•‘Urge to share excess funds at the centre fuelling agitations’
• Wants N-Delta Ministry scrapped, NDDC strengthened
Renowned Public Administration scholar, Prof Ladipo Adamolekun, in this interview, examines the clamour for development commissions for the South-East, North-Central, South-West and North-West. He identifies the desire to have access to the ‘’excess money’’ at the centre as the major reason for the demands, adding that only a review of Nigeria’s revenue-sharing formula would put an end to agitations for development commissions.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor
Nigeria seems to be witnessing proliferation of development commissions with the moves to create the North-Central Development Commission, South-East Development Commission among others. This is just to replicate the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and North-East Development Commission in other zones. The NDDC and North-East Development Commission are products of necessity unlike those being demanded. What does that mean to you as a development expert?
It is correct to say that Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and its predecessor, Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, were products of necessity because of the challenges of development in the oil-producing areas. This is a region that produces the bulk of the country’s financial resources and the effect of oil exploration has negatively affected human development activities. Therefore, it was not wrong to give special attention to the area. However, instead of making the NDDC a commission that promotes development with experts, a ministry with similar responsibilities was created. Whether it was some people that lobbied for the ministry to increase the resources that would be used for the development of Niger Delta was never made clear. When I gave the presidential inaugural lecture in May 2011, I pointed out that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is nonsensical. You cannot be tackling the same problem with two different instruments that are not related.
How are they not related?
A ministry is part of the structure of government with its staffing and method of work. It has the kind of needs that the commission was supposed to tackle. We ended up with these two entities and we know the Niger Delta does not benefit from having the two institutions. The result was that Buhari, a few months ago, decided that NDDC should be collapsed into the ministry. In the lecture I delivered, my viewpoint was different. I suggested that the ministry be scrapped, while the commission should be revamped financially and in terms of expertise. That, I believe, would have strengthened the commission. There are examples worldwide where commissions are established and given autonomy and resources to address the development needs identified. But when that is confused with a ministry and commission, good results cannot be achieved. After all, Ondo is an oil-producing state, but I can say that at the time the commission was created and the ministry was added, no impact has been seen on the ground. I have reasons for starting with the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta before addressing other areas.
Creation of NDDC
The creation of NDDC was needed to respond to the challenges of development in that area and those needs ought to have been addressed to some extent. Unfortunately, apart from ex-militants who are being paid stipends through the Amnesty Programme, no other thing has made a difference. The Ministry of Niger Delta should be scrapped. For instance, if the commission had 1, 000 projects over the years, 75 percent has either been abandoned or uncompleted. This is not an exaggeration. Billions of naira has been wasted because the commission is not properly constituted. It is not manned by experts who can perform. This is not rocket science but what can be done. Going by the record of NDDC, we can say that the first development commission failed but that does not mean the commission should be scrapped. Rather, the ministry should be scrapped. The NDDC should be reconstituted and made a result-oriented commission and staffed with experienced professionals who are not civil servants. Civil servants can’t develop the Niger Delta. What does a ministry do? Is it not populated by civil servants? The commission should have experts from different fields who would address the special challenges. If the commission is revamped, its activities should not just be monitored by government, but also the citizens.
North East Development Commission
The ravages of Boko Haram cannot be denied. We can also argue that state governments alone cannot cope with the ravages of Boko Haram. In fact, international development organisations are also identifying the special needs of the North-East. At least, there is no Ministry of the North-East. What we have are the state governments in the region. That alone stopped the nonsensical idea of having a ministry when there is a commission. I am not sure the kind of orientation to be given to the NDDC has been given to the North-East Development Commission. The kind of expertise and professionalism to be used would be different and specific. In the case of NDDC, militants were complaining about the underdevelopment of the area but the North East Development Commission is seeking to address the consequences of the destruction perpetrated by Boko Haram. The commission should also be staffed with professionals who can address the ravages. When we begin to hear that there are challenges in the South-East, North-West, North-Central and South-West, that necessitate agitations for commissions, I become surprised because there is nothing in those areas that demands such. By the way, what happened to the South-West DAWN Commission? Governments in those zones are the ones to constitute commissions and develop their regions through joint efforts. There is no reason whatsoever to create any commission outside the NDDC and North-East Development Commission.
Having said the commissions being demanded are not necessary, what do you think is responsible for the clamour?
