President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the North East Development Commission [NEDC] Bill 2017 in October last year. It was due to pressure from various quarters on the need to have a special federal agency that addresses the many humanitarian issues occasioned by the Boko Haram crisis in the North East. Sadly, the commission has not taken off nearly ten months later, even as the humanitarian crises in the North Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states still linger on.
President Buhari assented to the bill one year after the Senate passed it into law on October 20, 2016 and transferred it to the House of Representatives for concurrence which was done in earnest. The National Assembly actually transmitted the Bill to the President on 12th January, 2017. The Bill was withdrawn and amended on May 17th 2017 after attention was drawn to some provisions in conflict with the Constitution. Under the law’s provisions, NEDC is charged with the responsibility of receiving and managing funds allocated by the Federal Government and international donors for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration, reconstruction of roads and rehabilitation of houses and business premises of victims of insurgency and terrorism. The Commission is also mandated to tackle poverty, illiteracy, ecological problems and other related environmental challenges in the North East.
In order to give the commission a strong pedestal to stand on, Senate approved the allocation of three per cent of Value Added Tax (VAT) accruable to the Federal Government in the next 10 years for the rebuilding of the North East. In his remarks after the bill was passed, Senate President Bukola Saraki said, “With this commission, I hope we can collaborate and address humanitarian crisis and challenges in the North East.” When President Buhari signed it into law, Saraki again said, “I expect the expeditious coming into force of the commission will remedy the long years of underdevelopment suffered by the region. The recovery and redevelopment of the region is expected to last for decades.”
The bill which initially became a source of debate as to its merits and demerits was sponsored by Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara [APC, Bauchi] in the House and by Senator Ali Ndume [APC, Borno South] in the Senate.
We had earlier in an editorial objected to the setting up of the commission, citing the sorry story of similar commissions set up in the past to address special cases. We later lent our support for NEDC when the bill’s sponsors clarified on its mission and objectives. It is however sad that after all the delays occasioned by needless vituperations from many quarters, NEDC could not take off even after it has passed all legislative and political hurdles.
Over 100,000 lives have been lost in the nearly ten years’ Boko Haram insurgency. This is a crisis that displaced over 2.6 million people and so sad is the situation that every family in the North Eastern states with a population of 25 million people has been directly or indirectly affected by the crisis. The crisis has produced over 50,000 widows and 520,000 orphans in just one decade, while property worth $9 billion was lost, according to the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.
The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration must move urgently and do the needful. The law and commission should not be allowed to gather dust on shelves in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which is responsible for ensuring its smooth take off. Already there are many agencies working to rebuild the North East, including NEMA, the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) as well as the respective state and local governments. They are grappling with different aspects of the crises as millions of IDPs wallow in suffering. We strongly urge the Federal Government to adopt an agency with structures already on the ground, such as PCNI, to become the nucleus of NEDC and ensure its speedy take off.