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Devt Commissions: Catalyst for growth or conduct?

An interesting development is unfolding in the nation’s polity, following the quest by the various geopolitical zones of the country for zonal development commissions. There are two of such commissions in existence at the moment – the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and North-East Development Commission (NEDC) – but the Senate, last week Thursday, passed a bill seeking to establish the South East Development Commission (SEDC). Whereas the NDDC was setup by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2000 to address obvious development gaps that exist in the nine oil-producing states, the NEDC was established in 2017 by the immediate past government of President Muhammadu Buhari to rehabilitate states in the North-East that have been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency.

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, who announced the passage of the SEDC Bill after it was read for the third time and supported by the majority of the senators, said the bill will be transmitted to President for assent before it becomes an Act of parliament. The House of Representatives had earlier passed the bill in December 2023. The bill, if assented to by President Bola Tinubu, will bring the number of the interventionist agencies to three. However, there are still other bills demanding for the establishment of such commissions. They include the North West Development Commission Bill, North Central Development Commission Bill, South West Development Commission Bill and North West Development Bill before the 10th Senate. Another of such bill, demanding for the establishment of South-South Development Commission was introduced during the 9th House of Representatives. The bills, if passed into law and assented to by the President, will further swell the number of such regional or zonal development commissions. Interestingly, sponsors of the respective pending bills for the regional commissions seem to have one thing in common. They believe that such commissions, when established, will serve as catalysts to develop their respective geopolitical zones. Nigeria is a federation comprising 36 states but the various component units are classified into six groups, described as geopolitical zones, majorly for administrative purposes and political convenience. But justifiable as the reasons for new development commissions might be, some stakeholders believe that the motivation is more about desire for resources from the Federal Government. The question against this backdrop is: Does Nigeria need more development commissions, when the belief is that existing ones have failed to live up to expectation? Others have queried where funding for these agencies will come from in the face of dwindling revenue accruable to the Federal Government. Also of concern is whether the National Assembly will not end up increasing the number of federal agencies with corresponding functions.

Niger Delta Development Commission

Established by the Obasanjo administration in 2000, the NDDC’s sole mandate is to develop the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. But, in September 2008, the administration of then President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry and NDDC became a parastatal under it. The Obasanjo administration came up with the idea of NDDC as interventionist agency due to incessant confrontation of the Federal Government and multinational oil companies involved in oil exploration by the people of the Niger Delta over extensive environmental degradation and pollution from oil activities that have occurred in the region since the late 1950s, when oil was discovered. One of the core mandates of the commission was to train and educate youths of the nine oil producing states Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers in order to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity. But more than two decades down the line, the situation in the oil producing region has not really improved as the general belief among the people of the Niger Delta is that NDDC has not really done much to improve on their living conditions. Besides being a conduit, the NDDC has come to be known for abandoned projects. The South-South, which has all of its six states – Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers – within the purview of the commission, is presently littered with thousands of abandoned projects initiated by the agency. A recent report by the NDDC had it that a total of 1,587 projects valued at N612.4 billion initiated by the commission have been terminated and abandoned in the Niger Delta region. The report specifically showed that 1,262 projects in the region valued at N407.75 billion have been terminated, while 325 projects with a combined worth of N204.64 billion have been stalled or abandoned. The report indicated that the percentages of the total contract values of the terminated and stalled/abandoned projects were 7.4 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively. The report dated July 2023 and titled, “A sea of opportunities in the Niger Delta region,” put together by the NDDC-PPP Committee gave a breakdown of projects in the region that have been completed, ongoing, not yet started, stalled/ abandoned, terminated and taken over by other agencies. It stated that a total of 7,140 NDDC projects, valued at N1.66 trillion, representing 41.9 per cent of the total contract value in the region had been completed in the Niger Delta. The number of ongoing projects, according to the report, is 3,251, with a total worth of N1.5 trillion, representing 19.1 per cent of the total contract value of projects being handled by the commission. The report further stated that 5,035 projects valued at N1.45 trillion, representing 29.5 per cent of the total contract value, had not yet been implemented, while the number of projects that had been taken over by other agencies is 32, with a worth of N21.55 billion, representing 0.2 per cent of the total contract value. But apparently committed to changing the narrative of abandoned projects, the current board and management of the NDDC after a two-day retreat in Akwa Ibom State, declared that the commission can only fulfill its core mandate when the bottlenecks hampering its vision and mission are removed.

