South east lawmakers in the House of Representatives are heartbroken, just as their constituents. The reason is quite obvious; last Thursday, a bill seeking to establish the South East Development Commission (SEDC) was thrown out in the Green Chamber, because Northern legislators deemed it as an offshoot of Biafra agitation. The proposed SEDC was to cover the five south east states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
The rejection of the bill, sponsored by the deputy minority leader, Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra) and the other 42 lawmakers from the zone has continued to generate ripples within the House and indeed across the country. Onyema said the bill is to tackle infrastructural deficit, ecological problems and other developmental challenges confronting the zone.
According to him, the bill is necessitated by the devastation of the South east during the three years of Nigeria civil war and the failure of successive administrations in the country to implement the triple R programme enunciated by the General Yakubu Gowon administration, at the end of the war in 1970.
The 3Rs which stood for Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of defunct eastern Nigeria; including today’s Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and part of Delta States, were aimed at cushioning the effects of war and reintegrate them fully into the Nigerian state.
According to the deputy minority leader, who, doubles as chairman of the South east caucus, the proposed commission will draw its funds from the 15 per cent of the federal allocation accruing to states in the zone, from the ecological fund and three per cent of the budget of oil and gas firms operating in the area.
Hon Sani Abdul (APC, Bauchi) had fired a deadly shot at the bill, shortly after Onyema and other legislators favourably disposed to it had spoken. According to Abdul, even though he had no issue with the bill, he and his co-travellers were not comfortable with the Biafra connection. In succinct terms, the northern lawmaker expressed the fears of his kinsmen that the SEDC will give an impetus to the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra.
As he put it, “The issue of the Biafra agitation has brought fear into our hearts. Some of our colleagues are bringing the issue of the civil war. We should look at the bill again.”
The truth was that the Abdul onslaught provided the cannon for those opposed to the bill to shoot it down. With the stage set, every other northern legislator who spoke followed the tendentious sentiment already expressed by the Bauchi legislator. Thus a somewhat innocuous bill that sought nothing but to fast-rack the development of a geopolitical zone and give the people of the area a sense of belonging in the imbalanced Nigerian system, was thrown out.
For the South east lawmakers and by extension Ndigbo, Speaker Yakubu Dogara failed them the day they needed him most, especially as they had stoutly supported him in the past. The general belief is that the speaker could have saved the bill if he had wanted, given that there was hardly any noticeable line between the “ayes” and “nays”, that day.
Methinks that the fears of the Northern legislators were unfounded and grossly misplaced. Nothing suggests that setting up a commission to foster development in Igboland is going to aid the breakaway of the zone from the country.
True, there is a rising consciousness about Biafra in the South east. In fact, Biafra had dominated national discourse in the last few days, including that two days before the debate on the bill, the people of the zone had observed a sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
That notwithstanding, the passage of the South east bill would have gone a long way to douse rising tension in the region and ultimately take the sail off the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra.
Some persons had equally argued that the timing of the bill was wrong. But the question is if not now, when? In that case, lawmakers from the North goofed in kicking against the bill, which ultimately led to its defeat. The death of that bill has only succeeded in fuelling a feeling of alienation in the people of the South east zone. Nigeria is a country and like the human body, whatever affects a part affects the whole.
What happened on the floor of the House last Thursday regarding the SEDC bill was a clear case of tyranny of the majority.
Democracy, no doubt is the rule of the majority. The minority are expected to have their say, while the majority have their way. That is actually the beauty of democracy, just as it is one of its minuses. My reasoning is that the majority is not always right even as they would have their way. The rule of the majority recently killed an otherwise laudable motion; to compel International Oil Companies (IOCs) to relocate administrative headquarters to areas where they operated from. This motion died because Northern lawmakers supported by their South West counterparts opposed it.
In fact, every effort by the sponsor of the motion, Hon Goodluck Opia to make his colleagues see reason fell on deaf ears. As painful as it may be, South easterners would have to bear the rejection of the bill with equanimity at least for now; and quickly return to the drawing board.
But, it is not just enough to brood over the defeat of the bill; there is a pertinent introspection that Igbo representatives must make. They must ask themselves how come only 25 of the 43 lawmakers from the zone were at the plenary that fateful day. Where did the other members of the South East Caucus go to on a day when a decision that would have far-reaching implications on their people was to be taken in the House?
Point of Order…
This appears to be a season of defections in the Green Chamber. It started with Tony Nwoye; then lately was the turn of Edward Pwajok to abandon the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the currently reigning All Progressives Congress (APC).
As at last count, five members of the PDP had cross-carpeted to the ruling party with many more likely to follow suit. The other defectors are Emmanuel Ukoete, Emmanuel Udende and Adamu Kamale.
Each of the defectors would always alude to the division in the PDP as reason for jumping ship. But it is all hogwash. Lawmakers like other politicians, defect because they need to feather their political nests.
Agreed, the PDP is currently in crisis but in principle has only one national chairman in the person of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. That is the position of the law, until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. So, the party crisis is not an excuse for anyone to jettison it at the moment.
Unfortunately, these defectors are those who had enjoyed whatever benefit the PDP had to offer.
Come to think of it, a party offers you its platform for election; you get elected; enjoy the comfort, privileges provided by the party, and next thing, you jump ship. What else typifies ingratitude? It might mean nothing to us, but in sane climes, it is immoral for anyone to ditch the political platform on which he is elected for whatever reason and still keep the position attained on the platform of that party.
The moral thing would be for the defecting legislators to resign their position and re-contest on the ticket of their new party. After all, the courts have ruled repeatedly that electoral victory belongs to a political party and not the individual. But then, as the saying goes, there is no morality in politics.