is justifiable. It is hereby reproduced because of its relevance and timeliness:
The National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, has been very persistent in a call for the establishment of a North-East Development Commission (NEDC). A bill has already started going through the legislative mills for the creation of the NEDC. There is no doubt about the fact that many places and people have been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency. It is equally true that there is need for a quick government intervention to bring succour to the areas and people affected. But I do not think the establishment of the proposed commission is the right approach.
The Tafawa Balewa administration in the First Republic established what was called the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) to address the peculiar problems of the oil-producing areas of the country. The 1966 military coups and the subsequent civil war ensured the death of the NDDB. The Babangida administration established what was called the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) which encompasses all the oil-producing states of Niger Delta and beyond. OMPADEC was more dynamic in that it envisaged some other areas apart from the Niger Delta may one day be oil-producing.
When Obasanjo took over in 1999 OMPADEC was changed to the current Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) but the states covered by the NDDC which are nine, clearly, go beyond the geographical Niger Delta region. The NDDC Act, in other words, changed the definition of the Niger Delta region by adding many areas not traditionally Niger Delta. The constitution does not recognize the Niger Delta, only geography does, but the Act defined and expanded that geographical area known as Niger Delta.
Similarly, the current 1999 Constitution does not recognize any area called the north-east. It is only the PDP constitution that recognises the geopolitical zones. And the Boko Haram insurgency has affected such states like Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and even Abuja the FCT while it has never affected a state like Taraba that is currently counted in the so-called north-east. Thus, the NEDC Bill is not all-encompassing but sectional. So, if the bill is to help areas affected by the insurgency, then it has not captured those areas adequately, even though the states most affected are Adamawa, Borno and Yobe because they were under a state of emergency until Buhari came to power.
As it is, this bill is, by implication, trying to give legitimacy to the unconstitutional and illegitimate so-called geopolitical zones which are clearly unfair, inequitable and therefore unacceptable. And it will set precedence — a dangerous precedence — since every area will now have the pretext to ask for a “development commission” which will unnecessarily increase bureaucracy and render the line ministries irrelevant. In any case, if the NDDC example is anything to go by, then we should not expect any meaningful development from these “development commissions”.
What the areas affected by the insurgency require at this time is a special intervention program which will see resources coming from domestic and international donor agencies, the development partners and the governments for a comprehensive socio-economic recovery of these areas. The National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) of Obasanjo was not created by an act of parliament. It was an ad-hoc programme for a specific task within a specific period. This is a good model.
The Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE) started by the Jonathan regime was also a good step but for the fact that it was put in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and that it was for a “north-east”. Putting it in the NSA’s office was a mistake because it made it look like a “security” matter instead of a socio-economic recovery programme it really ought to be. That initiative did not require any law and that is exactly how it should be, because anything created by law will be difficult to unwind and the intervention in those areas ought not to be a permanent thing.
Already, the indigenes of Abuja were recently in the news requesting a special “development commission” for them. Nothing stops Lagos or Port Harcourt or Kaduna from requesting same. In any case, if environmental degradation and youth unemployment were the criteria used to establish the Niger Delta Development Commission as well as the current attempt to establish the NEDC, why can’t the states in the south-east also have one since they are devastated by erosion and unemployment too? We may end up having so many commissions that it will just be a government of commissions, which will be ridiculous.
What the government needs now is to strengthen the existing institutions to make them more effective and not to create any new ones. Already the bureaucracy is over-bloated with so many having overlapping functions. The United States, a super power with global outreach, has fewer than 20 ministries of cabinet ranks. It is simply funny that the federal government has over 800 MDAs, mostly dysfunctional, and the National Assembly sees nothing in creating another one like the NEDC, which is clearly unnecessary at this time or even in the future.