By Stella Oduah
Making a National case for my regional development bill at the Senate
The truth is — that every part of Nigeria suffers one form of neglect or the other but some are more unequally yoked than the others. A case in point are the Igbo people of Nigeria.
I am a proud Nigerian but an unhappy one. As a Senator representing Anambra North, my first obligation is to the people of Anambra North, and then Anambra State and then the South East of Nigeria. My people are unenthusiastic about this Nation state, the mood in the region is at its worst since the civil war. I am not going to sit pretty in Abuja trying to be politically correct. The elite scoff at the demagogues but are unaware that their rise is only a proof of their own extinction.
The Igbos have been unfairly treated and victimised in our country but this piece does not seek to reopen those horrific wounds. (Let me stop sounding like an angry bigot: a term freely used on Igbos and even worse when also you happen to be a woman). I would like to look forward and this is why I sponsored the South East Development Commission Bill.
The Igbos are not just demanding a commission but totally deserve it, like any other marginalised tribe in the country. For instance, I supported the North East Development Commission because it is only the right thing to do. The region suffered from the consequence of the total neglect of social development including education, health and the crushing poverty that made it vulnerable to the wave of extremism represented by the Boko Haram sect which eventually consumed the region. Another case in point is the Niger Delta, which took up guns to fight for their own recognition by the Nigerian state. The costs are unnecessary.
Must we wait till this becomes the situation in the South East? No. Commonsense dictates that the people of the South East — who are some of the largest contributors of Internal Revenue to the country through their entrepreneurial prowess — should receive priority in terms of development and infrastructure or at least get treated equally. But this sadly, is not the case.
My region suffers a crushing ecological problem arising from soil erosion. At every point you turn, the huge deficit of federal infrastructure in the region is palpable. From the civil war up until my tenure as the Minister of Aviation, where I supervised the upgrade of the Enugu International Airport, the entire South East region of Nigeria lacked an international airport!
What Exactly Does This Bill Seek To Achieve?
The bill simply seeks to create the commission, which would provide and implement a roadmap for the development of infrastructure (public works) and social services in the five states of the South East: Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo. These states would be represented by members as well as representatives from the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice.
The Commission only seeks to exist for 10 years. Specifically, Section 1(4) of the Bill reads;
“The President may subject to the approval of the National Assembly wind-up the Commission after 10 years.”
From Aba to Nnewi and to Onitsha, the South East is known for being a major trading hub in Nigeria. The least the Federal Government should have done was to develop inland container ports in the region starting from the one in Onitsha. I believe that this is no longer a privilege but our right at this point. When we have an international airport, the next item on the agenda should be the development of the cargo export terminal which makes the inland cargo terminal important. We should not have to resort to Lagos for every import or export cargo. This only draws the country back and limits its frontiers for trade.
The case to advance the South East is a case for Nigeria. With the uncertainty of the price of crude oil and other extractive minerals, our economy has no other choice but to diversify. This is why the South East must receive the required attention.
I believe my colleagues in the senate have been mature enough to see the reasons why this South East Development Commission Bill should ultimately become law. My hope is that other Nigerians are persuaded to give their representatives at the National Assembly a nod to go ahead with this.
Stella Oduah is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria representing Anambra North constituency. The Bill passed through First Reading in June 2017 and scaled through Second Reading in July. It is presently at the Committee Stage.