Following the insurgency which ravaged the North East Zone of the country for the past nine years and the consequent colossal destruction of property, dislocation of people and the resultant number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) now scattered in various camps set up for the purpose in the zone, the National Assembly has taken up the gauntlet. The legislative institution is putting in place a legal framework to support the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari, aimed at winning the war against Boko Haram and restoring normalcy, resettle displaced communities and re-develop the affected states.
Towards this end, both chambers of the National Assembly are currently considering “A Bill for an Act to establish North-East Development Commission charged with the responsibility of, among other things, receiving and managing funds from allocation of the Federation Account and International Donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses, and business premises of victims of insurgency as well as tackling menace of poverty, literacy level, ecological problems and any other related environmental or developmental challenges in the North East States and for other related matters.” The Senate version of the Bill was co-sponsored by Senators Ali Ndume, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Binta Masi Garba , Sulieman Nazif, Isah Hamma Misau, Abubakar Kyari, Emmanuel Bwacha, Abubakar Sani Danladi, Joshua Lidani, Ahmad Lawan, Danjuma Goje, Bayero Nafada and Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako. Others Sponsors are Senators Ali Wakili, Ahmadu Abubakar, Bashir Marafa, Mohammed Hassan and Baba Kaka B. Garbai. The Senator representing Kano North Senatorial District, Kabiru Gaya had also sponsored a similar Bill which has now been duly harmonized. States to be covered by the proposed Commission include: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe.
To ensure financial viability for the seamless operation of the commission, the Bill made provision for the Federal Government to credit to the account of the commission “the equivalent of 15 per cent of the total monthly statutory allocations due to member states of the Commission from the Federation Account.” In addition, the Commission shall also receive three (3) per cent of the total annual budget of any solid mineral extracting mining company operating in the North East States, including agricultural processing companies as well as 50 per cent of monies due to member states of the Commission from the Ecological Fund. Besides, to ensure efficient and transparent management of the resources accruing to the Commission, the Bill made provision for a Governing Board to oversee the affairs of the commission. According to the Bill, the Board shall consist of a Chairman and a person each who shall be an indigene of the six states comprising the North East Zone. The board, it said, shall also comprise of one representative each from the Army, Police and Civil Defence Corps. Others include one representative of solid minerals extracting and mining producing companies in the North East States nominated by the companies; and one person each to represent the Federal Ministries of Finance, Education and Environment. The Managing Director of the Commission will also be a member of the board.
Furthermore, the Commission when established, “shall have powers to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the North East states; conceive, plan and implement , in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the North East states, in the field of transportation, including roads, health, education, employment, agriculture, industrialization, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.” The Bill also provides for the North East States to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures which are necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development; prepare master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the North East states and the estimates of the costs of implementing such master plans and schemes; implement all the measures approved for the development of the North East States by the Federal Government and the member states of the Commission.
The commission would also identify factors inhibiting the development of the North-East States and assist members states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the North East States; assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the North East States by solid mineral extracting and mining companies, agricultural processing and any other company including non-governmental organizations and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilized. The body would in addition tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the extraction and mining of solid minerals in the North East states and advise the Federal Government and member states on the prevention and control of water and environmental pollution.
It must be noted that the NEDC Bill has enjoyed popular support extending beyond the chambers of the National Assembly as exemplified by the sheer number of stakeholders who thronged the public hearings on the NEDC Bill organized by both chambers of the National Assembly during the week. In his remarks before declaring open the public hearing organized by the Senate, President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said it has become imperative to pass the Bill on time to permanently mitigate the precarious situation of those affected by insurgency in the North East.
He said: “We must all rise up and say never again. We have seen families wiped out, children orphaned, incomes plunged below a tenth of what they were a decade ago. Families that have survived this onslaught have largely survived with little to live by and now rely directly on handouts for food rations. More than a quarter of the children in this area are either malnourished or in danger of malnourishment. Schools have become deserted and the social fabric of our national unity severely perforated in this area, threatening to create deep set divisions amongst us, fueling animosities amongst Muslims and Christians, leading to the entire economy of the region bleeding profusely. It is in this unique and dire context that we must appreciate the importance and urgency for us as a legislature and government to act, to restore hope and rebuild the North East.”
