Let me state from the outset that the specific objective of this article is to engage the power elite in Western Nigeria, the most developed region in Nigeria, on why they do not need a federal Development Commission at this time to develop their region. It is also not to berate the southwest federal legislators who have sponsored the South West Development Commission Bill (2019) now being debated in Abuja. I just would like us to ‘calm down’ and reason together without raising dust over needless debate and bombast on why the Bill should be withdrawn. I would also like to appeal to those who have been promised some limitless opportunities that will come with setting up of a federal Commission – to develop the South West – to hold their breadth for now. Let’s debate the feasibility and risk assessment ‘reports’ on the legislative project. I just want us to engage one another on why that legislative project is though promising and prominent, it is not significant at this time. I would like to reiterate here that the bill (SWDC) will complicate development agenda for South West when we all need to persuade the ruling powers in Abuja to fulfil their promises on organic federalism. That is the clincher that will work in the long run for the South West.
So, let’s migrate from the debate on how their strong institutions have helped them to defend democracy and development agenda in America, their America. It’s a time to borrow some brilliance from Tip O’Neill, the proponent of all ‘politics is local’ saying and face our local politics this week. It is a time to speak again some truths to our local powers, notably to revive and sustain development agenda in Western Nigeria, the pacesetter region, which set the tone for physical, infrastructural development for Nigeria long before independence. For the young ones who didn’t know, the Western Region, Nigeria set up the first television station in Africa – Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) on 31st October 1959. That is what is today known as Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which was seized by the military in 1977 when it was merged with Benue Plateau Television Corporation and Radio Kaduna Television and others. The same Western Nigeria built and opened the first stadium (in Africa) in Ibadan since 1960. It was originally named Liberty Stadium with a capacity for 25, 000 seats. It is also worth remembering that Western Nigeria had in (1956) opened its ‘foreign mission’ in the United Kingdom before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The first Western Region’s envoy called “Agent-General” to the U.K was a lawyer of Itsekiri extraction, Chief M.E.R. Okorodudu. The residence the Western Region procured for its first ambassador is still the official residence of Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. There are other firsts. But this is just to build a case against the South West Development Commission Bill that the region doesn’t need. And here is the epilogue against it: the Western Nigeria, which set the pace recalled above – even before independence should not be competing with war and terror zones that have had interventionist outfits to rebuild their broken walls – Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and North East Development Commission (NEDC). What is more, the NDDC has been fingered as a cesspool of corruption. Even there are snippets already from the NEDC that Nigeria’s public enemy, number one, corruption has found its way into the new northeast development agency, NEDC.
Amosun and 17 other senators on the SWDC Bill
When Senator Ibikunle Amosun, on behalf of 17 other senators, opened the debate on the Bill in March, 2020 on the floor of the Senate he noted the following:
‘…Mr. President, Distinguished colleagues, it is a great honour and privilege to, on behalf of all the l7 other Senators from the South West geopolitical zone of the country, lead the debate for an Act to establish the South West Development Commission… Mr President, Distinguished colleagues, this Bill was first read on the floor of the Senate in November, 2019. In leading this debate, I would like to crave your indulgence to stress that the issues that necessitated the enactment of this are prevalent in all the other geopolitical zones in the country. What this literarily means is that all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria have more or less similar issues.
Mr President, Distinguished colleagues, in the pre-independence period up into the early post-independence era, Nigeria was made up of three regions: Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Midwestern Region was later carved out of the Western Region. In the Western Region, the founding fathers had a development ideology, which focused on the empowerment of the people. A policy mix in such core areas as health, education, agriculture, employment, infrastructural development and a functional and efficient public service agenda for the region was in place. The free primary education scheme and the universal health programme were two elements of their governance agenda, which were meant to produce a vibrant human capital as a basis for sustainable growth of the region.
The result of that policy mix was the transformation of the Southwest into an infrastructural paradise as experienced up to the most remote of locations across the region. Years after, especially since the return of Nigeria to democracy, which has now gone unbroken for 20 years plus, nothing bears similitude in virtually all the six states of the Southwest to the progressive development and assured march to the old Western Region. There is a gloomy picture of the region that is alarmingly in dire lack on almost all fronts.
