BRACED Commission - Motion Without Movement
-Masterweb Reports (Submission By Eddy Aghanenu)
The recent BRACED Commission Summit in Asaba, Delta State, has come and gone. The ripple effects of the summit are expectedly still being felt across the state and beyond. The BRACED Commission, the regional South-South body formed to integrate and fast track development in the zone was formed over two years ago by governors in the region. It has begun to dawn on the governors that for states to develop fast and integrate their economy and resources, regional cooperation is needed. It is with this in mind that the South-South governors decided to take a cue from what is going on in the South West Zone of the country.
The summit started on a note of controversy and shame. Few days before the summit, a former governor from the zone was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to thirteen years imprisonment by a British Court. This brings to three, former governors from the zone who have been convicted for financial crimes and breach of trust. They are the former governors of Bayelsa, Edo and Delta States. The South-South Zone has churned out the highest number of convicted governors in the country. It speaks volumes of the financial rascality and recklessness of leaders in the zone and the judicial system of this country is held comatose by another former Braced governor who secured an injunction of perpetual immunity against which the EFCC as an organisation is too terrified or too knowing to appeal because that former governor is now “justice”
In the words of Wole Soyinka, a guest speaker at the summit “ Ask yourselves how it comes about that one of your former members of this very governorship consortium is currently basking in immunity, having succeeded in obtaining a judicial injunction against prosecution for his crimes against the future, perpetrated while in office. Do we need to point out that as a nation we are covered with shame that it took an external court of justice, of the former colonial masters, to finally put an end to the costly shenanigans of another of your former brother governors, one who held the forces of anti-corruption at bay, led them a merry dance all the way to Dubai until he was plucked out of his imagined sanctuary?”
Another controversy that trailed the summit was Delta State’s decision to spend N7.5billion in demolishing hills at Asaba Airport so that the presidential jet could land safely. How come a whooping N7.5billion was being spent in ten days to demolish hills in the Airport? Where there no feasibility studies before they started construction? In a State crying for health reforms, qualitative education, good roads, security, provision of water, power, was it economically advisable for the Governor to waste N7.5billion in the demolition of ant hills at Asaba Airport? And yet our governor had the temerity to tell us that Deltans would praise him in future for the bold decision to demolish ant hills for N7.5b notwithstanding its present opportunity cost to the development of the state.
Another show of shame occurred during the summit when there was power outage for over an hour. That power outage symbolizes the ineptitude and chaotic planning by the organisers of the event and the Delta State Government that hosted it.
The BRACE Commission is a welcome idea but we envisage the challenge of implementation of ideas. Regional integration is necessary if the South-South Zone is to move forward. The BRACED Commission Summit organised on the broad theme “Integrating the South – South for Sustainable Development” (with special emphasis on Development, Investment and Security) was held at the Convention Centre, Asaba, Delta State under the auspices of the BRACED States – Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta. Various papers were delivered at the summit. President Kigame of Rwanda called for the need for integration and accountability. He said integration can only take place when we have upright leaders who are accountable to the people. To him, "we recognised as Rwandans that our development depended on our efforts, we owe it to ourselves to succeed, not to any other person. Similarly, the South-South has felt that it does not want to be held captive by its past. I want to state that you have enormous advantage over most countries, you have huge oil deposits and other natural resources."
The huge oil deposits are the bane of the region. The powers that be in conjunction with oil multinational companies have combined to steal the people’s wealth and also to destroy their various means of livelihood and the environment. President Kigame said that developmental decisions must involve the people. It is when the people are involved in decisions affecting them, that their need can be met. He said: "All these mean that solution to national challenges came from within and that is that people own the entire development process. In my view, countries can only develop if governments enable a qualitative improvement in their citizens' life. This means that a suitable business climate that facilitates better production and more trade and investment must be established." Unfortunately, this is yet to happen in the South-South geo political zone.
As earlier stated, Prof. Wole Soyinka, a guest at the occasion commended the governors for agreeing to integrate economically. To him, it is through integration that states can be viable. He was in agreement with President Kigame on the need for regional integration. “Let each regional grouping and its member states single-mindedly project and pursue their strategies for the enhancement of the quality of life and the dignity of their people. Let them quarry into their resources to extract the material required for their very existence, material that they can exchange among one another based on their spatial developmental advantages. In short, they should share among themselves, areas of specialisation, substituting strength for the weakness of their partners, expertise for deficiencies in one member or the other.” He equally admonished leaders to deliver good governance to the people. He also queried the corruption going on in the zone as exemplified by the jailing of former Governor James Ibori of Delta State.
The host governor spoke glowingly of his economic plans for the state. He spoke of industrial parks, tourism and Export Free Zone. "The major outline of this goal is to build key infrastructure in the areas of power, transportation (including airports and sea ports) and industrialisation anchored on our Special Economic Zones. In pursuit of this vision, we have struggled with enormous challenges. But we have remained focused.” To the citizenry in Delta State, these projects are seen more on television than on ground.
Earlier, Delta Rescue Mission (DRM), a group aimed at liberating the state from socio economic and political collapse had issued a press statement. In the press state, DRM spoke the feelings of the people of the Niger Delta. The group called on member states to implement people oriented programmes. “DRM also calls on member states to urgently tackle the twin issues of unemployment and insecurity. Regional integration of roads, rail and water transport is of utmost priority. DRM hopes that the BRACED Commission will urgently address these. DRM equally hopes that a strategy for the development of the region will emerge from this summit. Above all, DRM calls on member states to ensure that transparency and accountability become the order of the day and a watch word in the region.”
DRM further demanded that “Fresh building blocks of accountability and integrity must be honestly laid by the Braced Commission coupled with demonstrable will by the promoters of the Braced Commission to implement same. It is a matter of regret that the few governors convicted so far for monumental fraud and theft of state funds are from the BRACED states. “As a sign that the inglorious past will not return, the governors of the BRACED states should openly denounce the looting of public funds by their predecessors some of whom are openly patronised by the present governors.”
The summit was filled with good speeches, a very good communiqué and brilliant ideas. But the question then arises; will the Commission implement these ideas? Will it not be another jamboree? Will it not be another talk-show where Government Officials line their pockets with the people’s money? A Commission whose website is not functional or updated, will it be able to function effectively. A Commission whose website has the last posting in October, 2011, has no information on the Asaba summit or the outcome of the summit; can such a Commission be relevant and responsive to the yearnings of the people in its present setup? Is there a secretariat in between the summits that implements the decisions? Is there a template for development common to the Braced States? Has there been an attempt for the people of the Braced states rather than their governors to own the process? Have we worked out regional infrastructural projects? Is there a peer review mechanism, for instance can airports been built to the same standards at near identical costs? Is there a common degree of intolerance to corruption and wasteful and avoidable expenditure among the members?
For the Commission to be effective, it must be unbundled from the clutches of the Governors. It must not be political. It must be neutral in the affairs of member states though a benchmark of good governance must be set. It should be managed by tested and patriotic professionals and technocrats drawn from the member states who may earn token wages if they earn at all. It must be accountable. Personal aggrandizement should not be welcome in the Commission. Above all, the welfare of the people in the South-South zone should be of paramount interest to the Commission.