By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA- Everything went into it. Emotions, lobbying and ultimately politics. Those played a key role in the passage of the South East Development Commission Bill, SEDC to second reading at the House of Representatives Thursday.
Recall that the bill was killed by the same House in June 2017. Reasons of timing were given.
Almost two years after, the Senate in its wisdom reintroduced the Bill, debated, passed and submitted it to the House for concurrence in line with the practice of the country’s bicameral legislature.
Seen listed on the Order Paper of Thursday, several minds palpitated over the certainty or otherwise of its passage by the members of the lower chamber.
The Bill has a long titled: “A Bill for an Act to Establish the South-East Development Commission to Serve as a Catalyst to Develop the Commercial Potentials of the South-East, Receive and Manage Funds from Allocation of the Federation for the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Reparation for Houses and lost Business of Victims of the Civil War and Address any Other Environmental or Developmental Challenges, and for Related Matters (HB.1626)”.
For anyone who lived between 1967 and 1970 or is conversant with history, the story of the Nigerian civil war resonates.
Many people who hail from what is presently known as Southeastern geopolitical zone mainly consists of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States suffered from the pangs of the war. Poverty and underdevelopment was their lot as they lost virtually everything and every means of livelihood.
At the end of the war, the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon declared no victor, no vanquished and swiftly proposed a policy of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of the southeast to majorly reintegrate the people. Mid way, the 3Rs policy failed.
It was against this backdrop coupled with other serious and social infrastructural and environmental challenges presently bedevilling the zone that the National Assembly proposed the Bill which is similar to Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and the most recent North East Development Commission, NEDC whose board President Muhammadu Buhari had just constituted and provided funds for the take-off of the Commission.
Presented before the House Thursday, members in their numbers across ethnic, regional and political divides spoke passionately and favourably about the Bill, touching on its significance and unifying essence.
The Acting Leader of the House, Hon. Mohammed Monguno from Borno State who read the Bill urged the members to support the Bill.
He said: “Since after the civil war, there is no concerted effort for the rehabilitation of the infrastructure that was destroyed in the south-east, that’s the essence of this Bill. You are all aware that because of Boko Haram, our infrastructure in the northeast was destroyed. And this House in its wisdom decided with unanimity to support the NorthEast Development Commission that has today hit the ground running. Mr Speaker, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. So, what is good for the North East is also good for the South East because infrastructure has been destroyed. Yes, the three R that was rejected was a stopgap measure. It is against this backdrop that the Senate passed this bill. So, I am also urging my colleagues to support this bill.”
The second person to speak was Hon. Hassan Adamu Shakarau from Kaduna State.
Shakarau was not disposed to supporting the Bill but warned against duplicity and wanton creation of Commission, saying that if not checked can become a demand from all geopolitical zones.
“If we continue like this, very soon we will have commission for every zone. My take is that we should find a way of taking care of these anomalies like this so that we don’t end up setting commissions for issues that we can prevent”, he said.
In quick succession, Hon. Aminu Suleiman from Kano State asked the House to kill the Bill, recalling that it had been rejected by the House in 2017.
According to him, it doesn’t matter whether it emanated from the Senate.
“This Bill was brought before this Chamber and it was debated through. It was stepped down. I do understand…We should look at Bill on the thorough objectives of Bills. I would want to plead without any sentiment that this Bill should not go”, he said.
At this juncture, tension and anxiety began to mount on the uncertainty of the passage of the Bill.
But Hon. Abdulraq Namdas from Adamawa State came to the rescue, appealing to members to reconsider the Bill.
He said: “I appeal to my colleagues that they should actually reconsider. If the Senate feels that there should be rehabilitation, I think we should consider.”
Similarly, Hon. Edwards Pwajok from Plateau State re-emphasized the imperative of unity through the Bill.
Accordingly, the issue of replicating commissions was even necessary if that was the only way to develop Nigeria and get it working again.
