S’East Development Bill goes through in Senate
Twenty-four hours after some northern groups issued an ultimatum to Igbo to vacate their region within the next three months, the South East Development Commission (SEDC) Bill scaled the crucial Second Reading in the Senate.
One of its sponsors, Senator Samuel Anyanwu read the lead debate on the bill.
It was, however, not debated on the floor, after Anyanwu read the lead debate, following an appeal by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who pleaded that it should be passed in the spirit of fairness and justice.
When Senate President, Bukola Saraki, subjected it to a voice vote, lawmakers gave a resounding ‘aye’ and was, thereafter, referred to the Committee on Establishment for legislative consideration.
The next phase is a public hearing where stakeholders and government officials are expected to make inputs before it will be passed into law.
Saraki, speaking afterwards, said: “The unity of a nation goes beyond a bill; I want us all to see it as a responsibility to ensure the unity of this country. We all have a role to play; by doing this as a Senate, we’ve demonstrated readiness to look at the pros and cons of issues. But, I think the issues go beyond just this bill.
“Distinguished colleagues, as some celebrate this, we have to do more work. There are people who we are leading and we must go back and play our roles in uniting this country. Having Commissions all over the country might not bring the results we need.”
Regardless, it was a moment of joy and relief for the South East Caucus of the House of Representatives.
Last week, a similar bill was rejected in the House and with yesterday’s second reading of the same bill in the Senate, the caucus was ful of kind words for Senators.
Caucus Chairman, Chukwuka Onyema led other members to the Red Chambers to witness the consideration of the SEDC bill. Members sat in the gallery and immediately celebrated the second reading on the floor of the Senate, with some of them exchanging hugs and handshakes. A member of the caucus and chairman of the Committee on Health Services, Chike John Okafor, said Senate restored his faith in Nigeria by passing the bill.
“I am happy it (bill) scaled through in the Senate and I am also not happy that the House, where I sit, couldn’t pass the same bill. What happened today showed the beauty of bi-camera legislature which we are practicing. If we had a one-chamber legislature, the rejection by the House would have been the end of that important bill,” Okafor said
Another member of the caucus, who was at the Senate gallery, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje said senators deserved to be given kudos for understanding reasons behind the bill, chief among which is to accelerate the industrialisation of the South-East through a legal framework for investment in critical infrastructure.
“I am glad Senate was able to rise above sectional sentiments, to look at the bill as an answer to the agitation of the South-East and went ahead to provide a legislative solution to burning issues as the National Assembly has always done,” she said.
Some members of the South-East caucus from the House of Representatives seen at the Senate gallery, yesterday, included Uzodinma Abonta, Chike Okafor, Nnenna Ukeji, Nkiru Onyeocha, Jones Onyenreri, Jerry Alagbaoso, Igariwey and 10 others.
Some of the lawmakers who spoke to Daily Sun, informally, said they were at the gallery to show solidarity and drive home the importance of the bill to the development of the geopolitical zone.
According to the proposed bill, when established, SEDC will be operated for a period of 10 years.
The commission can, however, cease to operate after 10 years following a proposal to that effect by the president and endorsed by the National Assembly.
The bill: “An Act to Establish the South East Development Commission in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to act as catalyst to develop the commercial potentials of the South East and other connected matters,” scaled second reading in the Senate, days after its rejection in the House of Representatives.
Regardless, section 1 (4) of the bill, introduced another dimension, which provides leeway for the Commission to only exist for 10 years after which the president can wind it up following the approval of the National Assembly.
The section reads: “The President may, subject to the approval of the National Assembly, wind-up the Commission after 10 years.”
The bill also indicates that the management board of the Commission shall consist of the chairman and one representative each from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states as well as representatives of Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice.
According to the bill, a member of the board of the Commission shall, according to the bill hold office for four years and can have his appointment renewed for another four years.
Some of the functions highlighted for the Commission include release of policies and guidelines for the development of the South-East as well as the conception of plans for development in accordance with set rules, while also producing regulations programmes and projects for the sustainable development of the South-East.
The Commission is also expected to provide roadmaps for development of roads, education, health facilities, industrialisation, agriculture, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and commerce in the area.
It is also expected to provide master plans for reduction of unemployment while also providing master plans and schemes to promote the physical development of the South-East.
It would estimate the cost of implementing such master plans and schemes while implementing all the approved measures for development.
But, like the bill rejected in the House, the Senate bill does not impose any financial burden on the Federal Government as its operations will be funded by 15 percent of federal allocations due member states.