The North West Development Commission

By Faith Berewa

The Nigerian Senate last week approved the establishment of a North West Development Commission “to address the challenges facing the seven states in the geopolitical zone”. According to media reports the decision was sequel to the adoption and consideration of a report of the Committee on Special Duties submitted to it.

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Barau I Jibrin and 20 other senators from the seven states which make up the North West geopolitical zone, sponsored the bill. While presenting the report, Senator Kaka Shehu representing Bornu Central and Chair of the special duties committee explained that “the intent and purpose of the bill is structured and strategically streamlined for the socio-economic development of the North West geopolitical zone”

He further said that the Commission “would bring the federal government closer to the North Western states and meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people who have suffered incalculable damage to infrastructure and livelihoods as a result of the activities of bandits”. Definitely it will be passed by the House of Representatives, and surely it will be accented to by the president.

It mirrors the North East Development Commission establishment by the previous administration in 2017 with the mandate “to receive and manage funds allocated by the Federal Government and international donor agencies for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency as a result of Boko Haram insurgency”.

There’s also the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) established by the Obasanjo regime in year 2000 to address agitations over the neglect of the oil producing region. ‘It was established to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially viable, economically regenerative and politically peaceful”.

My first reaction was “What difference will the Commission make?”. Let’s face it, what development has the revenues accruing to the states and local governments over the decades in the northwest brought to the people? Before we talk about the establishment of a special intervention fund for the North West geo-political zone, let’s address the root cause of the underdevelopment of the region or else it will be a case of Band Aid over a putrefying wound.

The appalling state of affairs of the North West is self-inflicted. The leaders through the decades have been the undoing of the region. Neglecting the people by not investing in them especially in the provision of basic amenities for decent living, and qualitative education on which hinges human and societal flourishing, they are perpetuating their grip over the people by subjugating them through the weapon of ignorance. The political and non-political elites rather see the poor marginalised people as political capital to further their ambitions.

With an estimated population of 60 million, the North West has the highest population among the 6 geo political zones, which is about 28 percent of the country’s population. (AfDB), It has the 3rd largest landmass and the largest number of local governments:186. Key factors that determine the amount each State receives from the Federation Account monthly, which have favoured the region, a skewed form of our Federalism that has bred indolence, and sleaze on the part of the rulers with virtually nothing to show for all the revenues received over the decades. The zone also has the highest number of senators at 21, and the highest number of members of the House of Representatives at 86.

The north west is sadly in the grip of underdevelopment manifesting itself in poverty, deprivation, chronic child malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality, hunger, education deprivation, infrastructural deficit, insecurity…. The region filling the bottom position in all developmental indices; …. having 45 million poor people and States such as Sokoto having a 90.5% poverty rate, with 4 out of the top 10 poorest States in the country from the zone according to the Multi Dimensional Poverty Index .
The huge population of the northwest geo-political zone ought to be its strength; the driving force for socio-economic development. Instead of building its human capital, they have been neglected and the result? A generation of teeming uneducated, unemployed, idle young people – a dangerous cocktail for instability.

With the North West Development Commission what’s new? What will change? If the northern elites are really concerned about the comatose state of socio-economic affairs of the region, they should first of all tackle insecurity and its causes which is rooted in bad governance. That’s the core, or else no Development Commission can transform a people and its land no matter how well intentioned. Insecurity has had devastating consequences and those that are in the know, know why banditry, kidnapping, terrorism is festering in the north west and are best positioned put an end to it.

The North West Zone has seen massive displacements of citizens. Agricultural activities, which is the main stay of the people disrupted, with farms taken over by terrorists, taxing farmers to access their farms and many killed, exacerbating the food insecurity in the region. Former governor of Sokoto State Attahiru Bafarawa lamenting recently over his 10000 hectares of farmland he’s been cultivating since 1979 abandoned in Birnin Gwari due to the activities of bandits. Farms lands and mining sites are now under the territorial control of bandits and terrorists.

It is disgraceful that the region’s leaders over the decades has not harnessed agriculture and its value chain to making the region the agricultural hub of the country, and of the wider Sahel region.

You really can’t blame those of us who are sceptical about 1) the judicious use of funds for the long-suffering people of the region. 2) Not another cash cow? another conduit pipe for the political elite and their cronies? 3)What has been the impact of similar Development Commisions especially the NDDC?
It will be laudable
IF the North West Development Commission takes the people of the zone out of their misery.

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