Curious proliferation of development commissions

It’s goodbye to 2018. But most events of the year cannot be forgotten without some remarkable reviews. Besides, some public policy issues have become curious, in the circumstances. The National Assembly, which is always in the eye of the storm too, threw up an important issue the other day, notably the establishment of development commissions, which are supposed to enhance public service delivery in the polity.

This matter requires some reflection. When Otto von Bismarck defines politics as “the art of possible, the attainable—the art of the next best,” he probably did not envisage Nigeria of 2018/19 with a National Assembly populated by legislators who see the hallowed chamber as a stage for acting out absurdities. Otherwise, he would have added an additional qualifier—the art of the most absurd. This is reinforced by the already known fact that for many, the legislature is a place to earn a meal ticket where national interests rank low, if at all, on the priority list of the lawmakers. How else, can we describe the legislative milieu of horse-trading with national development commissions by people elected to make laws for the good governance of the country? It foregrounds the very question which many have posed in different ways: who will love Nigeria? Surely, politics has ceased to be a noble profession for noble minds in this part of the globe.

As though in search for a piece of legislative cake to please their constituents, the public was regaled first with the debate on whether to include Plateau and Kano in the North East Development Commission (NEDC), which proponents argue was necessary to redevelop the North-East, the site of a seething Boko Haram insurgency and whose causality has been attributed to harrowing poverty in the area. That bill was signed into law by the president more than a year ago but no action has been taken on its establishment till date.

Then came recently another legislative hype for the establishment of South-East Development Commission (SEDC), a billed canvassed by Sam Egwu and the deputy Senate president among others. The logic: since the end of the civil war, South-east has not been revamped in terms of development. The proponents argue that it is imperative therefore to pay special attention to an area wrecked by a fratricidal war. In the phraseology of the bill, the commission will be saddled with the responsibility of managing and administering funds received from the federation account for the purpose of harnessing the commercial potential as well as the overall development of the socio-economy of the South-east zone. It is hoped by the proponents that the passage of the bill will “lay to rest the incessant clamour and agitations from various quarters of complaints on marginalisation and decay of the zone and ensure the unity and warmness of this country.” With a befuddling legislative solidarity, it was passed.

On the heels of the passing of SEDC, it was the turn of North-west to make a case for its own development commission. The bill, sponsored by Jibrin Barau (APC-Kano North), is titled, “North West Development Commission (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2018 (SB. 712).” Naturally, it seeks to bridge the developmental deficits in the states of the zone. However, it is not clear how distinct it is from an existing one in the region “established by Federal Government of Nigeria with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the North-west states comprising of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.”

If these bills are assented to by the president or overridden by a parliamentary veto, they will bring the number of development commissions to four across the country, namely, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the North East Development Commission (NEDC), South East Development Commission (SEDC) and North West Development Commission (NWDC). The four will be addition to Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPERDEC) established by law over eight years ago.

Many observers have even said that the tally is not incomplete as the number must be logically upped to six to reflect, of course, the six geopolitical zones with the Middle-belt and South-west asking for their own commission.

While we are not averse to interventionist policies by the central government when there are genuine grounds for doing so, the proliferation of development commissions ostensibly to address governance deficits lacks merit for a number of reasons. One, the development goal, which they all claim to pursue, is the very reason we have governments in place and therefore a usurpation of the work-a-day duty of government.

Two, two precious ones established such as the NDDC has functioned as patronage agency and avenue for primitive accumulation of resource to the detriment of peoples of the region. The NEDC is mired in indecision and disorientation even before take-off, not to gloss over the fact that the situation which it seeks to address was self-inflicted by means of misrule by those who held power in trust for the people. Three, Nigeria spends a better percentage of its national income on re-current expenditure as these agencies only amount to over-bureaucratisation of the governance process and seepage on the lean national resources. Four, the legislative exercise of creating development commissions has become a mere legislative sop.

It would appear that the whole idea of special development agency recommended by Sir Henry Willink Commission to allay the fears of the minorities in 1958 has been subverted and reduced to a play object by short-sighted lawmakers. Therefore, we wish to note that the trifling of governance in Nigeria has been taken too far. This is what happens when the governance structures of a country are occupied by run-of-the mill politicians bereft of a vision for the country other than their self-interest. These self-serving commissions must not be. Conventional institutions of government are enough to serve the goals of development in their respective jurisdictions. If statutory votes are well utilised and not misappropriated by self-serving executives at the centre and state levels, issues of development gaps and neglect would not have arisen talk less of devising interfering agencies.

Lest we forget, the Steve Oronsaye Panel Report and White Paper of 2013 on rationalisation of MDAs, etc could have taken care of all these redundancies of government and implemented the policy instrument to cut waste and cost of governance.

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