The conferees, including former chairmen, managing directors and stakeholders of the commission, who converged under the theme: “Renewed Hope: A New Era for Vitality, Peace and Development,” deliberated on how to re-route the agency along the path of effectively addressing the challenges of sustainable development of the Niger Delta Region. Deliberating on reviewing the agency’s development master plan, the stakeholders noted that “frequent changes in the Governing Board of the Commission have largely accounted for the challenges in projects execution and delivery in the development of the region.” The chairman of the board, Chiedu Ebie, who read the communique at the end of the summit, urged that “the Federal Government should ensure that the current hoard completes its tenure, and that there is continuity in succeeding boards to ensure sustainability of the commission’s projects.” He also stressed the “need for proper synergy, collaboration and coordinating framework between the Ministry of Niger Delta Development, state governments in the region, the NDDC and development partners.” To properly reinvent and reposition the agency for optimum performance, Ebie said: “There is need for the urgent release of all outstanding statutory contributions of the Federal Government to the NDDC fund as the non-release of these funds has significantly hampered the ability of the commission to deliver on its mandate.” The communique further read: “In view of the peculiar construction window of the Niger Delta region, there is the need for some form of financial autonomy for the NDDC outside the Treasury Single Account (TSA) regime. “There is need for the Board and Management to acquaint themselves with relevant rules, in order to effectively discharge the responsibilities imposed under extant laws. Consequently, the NDDC needs to ensure that its projects and programmes are procured in line with extant rules and laws.”

North East Development Commission

The North East Development Commission (NEDC) was established in 2017 after a bill in its regard was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives – and was assented to by then President Muhammadu Buhari. The commission 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 as well as tackling menace of poverty, illiteracy level, ecological problems and any other related environmental or developmental challenges in the six states of the NorthEast – Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. Analysts had before NEDC’s establishment, projected about N2 trillion to carry out short-term intervention to reconstruct the North-East. A former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma, who headed the Victim Support Fund set up by the government to assist internally displaced persons in the country, said at a time that “rebuilding the North-East is one of the biggest and most complex challenges that Nigeria is facing.” He added that “to hold government or any one agency alone responsible for this task is to underestimate the enormity of the problem. The task would involve massive reconstruction of physical infrastructure, much of which have been totally destroyed.” The North-East Nigeria Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) team, which also expressed the belief that the task of rebuilding the insurgency ravaged zone is enormous, announced some years back that the impact of the conflict in the region stands at over $9 billion. These may have informed the takeoff grant of N10 billion for the NEDC, which was provided in the 2019 budget although the Federal Government had in 2016 secured a $575 million World Bank facility for the project besides funds raised by donor agencies and international development partners.

Then President Buhari had while inaugurating the pioneer board of the NEDC, chaired by Maj. General Paul Tarfa (rtd), said the establishment of the commission was in fulfillment of the pledge of his administration to fast track the development of the North-East and in appreciation of the massive electoral support the zone gave him in the 2015 and 2019 elections. The board was mandated to conduct a comprehensive survey of all the states in the North-East to ascertain the magnitude of the damage caused by the insurgency. However, it was claims of nonperformance barely a year after the NEDC board was inaugurated. A group known as North-East Development Association, had then alleged that the people of the zone were still homeless and hungry despite the establishment of an agency to take care of their plight. However, while it has been commendations for the Dr. Mohammad Alkali-led present management of the NEDC over what some stakeholders described as his landmark achievements and transparent leadership, Vice President Kashim Shettima recently charged the commission to prioritise investments in legacy projects. The Vice President, who hails from the North-East gave the advice when the board and management of NEDC presented the North-East Stabilisation and Development Master Plan (NESDMP) to him. He also urged the commission to be prudent with its resources and invest in projects that will have a lasting impact on the region. “I will ask the board and management of NEDC to embark on legacy projects; projects that will stand the test of time. It is absolutely essential that you invest in agriculture, invest in new transport technology- electric tricycles and vehicles. If you invest in smart transportation it will have a sea change and you can even attract climate funding,” he said.

