Olafioye Olakunle, Timothy Olanrewaju and Billy Graham Abel
The people of the Northeast zone have expressed disappointment in the failure of the Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) to inspire hope in them, claiming that it has not lived up to its mandate.
The NEDC was inaugurated in 2019 to handle infrastructural development and humanitarian support efforts of the Federal Government in the aftermath of the protracted insurgency in the Northeast states. However, the commission did not take off until the last quarter of last year.
Some residents of Borno State who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the commission has not met their expectations.
“Our expectations from the commission have not been met. In fact, our hope has been dashed. From all indications the commission has been hijacked by the National Assembly members and some bigmen in Abuja,” Ibrahim Gwamna, a Maiduguri resident, told Sunday Sun.
He said that most residents were full of joy following the passage of the NEDC Bill by the National Assembly and assented by the president early 2019.
He said that they had been hopeful that the commission would embark on massive development of infrastructure in the Northeast, but were surprised to see it distributing foodstuff and other relief materials, the same role the national and state emergency management agencies have been performing in the area for nearly a decade.
“Even in the area of employment, the commission has not conducted any employment exercise here in Maiduguri, its headquarters or anywhere in the Northeast, but rather in Abuja. For us, it is an Abuja commission and our fear is that some bigmen there have hijacked the whole process,” he said.
He appealed to the president to look into the take-off of the commission, maintaining that it may not serve the people as it should with the present situation.
Chairman, Network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Borno, Comrade Ahmed Shehu, said that the commission has not met the expectations of the people.
“The people of Borno expect a lot from the commission because of the level of devastation witnessed in the last 10 years. We expect rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed in the insurgency areas,” he said.
He said that the commission was only visible in the office complex it currently renovated, wondering why the commission established to provide services to mitigate escalation of crisis in the zone would spend so much time in renovating a temporary office.
“I don’t think they needed all these preparations to work. We don’t have the whole time because the commission is a product of necessity to address emergencies and humanitarian challenges. It should be as such,” he said.
In Adamawa State, similar reactions have continued to trail the activity of the commission as some residents said that its activity is illusive to them as they have not been positively touched by the commission, especially communities and people affected by insurgency.
A Yola resident and lecturer with the Adamawa State Polytechnic, Yola, Henry Onan, said that a research he conducted recently showed that the real victims of Boko Haram insurgency are not the ones benefiting from interventions meant for victims of insurgency.
Onan said: “I was privileged to be part of a research conducted for a Federal Government initiative designed to reach victims of insurgency and we discovered that quite a number of the beneficiaries of the projects designed for victims of insurgency were not really those affected by insurgency.
“So, there is the need for a redirection of the benefits of the projects of NEDC, to capture real victims of insurgency if NEDC wants to make the much desired impact that other bodies before it failed to achieve.
“Adamawa State residents have not really begun to see the impact of the project. But to be fair to NEDC, it is largely a new set up and largely in its formative stage. So, maybe it is now that we should begin to see its impact.”
Another native of Mubi, Nadia Usman, expressed the same sentiment: “I am an indigene of Mubi, here in Adamawa, but I honestly have not seen the impact of NEDC here. Everyone knows Mubi to be one of the places worst hit by the insurgency activities, so if we have not seen them here, I don’t know where they have been.
“I have seen few projects executed by the Victims Support Fund, especially in schools. I have seen that of the Northeast initiative, but not that of NEDC.”
Mohammed Alfa, another native of Yola South said: “I have stopped being optimistic about programmes like this one. To start with, I have never heard of the name or known what they do and if their mandate is connected to helping the victims of insurgency; then, there is problem with what they do and they need to begin to take pragmatic steps to touch the lives of people in this state.