He said: “There is nothing wrong for us to debate it. Secondly, it is coming from the Senate. Let’s pass this Bill for reasons of equity. Let us look at issues on their merit. Are we saying that there are no developmental challenges in the south-east? We should pass this Bill to send a message that Nigeria is one.”
For Hon. Saheed Fijabi from Oyo State, there should be a national development commission for the entire country instead of creating them for zones.
“Instead of having the commission, let’s have what is called Nigerian Development Commission”, he said.
For Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam from Enugu State, the Bill “is not only about the civil war but other environmental challenges. I appeal to my colleagues to support this bill.”
Similarly, Hon Sam Onuigbo from Abia State stated that “The reason is simple. Our colleagues have considered and passed this bill. It is not a bill that is based on sentiments but realities. It is not an issue that is bothered on the civil war. The southeast has serious environmental challenges. Another one is this: when we are seated like this, one zone should not create the impression that the other group is not…pls, let’s join hands and ensure that this bill is passed.”
Likewise, Hon. Nkiru Onyejiocha from Abia State said “I want to appeal to my colleagues to ensure that this Bill is passed. We should be looking at what brings us together. Please, let’s pass this Bill. Nigeria and posterity will remember us.”
Also speaking, Hon. Uchechukwu Nnamobi from Rivers State simply intoned “I support this Bill wholeheartedly.”
Hon. Randolf Brown from Rivers State also pleaded that the Bill be passed.
“I want to lend my voice to the very important Bill. It is important because people want development for necessary infrastructure and potentials of the southeast. So, please, in the name of God, let this Bill pass”, he said
In his own contribution, Hon. Jerry Alagboso from Imo State stated that “What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.”
For Hon. Ossia Nicholas Ossai from Delta State, the bill should be passed with the speed of light.
“I wholeheartedly support this Bill. Why? This critical issue is not on sentiments but on the intention. The issue of environmental degradation. The northeast had a problem and every Nigerian resolved to support the northeast. Mr. Speaker, every nook and cranny of the south-east is ravaged by erosion. What we should be talking about is to pass the Bill with the speed of light and not to oppose. I am not talking about the issue of the civil war. We have said that the national assembly is a unifying institution and we have to do that. This Commission is one”, he said.
For Hon. Eucharia Azodo from Anambra State and Nnenna Ukeje from Abia State, “There is nothing in this Bill, in the development of southeast that takes away the development of any other zone in Nigeria.”
For Hon. Hassan Saleh from Benue State, Nigeria should jettison all forms for ethnic religious sentiments for a progressive Nigeria.
“This was a region that was devastated by war. I just left the village of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme Village last weekend, I saw erosion everywhere. If we are speaking here as leaders, then we must begin to throw away those religious and tribal sentiment. Let’s pass this bill now. We must promote peace and so, let’s pass this bill with the speed of light”, he said.
Similarly, Hon. Yakubu Barde from Kaduna State said that the people of south-east should be incorporated in the scheme of things.
“A lot of harm was done to the people of the southeast. Mr Speaker, I am in support of this bill and we should pass it”, he said.
A strategic campaign
At this stage of the debate, the chamber had gone edge with the tremendous pleas. It became certain that the members would support the Bill.
It was at his time that the director-general of the speakership campaign of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Hon. Abdulmuni Jubrin stood up to contribute.
As expected by many, he supported the Bill with teases from his colleagues that his support has a political connotation.
He said: “I want to support this Bill. I look at this Bill from a bigger picture, from a historical perspective. There is a chunk of underdevelopment in that region. They are part of the federal republic of Nigeria. I call on my colleagues that we should rally round, show the people of southeast that they are part of us. If we are talking about finance, Nigeria can fund developments. Let’s rise above ethnic sentiments and get this Bill passed”, he said.
Just immediately afterwards, the presiding officer and deputy speaker of the House, Hon. Yusuf Lasun put the question and called for a voice vote.
The answer that followed was a thunderous “Yea”, deafening the naysayers.
Of course, the development elicited resounding applause and cheers from among the members who hugged and shook hands with each other.