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LAMENTATIONS OF AN IGBO SENATOR: We are the poor cousin of the South and Central — Stella Oduah

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…‘Why I am re-introducing S-East Dev Commission Bill’

By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor

The lawmaker representing Anambra North in the Senate, Sen Stella Oduah, in this interview, speaks on the three bills she introduced in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.

They include a bill for an Act to establish the South-East Development Commission, a bill to ensure that constituency projects are included in annual budgets and a bill for an Act to promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies. Excerpts:

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What have you done so far since the commencement of the ninth Senate?

My agenda is very simple. I am from a very impoverished zone. We are the poor cousin of the South and Central. People from Anambra North are essentially farmers and fishermen, though we warehouse huge talents and skills. My focus is on how to ensure that those skills are transformed into what would be useful to the community, especially the youths.

So far, we have done quite a lot. We have trained more than 10,000 people on skills acquisition. I don’t believe that everybody inclines to be an academician or even go to university. Government cannot send everybody to school. Therefore, identifying what their passion is and what their skills are matter to me.

Again, the South East, in general, is a commercial area, but commerce on its own is not sufficient. The global trend is ICT. Therefore how do we ensure that these children, these youths who spend 24 hours daily on their WhatsApp and twitter are ICT inclined?

The United Nations, World Bank, and Microsoft projection is that 28 percent of the jobs in the next two or three years is going to be ICT-based. That is why we are focusing on ICT. My priority has always been human capital development. We can have the entire infrastructure, but if the persons whom these infrastructures are made for cannot feed, they will have zero appreciation for it.

How can government at the federal level be involved?

I was happy when government announced that their number one goal is to bring one million people out of poverty and my question has always been how that would happen. That is why I think partnership with the National Assembly members is very important. Communities regard NASS members as the government they can be close to. For instance, if you go to Dubai, the population of Dubai is very small but construction works are ongoing. They are all done by foreigners and these foreigners are there legally and the reason they are there legally is that their countries have programmes for them.

With the bilateral agreement the countries have with Dubai, these people can now be taken to different countries where employment gaps exist. You don’t have to go to Libya and be packed like Sardines and sent to Europe. Government must have deliberate programmes that will take people from Nigeria to where they can be gainfully employed.

We should use our bilateral agreements as platforms to ensure that our youths are gainfully employed and legally engaged.

But as I said, it has to be done in partnership with the NASS members who understand the grassroots better.

For instance, if tomorrow, government and oil companies agree to stop exploring and drilling and decide to hand over to Nigeria, we lack the skills to do those jobs because we have not focused on ensuring that we have the requisite training that will give us the skills.

A welder in oil and gas earns $10,000. A coder in ICT in software earns almost $10,000 convert it to naira. Unfortunately, we have graduates that are illiterates and unemployable. They are not to blame because we haven’t deliberately sat down to identify our goal post.

How do you feel about the security situation in Nigeria?

I don’t want to talk about that because whatever I say will not make any difference. Everybody feels insecure which means that it should be mainstreamed the way results can be achieved. We need to allay the fears of Nigerians. When Judges are being kidnapped, when policemen are being kidnapped, it is scary and we have gotten to a stage where kidnappers have become that bold to pick a Judge and a policeman. It is scary. You can even have bulletproof around you and end up being kidnapped.

Tell us about the bill seeking an Act for constituency projects to be included in budgets…

The bill which has been read the first time at plenary is to ensure that constituency projects being initiated by federal lawmakers are included in the nation’s yearly budget.

The new bill seeks to ensure that a specific portion of the annual budget is devoted to the constituencies for infrastructure development, wealth creation and the fight against poverty at the constituency level.

The number of projects to be included in the constituency projects submission form shall be a minimum of five and a maximum of 20 for every constituency in each financial year and a joint project may be constructed for the benefit of the constituencies subject to the approval of the NASS. The list of proposed constituency projects to be covered by this Act shall be submitted by the member of the National Assembly representing that constituency. The member shall submit the project proposal to the Appropriation Committee for input into the budget.

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The list of projects shall be submitted on Standard Constituency Projects submission form set out in the Schedule to this bill. All projects shall be listed in the form together with the amount allocated to such project. For every project listed in the form, there shall be attached a Standard Project Description Form set out in the Schedule to this Act.

Projects under this Act shall be community-based in to ensure that the prospective benefits are available to the inhabitants of a particular area.

Any funding under this Act shall be for a completed project or a defined phase of a project and may include the acquisition of land and buildings.

All projects shall be defined under this Act and may include costs related to studies, planning, and design or other technical input for the project, but shall not include recurrent costs of a facility.

Funds provided under this Act shall not be used to support political bodies or political activities or for supporting religious bodies or religious activities. Projects may include the acquisition of vehicles, machinery and other equipment for the constituency.

Environmental activities may be considered as development projects for purposes of this Act provided that the allocation to such activities does not exceed two percent of the total allocation of the constituency in that financial year.

What about the bill entitled: Protection of Personal Information Bill, 2019?

The bill for an Act to promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies aims at safeguarding data of individuals. It seeks to introduce information protection principles to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information. It seeks to provide for the establishment of an information protection regulator as well as provide for the issuing of codes of conduct.

The bill also aims at providing for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making. Also, it wants to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the federation and for other matters connected therewith.

In the bill, any person convicted of an offence, especially when any person hinders, obstructs or unlawfully influences the regulator or any person acting on behalf of or under the direction of the regulator in the performance of the regulator’s duties and functions under this Act, that person is guilty to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years. The bill seeks to give effect to the right to privacy, by introducing measures to ensure that the personal information of an individual is protected when it is processed by responsible parties. It is designed to give effect to the constitutional right to privacy, by safeguarding personal information when processed by a responsible party. The bill also seeks to regulate how personal information may be processed, by establishing principles, in harmony with international standards that prescribe the minimum threshold requirements for lawful processing of personal information.

The bill also seeks to balance the right to privacy against other rights, particularly the right of access to information, and to generally protect important interests, including the free flow of information within and across the borders of Nigeria.

It is also aimed at providing persons with rights and remedies to protect their personal information from processing that is not in accordance with this Act and establish voluntary and compulsory measures, including an information protection regulator, to ensure respect for and to enforce and fulfil the rights protected by this Act.

Why did you reintroduce the bill for the establishment of South-East Development Commission?

The bill entitled, South-East Development Commission Bill, 2019, SB. 161, is expected to provide a master plan for the reduction of unemployment while also providing the master plan and schemes to promote the physical development of the South-East.

Recall that the bill for the establishment of South-East Development Commission and other matters was sponsored in the Eighth Senate by me and my brother, Senator Samuel Anyanwu. It was read the first time on Wednesday, June 22, 2016, and scaled the second reading in the Senate on June 7, 2017.

Also recall that the Eighth Senate, on December 12, 2018, passed the bill into law one week to the end of the Eighth Senate. The House of Representatives also, on May 28, 2019, passed the South-East Development Commission Bill, but it failed to receive Presidential assent.

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Clause 15 (2a) of the bill, which identifies the source of funding for the commission, stipulates that the equivalent of 10 percent of the total monthly statutory allocation due to the member states of the commission shall be from the federation account.

Other functions of the bill include: tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from soil erosion problems and other related environmental challenges in the Southeast and advising the federal government and member states on the prevention and control of the erosion and environmental challenges as well as identifying factors inhibiting the development of the South-East. It will also assist member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the region.


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