The litany of new commissions

RECENTLY, the Senate proposed the creation of the South-West Development Commission. The bill titled ‘South West Development Commission (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 (SB. 167)’ and sponsored by Ibikunle Amosun, the senator representing Ogun Central senatorial district, was read for the first time at a Senate plenary session presided over by Senate President Ahmad Lawan. Gbenga Ashafa, the senator representing Lagos East in the Eighth National Assembly, had introduced a similar bill in December 2018, but it only passed first reading. The regional development commissions that have fully come into existence in recent times are the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established in 2000 and the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), established in 2017, the primary function of these commissions being to fast-track progress by addressing developmental challenges across the states of their coverage.

It will be recalled that in December 2018, the Senate moved to establish the North-West Development Commission. The bill, sponsored by Jibrin Barau (APC-Kano North), was read for the first time at a plenary presided over by the then Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu. The move came barely 24 hours after the Senate passed the South-East Development Commission Bill 2018, which also passed second reading at the House of Representatives. The commission  is supposed to receive and manage funds accruing from the federation account for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and reparation for lost houses and businesses of victims of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). In addition, it would address any other environmental or developmental challenges in the geopolitical zone. The Senate also read for the second time, a Bill for an Act to establish the Federal Capital Territory Health Insurance Agency. The bill, sponsored by Philip Aduda (PDP-FCT), proposes the institution of the Federal Capital Territory insurance Scheme for all residents of the FCT.

Already, the Senate has confirmed the chairman and board members of the North-East Development Commission (NEDC). The commission took off with the confirmation of Paul Tarfa, a retired General in the Nigerian Army, as its pioneer chairman. President Muhammadu Buhari had, on January 19, nominated the members of the NEDC board and forwarded their names to the Senate for confirmation. The NEDC was created to cater for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the North East region which has been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency.

If the foregoing shows anything, it is the fact that members of the Senate in particular, and the National Assembly in general, are deeply concerned about the development of the geopolitical zones of the country. As a matter of fact, there is no zone in the country which is not in need of development efforts in critical areas. In our view, however, this situation was created by the poor governance across the country since the First Republic, and it is governance issues that ought to be placed on the front burner and addressed decisively. In other words, while not seeking to discountenance the passion with which the federal lawmakers have articulated the issues around which the creation of the many development commissions were hinged, we do not think that creating new bureaucracies is the way to solve the problem. Already, there are state governments and other institutions in the respective zones through which the concerns addressed by the lawmakers should have been channelled.

To say the least, setting up new commissions has grave implications. In civilised climes, when you bring a bill with financial implications, you have to specify how you intend to generate money to satisfy the intendments of such a bill. In this case, sadly, no new and novel ways have been suggested for revenue generation for the administration of the new commissions. In other words, the commissions are no more than new superstructures on the country’s already overburdened revenue base. If the proposed commission on hate speech, the Commission Against Sexual Abuse and other oddities sail through, that would mean a new regime of bureaucracy and revenue burden for the country.

Why create so many bureaucracies in the face of dwindling revenue? Why is a National Commission for the Prohibition of Illegal Importation of Small Arms, Ammunitions and Light Weapons (NATFORCE) necessary? What, for instance, is the Diaspora Commission doing that is not already captured in the mandate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? It is saddening that the current administration has completely jettisoned the Stephen Oronsaye report while mouthing the need to cut governance costs. Only recently, President Buhari directed the Federal Executive Council to deliberate on the Steve Oronsaye report on reform of government agencies to guide its public service reform. The Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), Dasuki Arabi, disclosed this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Wednesday. Said Arabi: “The president has given his nod to the secretariat on implementation of Oronsaye white paper report, and I am confident that it is going to be done any time soon. Coincidentally, we work with the secretariat to the white paper implementation team and the report is one of the things the steering committee on funds looked at. But because of the likely fallout of the exercise, the president directed that the recommendation be pushed to the Federal Executive Council for consideration. Most likely, after that, it will go to the National Assembly because most of the agencies to be scrapped or merged have enabling laws. So, they must look at those laws and repeal them before we have the new agencies.”

With the creation of endless commissions and agencies, the noble objectives of the report in question will never be achieved. What would the country gain by creating new bureaucracies while eliminating old ones? It’s time to think seriously about governance.’

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