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North-East Development Commission: Another drain pipe and booby trap 

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Buhari[President Muhammadu Buhari]

On Thursday, 30th July 2015, Nigeria’s House of Representatives concurred to the Senate’s earlier motion calling for the establishment of a North East Development

Commission (NEDC) to oversee the economic reconstruction and development of the North-East region – post-Boko Haram insurgency destruction. Many reasons have been advanced to show how this proposal is a booby-trap that is inimical to the very wellbeing of the down-trodden in the region and to our corporate aspiration for sustainable development, unity and fiscal efficiency in Nigeria.

First, the politicians that are proposing this “special development agency” are the same self-seeking rulers whose greed and avid corruption led to both the region’s relative backwardness and the disorientation of the very youth population that feed the insurgency army; they primarily aim at establishing a drain pipe like the Niger Delta Development Commission through which they can suck from the central pool.

For sure, they either will be appointed the NEDC Board members or will nominate their proxies to man the principal offices, as with the NDDC. Their presumably non-North Eastern supporters of the motion are either returning a similar scratch at their backs in previous drain pipes like the NDDC, or are hoping to be so supported in a future establishment of similar drain pipes. The motion is unarguably not informed by even truly sectional or overall national interest.

Second, going by our cry for lean governments to reduce the high cost of governance, such a commission is an avoidable negation of fiscal efficiency: the federal ministries of works, housing, environment, health and education, etc. can still be mandated to more efficiently execute whatever projects the FG has for  the region or any part of the country, without incurring the  x-inefficiencies associated with an additional federal parastatal  whose huge personnel cost and overheads will eat up the greater portion of such a commission’s annual budgets  – not even when the Oronsaye Report is  still starring at us! 

After all, the FG has prosecuted the Boko Haram war through the regular Ministry of Defence, without establishing a “Ministry of Boko Haram” or a “North-East Defence Commission”; so have the various health and educational programmes (like anti-polio, anti-meningitis, almajiri schools, etc.) been successfully executed in the North and South without the creation of new commissions.

Three, the under-development of the North-East (and other sections of the country) predates the Boko Haram insurgency military campaigns, and the FG has not been held particularly culpable. Indeed, the FG and other regions have made enormous sacrifices and contributions to wage an avoidable war caused by the economic and religious chauvinism of the current proposers, who could have been asked to pay reparations to the FG for the over N 4.2trn so far expended on the bloated Defence budgets in the past 5years; yet the Government has no aim to prosecute the governors, religious leaders and lawmakers alleged or known to be either the sponsors or abettors of insurgency.

Four, the FG will surely be overreaching its capacity if after bearing the cost of such and expensive military campaign to liberate the occupied North-East territories, it is still asked to shoulder the responsibility arising from years of cumulative neglect by past state administrations, without considering the backlashes from other equally misgoverned/under-developed regions of the country. The Niger Delta case has been recognised as a moral burden to give back to a community that had suffered years of deprivation from FG’s exploitation of economic resources from the region, which case has not been established in any other region that wants to be given the same treatment. It was a matter of economic expediency and a sense of enlightened self-interest for both presidents Obasanjo and Yar’adua to have set up special agencies to address years of proven deprivation. The FG currently spends so much on the rehabilitation of slain soldiers’ families, emergency reliefs to internally displaced persons, and repairing the damage done to its image and properties internationally and in the North-East zone.

Fifth,  the war/peace effort can be less burdensome on the FG if the governors and legislators(both state and federal) from the affected states show appreciation, reasonable commitment and loyalty to the rest of the nation: had the required state of emergency been truthfully enforced,  the money committed to paying the state governors, assemblymen and local governments during years of state of emergency in the region (when civilian administration was practically not functioning) could have been either committed to the war effort or reserved for the post-war reconstruction. The question that many are asking is what the federal allocations to the states were used for all the while?  With the spectre of outright neglect epitomized by unexploited Sambisa  and many other “forests”, what happened to the allocations made to the past governors on the basis of  the region’s huge land mass (just as the Ibori league of Niger Delta governors are yet to account for the huge allocations they received)?

Six, the present federal government would do well to concentrate on fully liberating the North East and restoring security in the entire country, and then challenge the respective states and regions to institute accountable good governance that will make the wellbeing of citizens their primary responsibility. Apart from finding money to repair the damaged federal structures in the region, FG currently grapples with special interventions in providing critical humanitarian services as carried out by NEMA; the Presidential Initiative of the past administration had about N80bn in commitments for funding such programmes, and much more could be garnered from the goodwill of local and international donors (including state governments like Lagos, Rivers, Delta, Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa from other regions), even as the World Bank recently approved a $2.1bn (over N420bn) soft loan for the region! 

With international attention gained from the Chibok girls’ mishap, the Sambisa forests of the North-East could/should be turned into a melting pot for investment in the huge agro-biz potentials of one of our misgoverned regions. Selfless and visionary leaders in any of the North-East states will find a flood-gate of Dangotes, Otedolas, Offors, Ubas, and the Lagos, Aba, Nnewi and Kaduna business groups scampering for abundant business opportunities in the region (more than what the torn-coat politicians hope to wrest from a declining federal purse), giving the assurances of stable power supply and security of lives and property.

Thus, the nascent Buhari Government must be weary of the NEDC booby trap that will expose its flanks to vicious criticisms of rewarding terrorism and promoting sectional agenda. The current NEDC promoters had been hell-bent at getting even with the Niger Delta, even now that the national cake has been badly depleted. Our ugly experience with the NDDC does not support the NDDC paradigm of throwing money at a systemic problem: the people of the Niger Delta could have fared better had even half of NDDC’s annual budgets been prudently applied by responsible and visionary state governors who worked with the locals to identify and execute projects that address their prioritized needs. Rather than succumbing to the persisting call for creating drain pipes to feather the nests of few elites, the Buhari Government should completely rout the insurgents, and then assist responsible state governments to mobilize the resources for the requisite cultural and economic transformation in the region. 

Victor TC Anyanwu, Snr. Economist/Policy Analyst; e-mail: managewell2000@yahoo.com

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