“Look at Michika, Madagali and all the other seven local governments directly affected by insurgency. Schools destroyed by Boko Haram have remained in a perpetual state of disrepair; three bridges brought down by the insurgents in the wake of their onslaught have still not been repaired. Michika and Madagali, have still not been connected to power since 2014, the rest of the local governments have little, intermittent supply of electricity. So, measuring the impact of NEDC, I would say, it has done poorly and needs to pick up quickly and soon too.”
But Dickson Martins, former media assistant to the former Adamawa State governor, Jibrilla Bindow, said that it is too premature to give objective opinion about the commission.
“To begin to write the commission off is completely wrong and misleading. It is a new commission and it has just completed its formative stages and it is from now that people will begin to feel its impact and value.
“Budgetary constraints have hampered the implementation of several Federal Government projects across the country and NEDC is not an exception. The North East Development Commission and other commissions in other regions are all begging for attention.
“The infrastructural deficits across the country have only been made worse by insurgency in the Northeast and that is the gap NEDC seeks to bridge in the region among numerous other needs. Let’s be hopeful, the commission by its design and structure would do the most good for the region.
“So, let’s keep our fingers crossed and give the commission the chance to show what it can do. Whatever assessment that is given now would be premature because it is just taking off,” he said.
With the mandate of the commission, Nigerians who are anxious to see the NEDC hit the ground running immediately after its inauguration last year, no doubt, have a good reason for such expectation.
But TEO Ekechi, member representing the Southeast zone on the board of the commission, said that inaugurating an agency such as NEDC is not an easy task.
Ekechi explained that what the commission has been preoccupied with since its inauguration and the peculiarities that make the activities of the agency less visible, especially to those who expect it to go earsplitting with its trumpet.
His words: “It will be unfair to discuss the performance of the North East Development Commission without giving the background of the commission. The NEDC was established by an Act of the National Assembly and signed into law in 2017, but it was not inaugurated until in May 2019.
“After the inauguration in 2019, we then had the task of setting up the organization in a structured manner that will be responsive and that will recognise processes that are involved as a Federal Government agency that will be involved in spending public funds. That process cannot be achieved in a day because all relevant laws of public service have to be adhered to; resolutions have to be passed; legal implications of setting up such structure have to be considered. All these were done throughout the major part of 2019.
“The government granted a N10 billion take-off fund. By this, I mean funds expected to be used in hiring offices, to be used in getting logistics, to be used in paying initial salaries because there was no budget as at the time, and to cater for all other incidentals that are associated with setting up a new organization. And, of course, that money never came into being until late 2019. You must understand that it is one thing for government to approve a fund for certain things, it is another thing to have that fund available to you. It is also another thing to have access to the fund. So, most part of the time the fund was made available we had to do documentations that have to do with the TSA, treasury single account. It took us a whole lot of time before the fund was available towards the end of the year.
“Having said that, I want to say that in the circumstance of our set up and the time that we came in, NEDC has performed creditably well. So much has been done within the little available time. I will like to make it clear that I speak, not with the mandate of the Chairman or MD of the commission, but I speak because I am a member of the governing board of NEDC and I should know. So, I speak on my own personal authority.
“If you go to the IDP camps that are scattered all over the Northeast, I do not think there is any of the camps NEDC that has not touched. We have intervened so much that we have addressed the issue of hunger in IDP camps. First of all, we have to save lives in the IDP camps across all the six states and that is not something that is hidden and the governors will bear eloquent testimonies to this. In terms of support to the security agencies, it will also be stupid on my part to begin to mention what we have done for the same reason that I gave earlier on.
“So, interventions have taken place for as much as possible. Even in other emergency situations that involved the Tivs and the Jukuns in faraway Taraba State that are not related to Boko Haram crisis we have intervened. We have also done a little bit of water projects, which we do not want to sing-song about for the same reason that I have told you and I want to assure you that with the new year we have just entered and with other activities on ground; I don’t want to mention specific contractors or suppliers to you, but I know that before half of this year, there will be no local government in the entire of the Northeast that will not have physical and people-oriented and life-saving infrastructure within their local government,” Ekechi said.