By Bola Bolawole
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Which one is more appropriate: To say that I am in support of the South West Development Commission Bill introduced to the Senate penultimate week by Senator Justus Olugbenga Daniel (Gbenga Daniel aka OGD) former two-term governor of Ogun state and senator representing Ogun East in the current 10th National Assembly, or to say I am “in defence” of the bill? The same bill was concurrently sponsored in the House of Representatives by Hon. Olufemi Fakeye and 80 others.
It is instructive that all the senators from the Southwest were co-sponsors of the OGD bill. “I am in support” will be okay because if I were to be a member of the National Assembly at this point in time, I, too, will be a co-sponsor of the bill. “In defence” will also be appropriate because I intend to rise in defence of the bill here – and everywhere, anytime and anyhow – because of misplaced criticisms raised against it in times past for jejune, myopic and “bad belle” reasons. The Southwest is home not only to the Yoruba but to other ethnic groups from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and, indeed, to foreigner nationals as well.
If you look closely, you will also find that even those opposed to the South West Development Commission bill are beneficiaries of the boundless opportunities that the Southwest magnanimously offers everyone without discrimination; and without let or hindrance. Therefore, the advantages of the Commission, when established, will not accrue only to the Yoruba but to everyone domiciled or doing business in the Southwest.
Therefore, let me say from the outset that I am a partisan of the South West Development Commission, or whatever name it is called – and I will always be. I have also been upbeat in the demand for Lagos to be accorded a special status due to the heavy load it carries as the destination of choice that suffers most from rural-urban migration in this country, arising from the push factors of lack of employment opportunities and infrastructural facilities in the rural areas.
The promise of “special status” made to Lagos before the capital was moved to Abuja on 12 December, 1991 was never fulfilled. According to statistics revealed on 4 July, 2016 by Akinwumi Ambode, former governor of Lagos state, 123,000 people migrate into Lagos every day, translating into 86 immigrants per minute. The other Southwest states of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti suffer the same scourge, if I may call it that, even if at a reduced level or slower rate.
Population explosion in the Southwest, arising mainly from migration into the region from the northern and eastern parts of the country, is the reason, majorly, why demand will always outstrip supply in the areas of provision of infrastructure and social amenities.
The pace of development in the face of scarce resources struggling with competing demands cannot cope with the pace of the influx of migrants into the Southwest. If the region must continue to bear this burden, then, some “Marshal Plan” of sorts will have to be put in place. Ironically, those whose “people” are responsible for the clogging of the Southwest, as it were, were the same critics of the South West Development Commission Bill! What can their reasons be?The struggle to get a special status for Lagos/Southwest has been on for a while.
On 5 October, 2016, a bill sponsored by the then Senator Oluremi Tinubu (senator representing Lagos Central but now the First Lady) seeking a special status and federal grant for Lagos, failed a voice vote called by the then Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was the presiding officer; as a result, the bill failed to scale second reading for the committee stage. The bill had sought one per cent of federally-generated revenue as a special grant for Lagos in view of its socio-economic significance. I dare to add: in view, also, of the influx of migrants into it and the attendant degradation of social infrastructure which has made Lagos to be classified by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the fourth worst city to live in, in the world, up from its second position in 2022! It bears repeating that everyone in Lagos (not the Yoruba alone) and the country as a whole, will benefit if Lagos and, indeed, the entire Southwest, is assisted to make the environment conducive, liveable and up to international standards.
On 20 December, 2018, Gbenga Ashafa, the senator representing Lagos East, introduced the South West Development Commission Bill to the 8th Senate and the bill was read for the first time at plenary presided over by the then Senate president, Bukola Saraki. Ashafa’s argument was that the bill would help address development issues in the states which make up the Southwest geo-political zone of the country. Enemies of the Southwest killed the bill eight days after the same Senate had passed the South East Development Commission!
In November 2019, former two-term governor of Ogun state and senator representing Ogun Central, Ibikunle Amosun, also presented the South West Development Commission Bill to the Senate. He argued that with increasing population in the Southwest region, social amenities are increasingly stretched, just as living standards continue to plummet. Hear him: “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 the growth of local industries has been stalled. Also, no effective bureaucracy exists; and with the least premium placed on capacity development, human resource development has ceased being a culture” Amosun spoke on and on! Brilliant argument, but the bill again did not fly!
Listen to the arguments of some of the murderers of the bill:Adamu Bulkchuwa (Bauchi North) said: “I rise to say that the Senate should not be the chamber to discuss the disintegration of the country. There was Amotekun; now there is the South West Development Commission. All the other commissions that were approved by this senate, including the NDDC and NEDC (North East Development Commission), were actually children of circumstances. The Northeast was devastated by Boko Haram and with all the wars, they need rehabilitation. In the Niger Delta, because of oil exploration activities, the livelihood of the people there was rendered almost useless as they could not farm or do fishing. I do not see a reason why the South West Development Commission should be created because the Southwest is the most developed sub-region in Nigeria”.
Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta Central): “If we balkanise this country, we will be held responsible. We shouldn’t sit down here and divide this country. The foundation we are laying here is a foundation to balkanise the country” Funny, unfair, uneven, and very unfortunate arguments! Can you beat this: The Southwest that is unhappy that it has been pegged down by Nigeria is the envy of those who think it has made too much progress already! When the NDDC, NEDC and even the South East Development Commission were being passed into law, there were no attempts to balkanise the country; only when the Southwest wanted its own development commission did it become a treasonable felony offence to so act!
Circumstances necessitating FG intervention vary from one section of the country to another. While it could be the ravages of war in the North, oil pollution in the Niger Delta and gulley erosion in Igboland, it is untamed rural-urban migration from other parts of the country into Lagos/Southwest in the south West region. And what can disintegrate this country faster than for Lagos and the Southwest to issue quit notice to the other ethnic groups in their midst so that they (Lagos and the Southwest) can be better able to cater for their own indigenous population with the resources at their disposal?
On 3 August 3, 2023, Daniel, undeterred, presented, again, the South West Development Commission Bill. According to him, the bill is to establish a commission entrusted with the responsibility of receiving and managing funds received from the federal government, among other crucial functions.
Notably, the Commission will address infrastructural and ecological challenges prevalent in the Southwest region. An obviously elated Daniel enthused after the bill passed the first reading:”The process of rethinking Nigeria started today as I had the privilege to read the South West Development Commission Bill that I sponsored before the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I thank all the senators from the Southwest region who are co-sponsors of this long-overdue initiative in the best interest of the Southwest and our dear country, Nigeria”
Let the National Assembly take notice of the united front the Southwest legislators are presenting on this issue this time around. The entire Southwest is solidly behind them. Holding the Southwest down for the other regions to catch up with – and even overtake – which is already happening on many fronts, is the reason for Amotekun and the agitation for Yoruba Nation. To reject the South West Development Commission is to pour petrol on that raging fire.
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director) Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.