Today, with an ever-increasing population due to rural-urban migration, facilities in the Southwest region especially social amenities are increasingly stretched, just as living standards continue to plummet. Majority of roads are calling for urgent attention. Many state-owned hospitals have inadequate medical personnel and equipment that can properly manage the health needs of patients. Educational institutions are not what they used to be, Industrial estates have become desolate, while a few which are still functional are struggling to remain in business.
The massive growth and activity of the agricultural sector evidenced with endless rubber and cocoa plantations have since given way while growth of local industries has been stalled. Also, no effective bureaucracy exists, and with the least premium placed on capacity development, human resources development has ceased being a culture. Added to these, are policy inconsistencies and profligacy in governance and leadership styles. Everything seems at the lowest ebb.
Mr President. Distinguished colleagues, the Southwest region has immense prospects and potentials, which are capable of making it rival any of the flourishing Arabian enclaves making waves globally today. Aside hosting Nigeria’s busiest airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the busiest highway, the Lagos lbadan Expressway, 60 per cent of Nigeria’s industrial capacity, banking assets and even insurance assets are situated in the region. These are in addition to holding two of Nigeria’s most important deep seaports the Apapa Port Complex and Tin Can Island, thus having access to both land and sea borders.
Consequently, Mr President, Distinguished colleagues the push for the establishment of the South West Development Commission is an attempt to address the dwindling fortunes of the South West region by implementing a regional development plan, taking into consideration the region‘s unique endowments, natural advantages and capabilities. This is one of the major reasons we are proposing the establishment of this commission…
The Bill for this Commission, if passed into law will enhance regional integration, which is capable of delivering the benefits of large economies of scale. It is my firm belief that this Bill will act as catalyst to develop the geo-political zone by providing legislative backing to address some of these challenges in the South West, just as it has been done for other geo political zones in this hallowed chambers…’
On the surface, the argument of the former Governor of Ogun State, Senator Amosun appears seminal. But I think all the brains behind this project should note that all the bill should be seen for what it is: a diminution to the stature of the South West region, which should continue to be a reference point in the country. As I once noted here what happened to the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) launched since 2012? What have the South West Governors made of the development plan and the Commission set up to implement the DAWN agenda headed by a Director General? What happened to the spirit that led to the formation of the regional security outfits despite the powerful opposition forces in Abuja?
As I specifically wrote here on October 28, 2018 in an article titled, ‘Yoruba: Time to Speak Truth To Power’ https://guardian.ng/opinion/yoruba-time-to-speak-truth-to-power/, let’s begin to ask some vital and ‘glocalised’ questions again about Western Nigeria, once a pacesetter region. But our representatives and leaders should note and answer these questions:
Where are the measurable and significant dividends of democracy that southwest leaders have attracted to the Western Nigeria since 1999? Where are the gains of head start and robust investment in education in Western region? What happened to the spirit of the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo on education quality as a weapon of country competitiveness? What happened to the Africa’s premier stadium in Ibadan? What happened to the once great state universities governors Adekunle Ajasin, Lateef Jakande and Olabisi Onabanjo set up in 1983 before the fall of second republic? Where is the replacement for the Great University of Ife (set up in 1962) the soldiers of fortune seized since 1975? What happened to the original Oyo State University of Technology (1990) now Ladoke Akintola University of Science and Technology (LAUTEC) set up by Governor Sasaenia Adedeji Oresanya in 1990? Where are the replacements of the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) Chief Awolowo set up in 1959 and was seized by the military which is now NTA?
Whatever happened to University College Hospital, (UCH) the late Dr. Samuel Manuwa, Nigeria’s first Medical Doctor assisted in establishing when S.L Akintola was Nigeria’s Health Minister? What happened to the roads to the two Apapa Ports in Lagos Chief Bode George once presided over? Whatever happened to the Daily Sketch S.L Akintola, former Premier of Western Region set up? What happened to the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) great document launched in Lagos with funfair in March 2012? What happened to the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road since 1999 when Amosun’s generation of political leaders emerged? What happened to the assets of the Oduduwa Group of Companies? Answers to these questions about the state of the Yoruba nation should not blow in the wind. There are no easy answers but the questions as I was saying have just shown that instead of flying over our decrepit road infrastructure, to Abuja to present a bill for a federal Development Commission for Western Nigeria, there are questions of local significance the Amosuns in and outside Abuja need to answer at home. What have the governors and political leaders in the region contributed to making the DAWN Commission in Ibadan a huge success since 2012?
# We will continue this debate next week