Rethinking the South East Development Commission – By Chinedu Okoro

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Politics and Policy

Every union has its problems. These problems are usually existential. Nigeria has not been without a thorn on its side since it came into existence but it has been lucky. And most of these problems have been kicked down the road with the hope that they would go away with the passage of time. But this has not been the case. We are a nation of misplaced priorities and palliatives. We tend to manage a situation till its eventual damage.

The Nigerian Civil War was triggered by the feeling of maltreatment and alienation by people with an ethnic leaning. Following this was the displacement and destruction of lives and properties. The damage done within a period of thirty months while the war lasted is yet to be fixed. These are just the physical and tangible damages. There is the psychological scar it has left on the psyche of survivors and distrust by the offspring of these survivors for people from other regions. But that is not the focus of this writing.

Senator Stella Oduah’s proposed bill for the South East Development Commission is one amongst the calls for special attention given to the South East Region of Nigeria which comprises of Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states. The interesting part of this bill is its lifespan of 10 years. The commission will focus on Infrastructure and Social Services and will have representatives from the ministries of Justice and Finance on its board.  The Senator –like many other South Easterners- believes that it is in the interest of Nigeria to develop the region as a means to diversify the economy in view of the unpredictable crude oil prices with a need for an inland port starting with Onitsha.

Why These Commissions?

A major reason for the creation of these commissions is mainly as a result of our bulky federal structure. The system of government as it is currently run has quite a lot on its plate. Following this reason is the absence of human capacity needed to prosecute the policies of government. The bloated civil service does not have the necessary skills to deal with the government’s current challenges.

Nigeria’s rising population and declining productivity has witnessed an undue pressure on the available infrastructure. This pressure may not be going away in the near future as Nigeria’s expenditure is heavily reliant on oil revenues and at the mercy of shocks from international oil markets.

Issues

The source of funding for this new commission is yet to be ascertained. If history is to be a guide, it takes a constant and consistent engagement on the part of the proposers of the bill to gain the confidence of fellow lawmakers. Its variant, the North East Development Commission is funded by appropriation by the National Assembly in partnership with Development Partners and Non-Governmental Organizations.

A ripple effect from this bill could be a surge in calls from other regions for commissions representing their various interests. A Middle Belt Development Commission for example, considering the spate of killings there, becomes a need. Not long ago, Senator Remi Tinubu tried but failed to garner support for a bill recognizing Lagos State with a special status due to the pressure on its infrastructure.

For clarity sake, will the creation of these commissions not lead to a weakened Works Ministry seeing the major focus of these commissions are mainly infrastructure and rehabilitations? Will these commissions not lead to complacency and negligence on the part of the Works Ministry? The bright side is, if properly funded and managed, these regional-focused development commissions could reduce the workload of the Works Ministry in their respective regions.

Another nagging concern is the same fact that makes the proposed SEDC interesting; its lifespan. What becomes of the commission if its scope of work is not completed within a decade of its existence? What becomes of the commission if its lifespan becomes a political tool whereby speed of work is rigged to negotiate an extension? Will the initial supporters of the bill come around?  Will setting a hard date be to the detriment of the commission or an enabler?

Way Forward

Nigeria’s history has shown that quantum progress was made when every region developed at its own pace with the available resources within its reach. It seemed these progresses recorded were summarily lost as it reverted to the current structure brought in by the military after the civil war.

With a growing youth bulge which is daily becoming a curse instead of a blessing, Nigeria is due for a structural reset or re-evaluation. The current centralized structure may not meet the demands that these shifts bring.

Governments should make peace with the current reality that they are no longer in the position to fund every project and idea. Its dwindling resources and lack of understanding of new infrastructural needs are pointers to this reality. It thereby becomes pertinent to explore Public Private Partnerships in solving these problems. By so doing, the government will have some room to focus on its core responsibilities to its citizens.

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This article first appeared on Signal. Chinedu Okoro is a Policy Analyst and Tech Enthusiast. He tweets via @Nedu64

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