By Turaki A. Hassan
Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men- Mahatma Gandhi
On Wednesday, October 25, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Bill for an Act that established the North East Development Commission (NEDC) into law. This came more than two years after the idea of establishing the commission was mooted and developed into a Bill by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
The Speaker had, while receiving members of the Yobe State caucus in the House of Representatives who paid him a solidarity visit just a few days after his historic election in June 2015, said that urgent steps must be taken to begin the work of rebuilding the North East region which has suffered an unprecedented level of devastation occasioned by years of violent insurgency. This, he added, may take the form of a commission similar to that of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
He had expressed his belief that ad hoc measures by the government, such as administrative policies, lack the strength to stand the test of time, which was needed for the rebuilding of the region, as they could be cancelled at will. Similarly, he pointed out that there are many organisations and well spirited individuals from across the world who are ready and willing to donate funds to rebuild the North East but are wary of how the money so raised will be utilised in the absence of an institution formally established by the government to manage it.
To match words with action, in August 2015, he sponsored a motion on the urgent need for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, rebuilding and resettlement of the North East, in addition to his constant advocacy for the convocation of an international donor conference for the region as done for Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and lately, Syria. As expected and rightly so, questions were raised on whether this proposed commission will not go the way of the NDDC, with regards to misappropriation of funds and alleged failure to deliver on its mandate, but the Speaker appealed to his colleagues and Senators, assuring them that they would learn from and avoid the problems of the NDDC.
It is worth noting here that the commission has 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. This body would also help in tackling the menace of poverty and environmental challenges in the North East and would, among other things, coordinate projects and programmes within the master plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the North East Zone.This will be done in the field of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation.
As provided in the Act, the commission will also liaise with federal ministries, departments, agencies, states and development partners on implementation of all measures approved in the master plan for stabilisation and development of the North East by the Federal Government. It will equally assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the North-East by any federal ministry, department, agency or company that has an agreement with the Federal Government, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised.
The NEDC will equally liaise with other stakeholders on tackling of humanitarian, ecological and environmental problems and degradation that arise from natural causes, insurgency and industrial activities in the North East Zone. This is in addition to seeking humanitarian, human, material, technical and financial support from development partners, local or international, and non-governmental organisations, with a view to developing the North East region. The commission will also act as the focal point to coordinate and harmonise all other intervention programmes and initiatives that the Federal Government is involved with in the North East.
The Speaker had last Thursday, October 26, in the company of the visiting Shehu of Bama, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Shehu Kyari Umar Ibn Ibrahim El-Kanemi, who led a delegation of elders from the emirate on a “thank you” visit to him, cautioned against mismanagement of the NEDC and the abuse of the trust reposed in them by Nigerians who supported its establishment through their lawmakers in the National Assembly. He contended that in the midst of doubts, North Easterners should be given the chance to prove themselves; the freedom and opportunity to rebuild their region against the perceived failure of others.
An elated Dogara, while thanking the president for giving his assent to the bill, said the region was behind in all human development indices, and businesses, factories and schools have been destroyed. Also worthy of commendation is the role played by the wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, who in May 2016, led a delegation of wives of governors from the region to attend the public hearing and even made submissions to the committee in support of the efforts of the Speaker.
There is no family in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that did not lose at least one relation to the seven years of intense violence and killings. People who were hitherto very wealthy became paupers in just a matter of hours following the destruction of their properties by the insurgents. It is estimated that about 200,000 people were killed since the beginning of the violence while properties worth over $20 billion have been destroyed including schools, hospitals, markets, farmlands, churches and mosque. Today, the story has changed as most of the residents have gone back and more are hoping to return home soon. This is thanks to the efforts of the security agencies under President Buhari.
By appending his signature on that beautiful and unprecedented piece of legislation, President Buhari has touched the hearts of all North Easterners. He has soothed them where it pained them most, further strengthening the bond between them and him, and by that singular act, he has written his name in their hearts, and in the hearts of their children and of generations yet unborn. He has further tightened the umbilical cord that connects him with the region and its people who have always looked up to him for leadership.
All North Easterners have now signed a promissory note to further support, and consolidate their bonds with the President. The responsibility now rests with the people to ensure that they don’t abuse or misuse this trust the President has reposed in them. It now behooves on the President to ensure that he appoints only persons of proven integrity to lead the NEDC and pioneer the work of rebuilding the North East.
Hassan is the Special Adviser to Speaker Dogara on Media & Public Affairs.