Saraki said that for members of the 8th National Assembly, the Bill is a top priority, because “it reflects our mandate to make laws for the good governance, peace and security of the entire country. The effort at this bill therefore, is aimed at creating the legislative framework to enable government provide the basic structures and capacities that will enable it rebuild the North East. It will also provide an avenue for external collaborators such as international development agencies to make effective contributions towards the region; further ensuring internal stability, a base for restoration, rehabilitation and conflict resolution. All the aforementioned are crucial not only for the sustained futures of the people of the North East but also for the country as a whole. This is a peculiar time in our history,” he said.
The Senate President lauded the efforts of men of the Armed Forces who through their gallantry have largely pushed back the insurgents from annexed territories, preserved the territorial integrity of the nation and thus making rebuilding efforts easier. He added that the importance of the Bill becomes more germane since the war against insurgency cannot be won by might alone. “Thankfully, we can talk about rebuilding due to the remarkable bravery, patriotism and courage of our Armed Forces who continue to take the fight back to the Boko Haram who have now largely retreated and now resort to sporadic soft attacks. We are therefore here to show solidarity with their gallantry and act like leaders of a united and indivisible nation. However, we must not forget that this war against terrorism cannot be won by might but through the hearts and minds of citizens who are certain that they have a secure place within the fabric of our society and thus choose to live and act in harmony towards collective growth. Thus, in making a conscious, collective decision to focus development efforts in this region, we are fostering a strong sense of place and rebuilding a positive, shared identity. It is my firm hope that your contributions to this public hearing would further enrich the bill, deepen our discussion at Senate plenary and help provide us the missing links if any towards the process of giving back hope, belief and optimism to our people that wherever they may be, their welfare and security will remain the central purpose of government. I urge you to make haste in bringing this Bill to pass. Every day we wait to take legislative action, we delay the opportunities that ought to abound within and from the North East,” Saraki said. He however said he would hold the Chairman of the Senate Joint Committee on the NEDC Bill, Senator Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako, to his promise to lay the report on the Bill on the floor of the Senate on May 25, 2016 for third reading and passage.
While welcoming members and stakeholders to the two-day public hearing, Senator Nyako said it is time Nigerians came to terms with the alarming fact that the North East zone is rapidly deteriorating as a result of the insurgency that began in 2009. According to him, “We often consider death as the most noticeable effect of this insurgency, but we need to look at our current situation holistically. Hundreds, if not thousands, of schools have been reduced to rubble; magistrates courts that used to resolve communal conflicts have been destroyed; hospitals and small clinics that used to treat nursing mothers, children and the elderly are non-existent; Police and law enforcement structures have been demolished; homes, markets, public parks and community centers are completely ruined; women, men and children fleeing their homes have been forced to take shelter in completely foreign communities; our fellow brothers and sisters have been murdered, tortured, raped, dehumanized and rendered homeless,” he lamented.
He reiterated that the establishment of the NEDC will not only benefit the zone but the entire country and neigbouring countries that share border with Nigeria. He said that NEDC when established would coordinate the efforts of all relevant stakeholders – Federal Government, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), States, Development partners and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to stop insurgency, stabilize the North East Zone and place the zone on the path of sustainable growth by harnessing the regions vast potentials and resources. “This would enable Nigeria move forward and avert a potential catastrophe. The NEDC would coordinate activities that would stop the incubation of terrorism within the zone and its exportation to other parts of Nigeria and border countries. The NEDC would stabilize the North East zone thus stopping the displacement and involuntary movement of people out of the zone to other parts of Nigeria and border countries with the attendant socio-economic and security consequences,” Nyako said.
Most stakeholders who made presentation at the public hearing expressed optimism that the Bill would be passed soonest by the National Assembly and assented to by the President to kickstart and facilitate the resettlement, rehabilitation and sustainable development of the North East Zone.
Onogu is Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President