Regional development commissions as a restructuring model

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

At just this time last year, I made an advocacy for regional development commissions to be considered as a quick but potentially effective way to placate growing ethnic-based agitations across Nigeria. (See “Regional agitations, regionalism and development commissions” published on 7 June 2016: What I proposed was a “Regional Development Commissions Bill” that would harmonise the hoped-for commissions for each of the country’s six geopolitical zones. Since then, the enabling law for the establishment of the “North-East Development Commission (NEDC)” has been passed. Another for a “North-Central Development Commission (NCDC)” was reportedly proposed in the House of Representatives as well, but was stood down by the leadership. And most recently, a bill seeking to establish a “South-East Development Commission (SEDC)” failed to pass in the lower house of parliament. Had all the proposals been successful, that would have added to the already existing “Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)”; making four in all. There would still have been a need for two more if my thesis were fully adopted: a “North-West Development Commission (NWDC)” and “South-West Development Commission (SWDC).”

Seize the moment
Nerves remain frayed about the botched SEDC bill. This is not surprising. Only days before the vote, there was a relatively successful (albeit coerced) stay-at-home protest in the southeastern part of the country. Many argued afterwards that the SEDC bill might have been a unique opportunity to begin to address what are quite legitimate grievances over the continued marginalisation of the region. Some of the northern lawmakers that opposed the bill, it was mused, probably did not want to reward the protesters. Suggestions have also been made about whether House Speaker Yakubu Dogara was neutral in his handling of the proceedings that led to the failed vote. After calling what seemed like a majority “aye” voice vote the first time, with proponents of the bill almost about to start slapping their backs in jubilation, Mr Dogara asked for a second one whereafter he ruled in favour of the “nay” group. It is needless to play the blame game at this point. Simply put, there was a significant number of lawmakers, especially from the north, who were vehemently opposed to the bill. Unfazed, there are reports that southeastern lawmakers plan to re-package and re-propose the bill. If they do, it would be wise of their colleagues to ensure they succeed.

Truth is, the Nigerian polity is very heated at the moment. A prominent politician from the north with presidential aspirations has joined his voice to growing calls for the restructuring of the country. (I remain sceptical of his intentions.) Unfortunately, many who have raised their voices in this regard have not been able to suggest in coherent terms what a likely restructured Nigeria would look like. That is, one that ensures the current federation remains intact. Because quite frankly, no Nigerian president would take the risk of accommodating these agitations beyond a certain point. Should agitators escalate their methods even slightly beyond the bounds of the law, the likelihood of a disproportionate clampdown is almost certain. Besides, recommendations of past constitutional conferences – which were instituted by the respective incumbents at the time in response to similar cries but often for politically expedient reasons – remain unattended to. Considering many of the changes advised in their proceedings have enjoyed scant mention talk less implementation, it is highly unlikely current calls for the more far-reaching regionalism of old would be countenanced with any seriousness. And with just two years left for an ailing Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, there is just no time or will for any such groundbreaking moves at this time. But as the problems remain, without any sign of abating, something needs to be done urgently.

Learn from history
The Niger-Deltans got their NDDC after a violent insurgency. So did the northeasterners; after what is still a murderous war in that part of the country. Shall we soon forget the costs to the economy when the then new Buhari adminstration attempted to stop paying compensation to supposedly repentant Niger-Delta militants? Reduced crude oil production owing to rampant bombings of pipeline infrastructure amid low crude oil prices not only strained the government’s finances, it contributed to what is still a biting recession. And even as the insurgency in the northeast had external influences, the genesis and eventual contributing factors were related to issues of marginalisation, regional suspicion, and federal neglect. Some correlation has also been suggested between what was seen by the elite in the north as the usurpation of power by an incumbent president from the south. Surely, our leaders are not about to allow it be supposed that only a violent uprising gets their attention.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

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