Proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives came to an abrupt end yesterday with the defeat of a Bill seeking the establishment of a South East Development Commission.
The bill was defeated in a voice vote taken twice by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who said he had an idea of what the result would be with the trend of the first vote.
After he ruled against the second reading of the bill, furious members from the South-East walked out of the chamber, even before the Speaker left proceedings to Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun.
Signs of what awaited the bill were seen earlier when the proceedings were held for more than 20 minutes when the bill was stepped down for the second time.
The bill was first listed for second reading on Wednesday but was stepped down as the sponsors refused to present it.
The sponsors were Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra), Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Abia) and Henry Nwawuba (PDP, Imo).
After calling for the bill to be presented, Dogara discovered that the lead sponsor, Onyema, who is also the Deputy Minority Leader, was not on the floor, like the previous day. He asked the Deputy Chairman, Rules and Business Committee, Bode Ayorinde (APC, Ondo), for the next line of action.
Ayorinde asked that the bill be stepped down.
As soon as the Speaker ruled, lawmakers from the Southeast sprang onto their feet, protesting.
Jones Onyereri was shouting: “This is not fair; this is not fair!
Groups broke out and other lawmakers were placating their agitated colleagues.
Lasun and a few others went to confer with the Speaker, who, after normalcy returned, explained that there was no attempt to gag any member.
The Speaker said he was told that the lead sponsor was not in the chamber, which was the reason behind the ruling.
He, however, said if the sponsor still wanted the bill presented, it would only take the suspension of the House rules to rescind the earlier ruling.
Minority Leader Leo Ogor moved for the suspension of the rules but against the pattern of the voice vote, the Speaker ruled in favour of the bill to be taken.
Onyema presented it and led the debate.
The bill is seeking to address infrastructure deficit caused by the civil war and douse the Biafran agitation.
Onyema said the South East States of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states fought a three-year civil war that led to massive destruction of critical infrastructure, including roads, houses, and environmental degradation.
“The proposed bill is not intended to usurp the authority of any existing arm of government or indeed any government agency but rather it is being drafted to help in articulating specific interventions aimed at re-integrating the South East zone into the national discourse on development and growth in line with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he added.
To address the challenges facing the region, Onyema listed some financial implications for the funding of the proposed Commission, including 15 per cent of the total monthly statutory allocations due to member states from the Federation Account.
In addition, three per cent of the total budget of any oil producing company operating in the South East states, including gas processing companies as well as three per cent of the total annual budget of any solid mineral extracting mining company operating in the South East, should be for the proposed commission.
Also, 50 per cent of monies due to member states of the commission from the Ecological Fund as well as such monies as may from time to time be granted or lent to or be deposited with the commission by the Federal Government or a state government, any other body or institution whether local or foreign.
According to the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta), the commission will make everyone look inwards. “The nation needs restructuring; we cannot continue like this. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first steps. We have to restructure and move this country forward,” he said.
Henry Nwawuba (PDP, Imo) said members should stop seeing Nigeria in terms of North and South, adding: “The South East has always had different types of challenges. We are presenting a legislative solution to the recurring agitation.
“This is similar to that moved by the Speaker on the North East Commission. We have gone as far as saying look at the source of fundings.”
Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) said the bill was intended for development. “It’s not for undue advantage or divisiveness in the country. Youths are not gainfully engaged, leading to Boko Haram, militancy and agitations. Cooperation may be difficult on infrastructure but a multipurpose vehicle like a commission can do it.
“We must be our brother’s keeper. A commission can do infrastructure on a large scale manner. It will cure the division caused by the creation of states,” he said.
To Kehinde Agboola (PDP, Ondo), the commission is a way of solving unemployment.
He said: “History will not forgive us if we don’t pass this bill. More so that the funding will be coming from those states. The commission will solve the agitation in the South- East.”
In the view of Mohammed Sanni Abdul (APC, Bauchi), the agitation for the North East and South East Development Commissions is a result of the failure of governance.
“There are fundamental flaws in the bill that must be looked at. The issue of the Biafra agitation and the timing of the bill has brought concern. Some of our colleagues have started bringing the issue of civil war,” he said, adding: “Why should we go back to that? There are convoluted issues within the body of the bill. To oppose it is wrong , but to swallow it is also wrong. The movers should be practical.”
Sunday Karimi ( Kogi, PDP) said passing the bill will be double taxation for the oil companies.
“Looking through the the funding provision of 3 percent of the budget of the annual budget of oil companies. If you look at Niger Delta Development Commission, the commission extends to some Southeast and Southwest states.
“Fund from oil companies and taxes are used to run the NDDC, and now, you are going to tax them again? This is double taxation,” he said.
Sani Zorro (APC Jigawa) expreseed fears that every zone would come up with commissions to address their challenges.
After ruling against the second reading of the bill in the second voice vote, before the Speaker could vacate his seat for the Deputy Speaker to continue with proceedings, members of the South East caucus began to file out.
A few minutes later, the Deputy Speaker adjourned plenary till next Tusday, thereby bringing it to an abrupt end with eight motions and one report left unattended to.
Outside the chamber some of the agitated South East lawmakers were discussing.
However, when it became apparent that lawmakers from the region wanted to heap the blame of the defeat on the Speaker, Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma (PDP, Edo) said the members of the Southeast caucus should rather have themselves to blame.
He could not understand the reason behind the hesitation about the presentation in the first place.
Besides, he questioned the absence of a greater number of the caucus on a day like that.
“Don’t involve the Speaker in this matter he is not the problem; you people are not together.
“Out of 42 members, only 18 of you are on the floor today, on a day a fundamental issue is to be debated, then what is the fault of the Speaker here?” he said.