Last week Wednesday, during debate on a bill seeking for establishment of South West Development Commission, there was uproar in the Senate over its desirability or otherwise. Taiye Odewale reports.
Interventions through development commissions
Close to 21 years of the current democratic dispensation, in form of Parliamentary interventions, two different Development Commissions have been created through Acts of Parliament as development – driven intervention agencies arising from peculiar situations of the affected areas .
The first of such agencies to be created by an Act of Parliament was the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) in year 2000 to address the problem of environmental degradation and oil spillages oil exploration was causing in the affected states of Rivers , Akwa – Ibom, Delta , Bayelsa , Cross River , Edo and Ondo .
In dousing the tension of militancy against oil production , companies and pipelines in the affected areas, a full fledged Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was also put on ground by the Federal Government in 2007 for a win-win situation between the country and the oil producing States as far as oil exploration and development in Niger Delta are concerned.
The second of such initiatives, came into existence in 2018 with the establishment of North East Development Commission ( NEDC) by the federal government after passage of Bill to that effect by the 8th National Assembly in 2016 .
The North East Development Commission was envisioned as explained in the bill, to provide the required intervention from the federal government for rehabilitation , reconstruction and general development of areas destroyed by the Boko Haram Insurgents across the States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in particular and other ones like Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi .
Development commission as national cake
Apparently from the perspective of ‘ Sharing of National Cake ‘, in the same 8th Assembly, particularly in the Senate , bills seeking for establishment of South East Development Commission and North West Development Commission were sponsored , considered and passed but not assented to , by President Muhamnadu Buhari .
The trend of sponsorship of such bills , continued in the 9th Senate with the one seeking for establishment of the South West Development Commission , sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun (APC Ogun Central) and 17 other Senators from the South West Geo- Political Zone , was first introduced on the floor of the Senate in November last year .
In his lead debate for second reading of the bill last week Wednesday, Amosun submitted thus: ” The push for the establishment of the Commission is an attempt to address the dwindling fortunes of the South West region by implementing a regional development plan, taking into consideration the region’s unique endowments, natural advantages and capabilities.
“This Commission if established through passage of the bill into law, will enhance regional integration which is capable of delivering the benefits of large economies of scale.
“It is my firm belief that this Bill will act as a catalyst to develop the geo political zone by providing legislative backing to address some of these challenges in the South West, just as it has been done for other geo political zones in this hallowed chambers.
“The Bill seeks to resolve issues of underdevelopment by redirecting federal government’s attention to the development challenges of the South West region which comprises Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo States. Issues which include, but are not limited to, agriculture, transportation, health, infrastructural decay, education, environment, housing, industrialisation, water supply, electricity, commerce etc, which when addressed will have a multiplier effect of great proportions not only for the South West region but Nigeria as a whole.”
Though during contributions from other Senators , many of them supported it but some kicked against it on alleged balkanisation of the country .
Specifically, Senator Adamu Muhamnad Bulkachuwa ( APC Bauchi North) , in changing the trend of support for the bill by kicking against it , said Development Commission the bill is seeking for , was not needed by South West since the zone was not at anytime ravaged by national calamities or disasters of long durations as experienced in the Niger Delta and North East which necessitated the Development Commissions set up there at different times.
According to him, passing the bill by the Senate will amount to tacit support for the zone in its alleged wrong moves in recent time from Amotekun to South West Development Commission.
“We need to be very careful as Senators of the federal republic of Nigeria on legislative proposals to be entertained and considered. One of such legislative proposals that shouldn’t be entertained at all, is the South West Development Commission Bill brought before us today.
“The bill to me is uncalled for because South West is not in any way in situations warranting emergency development – driven interventions from the federal government as was the case with the Niger Delta as regards environmental degradation and oil spillage which warranted a development commission in the mode of the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) eventually created by Act of Parliament in year 2000.
“Similar emergency situation gave birth to the North East Development Commission (NEDC) , after years of Boko Haram insurgency which wreaked devastating havoc in the area .
“The aforementioned destructive incidences did not happen in the South West , making the bill spurious.
” In fact if the truth must be told , South West is the most developed part of the country requiring no urgent intervention the bill is seeking for “, he said .
Making similar submission, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi ( PDP Delta North), warned against balkanisation of Nigeria with proliferation of Zonal Development Commissions .
According to him, rather than helped the country in its Unity drive , such zonal commissions , will breed divisions.
“As a Senate, we need to be careful from being drawn into sectionalism which bills like this are indirectly driven at.
” Two of such bills namely, South East Development Commission and North West Development Commission , were considered and passed in the 8th Senate but very patriotically , President Muhamnadu Buhari refused them assents.
” Let us toe the line of the President by rejecting this bill “, he said.
The debate got heated up when Senator Surujudeen Bashir Ajibola ( APC Osun Central), in his contribution slammed Senator Bulkachuwa for describing Amotekun and the South West Development Commission Bill as sectional.
Ajibola was however cautioned by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan to make his own contribution for or against the bill and not attack any Senator.
“Nobody raise the issue of ethnicity in their contributions and the Senate will not want such to be made “, he said.
The bill however scaled second reading when put to voice votes by the Senate President who later refered it to the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters for more legislative inputs and report back within four weeks.
But with intension of proliferating such idea as revealed by Senators from the other Geo- Political Zones, like James Manager (PDP Delta South), Jibrin Barau (APC Kano North) and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi ( APC Niger North) , with sponsorship of bills to that effect in subsequent weeks, the whole idea may go the way of the North West and South East Development Bills rejected by President Muhamnadu Buhari during the life span of the 8th National Assembly .
We need to be very careful as Senators of the federal republic of Nigeria on legislative proposals to be entertained and considered. One of such legislative proposals that shouldn’t be entertained at all, is the South West Development Commission Bill brought before us today.