South East Development Commission

Baring President Bola Tinubu’s assent, the South East Development Commission (SEDC) will the latest addition to the list of the development commissions as the Senate, last week Thursday, passed the bill seeking its establishment. The commission is to be charged with the responsibility of receiving and managing funds from the Federation Account for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads, houses and other infrastructural damages suffered by the region as a result of the effects of the civil war. The Senate took the decision while considering the bill’s clauses at its Committee of the Whole, chaired by the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio. The SEDC bill was first passed by the 8th Senate, but failed to receive presidential assent. However, it was reintroduced in the 9th Senate and passed second reading. The House of Representatives, on December 21, 2023, at its Committee of the Whole, chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, who is also the sponsor of the bill in the Green Chamber, unanimously passed it for a third reading and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. With the passage at both chambers of the National Assembly, a Conference Committee will be set up to harmonise differences before it will be transmitted to President Tinubu for his assent. The commission, when established, shall among other functions, “conceive, plan and implement, by the set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the South East States in the field of transportation including roads, health, education, employment, agriculture, industrialization, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications; cause the South East states to be surveyed to ascertain measures which are necessary to promote its physical and socioeconomic development. “Implement all the measures approved for the development of the South East states by the Federal Government and the member states of the commission; identify factors inhibiting the development of the South East states and assist the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the South East states; assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the South East states by mineral extracting and mining companies, oil and gas producing companies, and any other company including nongovernmental organisations and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilized.” Other functions Include “tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the extraction and mining of solid mineral, exploration of oil mineral in the South East states and advise the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution; liaise with the various solid mineral extraction and mining companies and oil and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution prevention and control; and execute such other works and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the commission are required for the sustainable development of the South East states and its people.” Clause 15 (2a) of the bill, which identifies the source of funding for the commission, stipulates that the equivalent of 10 per cent of the total monthly statutory allocation due to the member states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo – shall be from the Federation Account. President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, in his remarks after the bill’s passage, noted that it will bring development and address the region’s fears once it becomes law. His words: “It’s a very important bill passed by this 10th Senate. This bill addresses all the fears of our brothers and sisters from the South East. It will put an end to the marginalization. I want to say congratulations. I pray this commission will bring a lot of development to the South East and we will assist you to stop any form of agitation and bring peace to your region. When harmonized, it will address the fears of the South East.”

North Central Development Commission

Another development commission in the offing is the North Central Development Commission (NCDC). The bill for the commission is sponsored by Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger East) and Senate Minority Leader, Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South). NCDC is aimed to cater for the developmental needs of the people of North Central zone comprising Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi and Kwara states. The bill scaled a second reading in the Senate last week and was consequently referred to the Senate Committee on Special Duties for further legislative actions and for the committee to report back in four weeks by the President of the Senate. Senator Moro, who led the debate on the bill, said the proposed NCDC will serve as a catalyst to develop the arrays of potentials of the North Central as well as address the gap in infrastructural development of the region and for related matters.

South West Development Commission

The South West geopolitical zone equally wants a development commission, which according those pushing the bill for its establishment, will serve as a catalyst to develop the commercial and industrial potential of the zone. Like that of the North Central, the South West Development Commission (SWDC) Bill has scaled second reading. It was also referred to the Senate Committee on Special Duties for further legislative actions and for the committee to report back in four weeks. The SWDC Bill, titled: “A Bill for an Act to establish the South West Development Commission, 2023,” was sponsored by Senator Gbenga Daniel (APC, Ogun East) and co-sponsored by all senators from the South West. The SWDC Bill was first introduced at the Senate in the 8th National Assembly by then senator representing Lagos East, Ggenga Ashafa. In his lead debate, Daniel said the bill was read for the first time in August last year. He said 21 per cent of Nigerians currently live in the South West and the zone is projected to hold close to 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population by 2050 over what he described as the pattern of migration, which according to him, will ultimately put greater strains on existing infrastructures. His words: “SWDC aims to be forwardlooking about filling in the gaps in critical areas of needs that can accelerate and stimulate development; mitigating cost of lands for agriculture, connecting roads and rails, managing environment/ecology and expanding frontiers of opportunities for our collective prosperity, among others.”

North West Development Commission

The North-West is also not left out in the quest for a development commission. The zone is the largest among the six geopolitical zones with seven states – Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara. To this end, a bill for an Act to establish the North West Development Commission (NWDC) has equally passed through a second reading in the Senate. Sponsor of the bill and Deputy Senate President, Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano North), is of the view that the commission, when established, will serve as a catalyst to develop the arrays of potentials of the North-West as well as address the gap in infrastructural development of the region and for related matters. Other senators from the zone, including Senator Adamu Aliero (PDP, Kebbi Central), who supported the bill, also expressed the view that the commission will address growing challenges of youth development, instability and insecurity, which have caused businesses to exit states like Kano and Kaduna. Leading debate on the NWDC Bill at its first reading, Barau explained that “the commission when established would accelerate the development of the commercial and industrial potentials of the North West geopolitical zone.” He added that when established, the commission will receive and manage funds for the agricultural and industrial development of the North West geopolitical zone. He added: “In the last 10 years, states in the North West geopolitical zone, especially Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara have been battling with security challenges, thereby retarding their development. Specifically, the commission when established, will formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the North West in the areas of roads, education, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity, and commerce.”

