Refusal to Restructure Nigeria Makes Zonal Commission Bills Inevitable – PANDEF, South-west Stakeholders

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South-south, south-west development bill will address infrastructural challenges – Gbajabiamila

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and stakeholders from the South-west have stated that the Zonal Commission Bills in the National Assembly was made inevitable by the refusal of the federal government to restructure the country and devolve more powers to the states.

Currently, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had been established while the South East Development Commission (SEDC) and the North West Development Commission (NWDC) have passed the third and first reading respectively on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The National Chairman of PANDEF and former Military Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), stated this yesterday while speaking at a public hearing of the bills for the establishment of the South West Development Commission (SWDC) and the South South Development Commission (SSDC), which was held at the National Assembly complex in Abuja by the House Committee on Justice.

He commended the sponsors of these bills, adding that all sections of the country should support the bills as they would point the country toward decentralisation of power.

Nkanga stated: “But we are not under any illusion that commissions without devolution of power to the federating units would fast track development across Nigeria. It is for that reason that what is most important for those of us in the South-south zone at this point, is the restructuring of the country to attain true federalism viz devolution of power and fiscal federalism.”

He said that the need for the rapid and equitable socio-economic development of all zones in the country could not be overstated.

Nkanga stressed that there was no gainsaying the fact that the South-south zone remained one of the least developed regions of the country, adding that the zone has the largest wetland in the country and the third-largest drainage basin in Africa, which rendered it a difficult terrain for development.

He noted that the SSDC should serve as a springboard for the engagement, integration and development of the zone and resolve the issues of its infrastructural deficit, youth unemployment and restiveness, communal crises as well as the ecological problems and other related environmental and developmental challenges in the zone.

Nkanga said the PANDEF was aware that one of the questions bothering the minds of some persons is: “Why establish the SSDC when there is the NDDC?”

He explained that NDDC, which was established in 2000 to replace the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), was for the development of oil-producing areas, which included states in the South-east (Abia and Imo), South-west (Ondo) and the South-south zone.

The PANDEF chairman said it is expected that numbers of states that made up the NDDC would expand as oil exploration increases in different parts of the country, adding that presently states like Lagos (South-west) and Anambra (South-east) are rightly agitating to be included in the NDDC on the claims of having become oil-producing states.

He said with the recently reported finding of oil in the North-east, states in that zone would be expected to lay claim to the membership of the NDDC, when eventual commercial production commences.

Nkanga said that based on the foregoing, it was reasonable to conclude that the NDDC would become less focused on dealing with the developmental disabilities of the South-south zone.

On his part, a stakeholder from the South-west and the Chairman, Ogun State House of Assembly Committee on Justice, Hon. Solomon Osho, said the re-introduction of the proposed bill was laudable.

Osho added that the clamor for the introduction or establishment of the commission was long overdue, stressing that there are two commissions of the same nature already in existence.

He noted: “The push for the establishment of the commission would enable it to develop at its own pace, since the restructuring is not feasible. The introduction and/or establishment of the SWDC would allow the region to formulate its own policies on how to develop at its own pace, as it affects it.”

Earlier, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the two bills are legislative proposals aimed at using the instrument of statue to address developmental challenges that have plagued the two regions and impacted negatively on their lives.

Gbajabiamila said that the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice convened public hearing as an avenue to engage with stakeholders, citizens and institutions of government to collect, analyse and aggregate views and recommendations that taken together would guide the decisions of the House regarding the two pieces of legislation under review today.

Also, the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Ugonna Ozurigbo, said the public hearing was to enable stakeholders, particularly those in the South-west and South-south geopolitical zones as well as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other strategic stakeholders to make their valuable contributions towards the passage of the bill.

Ozurigbo added that the bills took into consideration the issues of environmental degradation, destruction in ecosystem, ecological issues and infrastructural decay in the zones and attempt to proffer measures among others.

He assured that the committee would be fair, objective, and neutral in analysing all the memoranda presented at the hearing, adding that the opinion of all the stakeholders would be thoroughly assessed with a view of harmonising same with the proposals before the committee to enable its outcome to be in the best interest of the generality of the persons and the zones where these documents would be operational.