From Ndubuisi Orji and Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
Proceedings in the House of Representatives was rowdy, for over 20 minutes, when lawmakers, mostly from the South East and South-South protested rejection of a bill seeking to establish a South East Development Commission.
To further compound the situation, the bill, which was put to vote, twice, by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, was defeated in a voice vote where it was difficult to distinguish between the ‘nays’ and the ‘ayes.’
Earlier, Dogara had announced commencement of debate on the bill and called on the leader of the South East caucus and lead sponsor of the bill, Chukwuka Onyema to lead the debate.
But, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business, Bode Ayorinde moved that the bill be stepped dow, as Onyema was not in the chamber.
In response, Dogara ruled that the bill be stepped down by leave of the House. His ruling was immediately followed by shouts of protests.
The bill was first listed for Second Reading on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, but was was stepped down because Onyema was not in the chamber when it got to its turn on the Order Paer.
A visibly angry Jones Onyereri charged towards the front row where Minority leader, Leo Ogor was seated.
Other aggrieved lawmakers, including Boma Godhead, Anayo Nnebe, Onyemaechi Mrakpor soon gathered around Enugu lawmaker, Toby Okechukwu, when the confusion lasted.
However, when normalcy was restored, Dogara explained that there was no plan to shut out any section of the country from expressing their views on any issue on the floor of the House.
He said if Onyema, who had, at that time, returned to the chamber, was still interested in taking the matter, a motion could be moved on the rescission of an earlier decision on the bill.
Thereafter, Ogor moved a motion for the rescission on the bill.
Onyema, in his lead debate, said the bill will go a long way in addressing developmental challenges in the South East. Detailing how the commission will be funded, he explained that 15 percent of the total monthly statutory allocation due member states, three percent of the total budget of any oil-producing company onshore and offshore companies operating in the South-East will be used.
He also said funds will be sourced from three percent of the total annual budget of solid minerals-extracting mining companies operating in the South-East, as well as 50 percent of monies due to member states of the commission from the Ecological Fund.
Grants-in-aids, gifts and loans for the purpose of the commission will equally be a source of funding, Onyema said.
In his contribution, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said the bill, if passed into law, will go a long way to cushion effects of neglect of the South East.
He added that bill will address ongoing agitations in the region.
Nkem-Abonta said when there were issues in the North East, the House passed the North East Development Commission Bill, and appealed that same gesture be extended to the South East.
“What the bill is asking for, is an opportunity to have funds for sustainable development. In the South East, we have agitation going on.
“If we do not act, agitation will be on the increase. This bill seek to cure a lot of things,” Nkem -Abonta noted.
Also, Okechukwu, while appealing to the House to support the bill, described it as “a Special Purpose Vehicle” meant to address developmental challenges in the zone.
“It does not offend anybody. We must deliver the economy of scales. There are certain things the states cannot do on their own. But, if you have a special purpose vehicle, we will be the better for it. We are saying that we must be our brothers keeper. For me, I don’t think it challenges anything.”
Similarly, Henry Nwawuba said the the same level of support which led to the passage of the North East Development Commission Bill, sponsored by Dogara, should be given to the bill sponsored by South East lawmakers.
He said just as the North East, the South East has suffered serious levels of devastation caused by the civil war and so, needs specially crafted intervention to rebuild.
On his part, Kehinde Ayoola said the bill if is approved, it will help move the country forward and warned that “history will not forgive us if we fail to support this bill. It will help us.”
Ogor, in his contribution said: “Since this commission is not going to take money from outside, let us support it. I appeal with all sense of humility.”
Regardless, Sani Abdul said ordinarily, he does not have a problem with the bill, and noted that “the truth is that agitations for development commissions is a failure of governance in the country.
“There are some fundamental clauses that we need to talk about.
“The issue of 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.”
Garuba Daiti and Sani Zoro picked holes in the bill. Daiti said his problem was that the sponsors are claiming marginalisation, Zoro, on his part, urged South East lawmakers to consult more on the bill.
As soon the bill was rejected, via voice vote, majority of the lawmakers from the South East and South South walked out out of the chamber .
Meanwhile, Daily Sun gathered, yesterday, that Onyema has threatened to resign his position the next legislative day, on Tuesday June 6, 2017.
Lawmakers close to Onyema disclosed that “he felt betrayed by Dogara as he expected that the bill wouldn’t be frustrated by the speaker.”
Nevertheless, Onyema was also seen expressing his frustration to Dogara’s deputy, Yussuf Lasun, as he walked to his office after plenary.
Yussuf couldn’t stop Onyema as he turned and made his way back to where other South-East lawmakers had gathered to addressing the media.
The lawmaker, who was surrounded by some of his colleagues, again, expressed frustration as they tried to calm him down.
“I am no longer interested….I am a leader, yet, the speaker killed my bill,” he repeatedly told his colleagues.