South South Development Commission

For the South-South zone, which has all its states under the NDDC, a demand for the establishment of a development commission that will strictly cater for the interest of the of the six states of zone – Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Bayelsa and Rivers, passed second reading during the 9th House of Representatives. Hon. Awaji-Inombek Abiante (PDP, Rivers), who sponsored the bill, in his lead debate, said the commission, when established, would be saddled with the function to receive and manage funds from the Federation Account and other sources, donations, grants and aids for the integration, development, resolution of infrastructural deficit, militancy, communal crisis as well as to tackle ecological and environmental problems in the zone. He further stated that the commission will also serve as a springboard for the engagement, integration and development of the South-South zone as well as resolve issues of infrastructural deficit.

Arguments for and against

No doubt, the main reason advanced by those pushing for the establishment of the development commissions for the respective geopolitical zones is that they will serve as catalyst for development; however, there is the fear in some quarters that they may end up as conduits for corruption and agents of destabilization. Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, who spoke in favour of the development, especially the passage of the South East Development Commission Bill, noted that it is coming at a time when members of the National Assembly from the zone are championing an initiative, known as the Peace in South East Project (PISE-P), a non-political movement using non-kinetic approach to resolving the problems in the area. Kalu, who expressed optimism that President Tinubu will assent to the bill when transmitted to him, stated that once the bill becomes law and the commission is established, its impact will be felt around the zone in terms of jobs, businesses and infrastructural development, among others. His words: “I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate led by the president, Senator Godswill Akpabio, for passing through third reading the bill seeking the establishment of South East Development Commission, which I sponsored. I am equally grateful to my colleagues in the House, who supported and passed the bill recently.” The apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, in its reaction, passage of the bill seeking the establishment of the SEDC is coming a bit late; it is a welcome development as it will help develop the South East zone. Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, who spoke on the bill’s passage, said: “Although it is coming late, it is a welcome development because it is part of Yakubu Gowon’s administration three ‘Rs’ of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Rebuilding after the civil war in 1970, which has never been implemented.”

He added: “Another major issue that is still waiting to be implemented is that of creation of more states in the South East to ensure equity, justice and fairness, which is what Ohanaeze has been advocating for. But in appreciation of what the National Assembly has done, we believe they will also use this to create additional states in the South East. We also believe the commission will be well managed and we also believe this will engender developmental growth in the region.” The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which also said the passage of the bill for establishment of the SEDC is coming late, however said there is no going back in its quest for the state of Biafra. The group, through its spokesman, Emma Powerful, said: “We are not against the establishment of the commission, but Nigeria came late because we have crossed the Rubicon and nothing will stop us from restoring Biafra as an independent nation.” Also speaking on the need for such interventionist commissions, a group, North Central Development Initiative (NCDI), tasked the Federal Government to establish the North Central Development Commission (NCDC), saying it will address development challenges in the zone. Director-General of the group, Musa Otigba, said the commission will not only help to address security challenges in the zone, but also contribute towards developing it and the nation at large. “The North Central is reputed to be the food basket of the nation. There are also many mineral deposits in the region, which are yet to be mined in full scale to benefit the region and its people. Therefore, the role of North-Central in Nigeria’s national development cannot be over-emphasised. “But unfortunately, the zone has been bedeviled by acute security challenges and has been under constant attacks by bandits and other criminal elements since the last two decades. The North Central has suffered significant damages due to kidnappings and frequent attacks on citizens of the states that make up the zone by insurgents and armed bandits as well as communal clashes. “The influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from other affected areas like the North East, North West and South East, has added significant pressure on the facilities available in the North Central, thereby causing the host states to suffer additional hardships. “The only way to address the developmental challenges bedeviling the North Central and to fast track the rebuilding of homes and economic activities in the region, which have been under constant attacks by bandits and armed men, is through the establishment of the NCDC,” he said. Although the emerging trend is not as threatening as some may want Nigerians to believe, but some political analysts are of the view that besides the fear that the zonal development commissions might lead to balkanization of Nigeria, but more worrisome is that they are likely not to be immune from corruption, which has almost killed the dream behind the establishment of the forerunner of such agencies – the NDDC.

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