Now, let us address an important and overlapping issue which is the revenue allocation formula inherited from the military. The model which centralized all powers at the centre has not been changed. There are too many resources at the centre. That is why some people are clamouring for commissions. The clamour is simply to benefit from the excess funds available at the centre. There is an urgent need for a review of the revenue allocation formula. Instead of 52 percent for the Federal Government, it should be 40 percent. 60 percent should be shared among the sub-national governments. The moment that is done, the clamour for commissions would be no more. The people clamouring now would hold their state governments accountable because of the additional revenue available to them. The reality is that since so much money is available, the money should be shared. It is such that people think that since money is given to the current two commissions, they should have their commissions as well just to share money. That is again a lazy alternative. A federal system that functions like Canada and Australia doesn’t have this system of overfunded large central government. Why can’t the root problem that gives rise to the agitation for the development commissions be addressed? I want to argue that the root problem is the revenue allocation formula that gives too much money to the centre and all of these clamours are just to get the money. A more transparent way of doing it is to change the revenue allocation formula. If it is changed nobody would be asking the Federal Government to be creating commissions out of its 40 percent.
There are three tiers of government saddled with the responsibility of providing the functions of government as enshrined in the constitution. Don’t you consider the clamour for development commissions as an indictment on the ability of all the tiers of government to perform their functions?
We cannot deny the fact that state governments in Nigeria go cap in hand to the centre for monthly allocation. But what they get is not enough. However, I agree that what is happening is an indictment of state governments for not making enough development efforts. I want to argue that there is a reasonable explanation that the limited resources given to them reduce the extent to which they can make development happen. That is why they are saying the Federal Government should create commissions and put money there. I am opposed to the creation of more commissions. The money to be used in funding new commissions should be given to state governments, while the citizens hold them accountable. If the Federal Government creates more commissions, who is going to staff and fund them? In fact, that line of development would even increase the reach of the Federal Government.
The Marshal Plan, which was used in rebuilding Europe after the Second World War, could be termed a commission. That suggests that having a commission is a global practice. Now, from an intellectual standpoint, do commissions have a place in Public Administration?
Different countries have had occasions to create specialised commissions. When such commissions are created, their mandate is spelt out and the staffing is not like the regular civil service. The staffing is related to the need for the creation of such a commission. For instance, the way a commission for Niger Delta would be staffed is different from the way the North-East Development Commission would be staffed because of differences in circumstances. There are examples where specialised commissions made a difference. However, the mandates of commissions are clearly defined and staffing is also related to the mandate. The funding is provided to ensure that there are results. Also, performance is measured. If we take the oldest of the commission, NDDC, for example, have we ever heard of an audit since the commission was established? This should be happening frequently and could have reduced the level of project abandonment. However, the way we have operated the commissions cannot yield results.
There are no special needs in the South-East, North-Central, North-West and South-West other than inadequate resources. My position is that reviewing the revenue allocation formula should be seen as a solution rather than creating commissions. What are they creating commissions for in the South-West and North-Central? Even in the South-East, what are they creating a commission for? I have travelled to four states in the South-East and didn’t see any need for a commission. I have not been to the North-East but I know that it is a special case that requires attention. The consequences of oil pollution make the case of the Niger Delta understandable. What is in the North-West that the state governments cannot handle? I want to state it again that the Federal Government has too many resources and all the people agitating want a share of that excess fund. I am saying that they ought to be more honest with their citizens. If they had said the revenue allocation formula of 1999 was skewed to the centre, it is understandable and if agitations had focused on reviewing that formula, that would be understandable. If the formula is reviewed to give the states 60 percent, anyone that wants a commission should fund it, not the Federal Government.
You have been able to establish that fiscal restructuring would reduce clamour for development commissions. Now, does that justify calls for restructuring?
I would agree totally. I didn’t want to start talking about restructuring because the question was about commissions and I pointed out that it is because of the huge amount of money available at the centre and they want to have access to it. I am saying that instead of doing that in the name of a commission, why don’t they call for a review of the revenue sharing formula? Why are we still using the revenue allocation formula of 1999? Let all those agitating for commissions refocus on reducing the share of the national wealth that goes to the centre. I am proposing 40 for the centre and 60 to sub-national governments, unlike the 52 percent the centre gets. When we get to that point, nobody would be asking the Federal Government to create commissions. People would rather be asking why their states are not doing enough.