Earlier this year, the Nigerian media was awash with stories of the initiative by Senators Stella Oduah and Samuel Anyanwu from Anambra state and Imo state respectfully to sponsor the South East Development Commission bill.
The move was hailed by political commentators across the country as it coincided with the agitation that bedeviled the southeast region at the time.
Many believed that if the bill is passed, it will be the first and truly genuine step of the federal government to address the perceived marginalization of the southeast region after so many years that have seen the region take the backstage in national politics.
It was therefore a surprise to political watchers when the laudable bill was thrown out in the House of Representatives in the first week of June.
Reprieve however came to Ndigbo when the Nigerian Senate allowed the bill scale second reading due to the influence and strategic moves of Senator Oduah in the red chambers.
The bill passed through First Reading in June 2017 and scaled through Second Reading in July.
Oduah, 55, is not new to championing causes that will improve the life of the average Nigerian. As Nigeria’s minister of aviation between July 2011 and February 2014, she embarked on far-reaching reforms in the aviation industry that set her apart from her predecessors, but at the end she stumbled into troubled waters for daring the powers that be in the industry.
As the current chairperson of the Senate Committee on cooperation and integration, Oduah who also doubles as the president of ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA), has been championing the participation of women in politics in the West-African sub-region and beyond.
Indeed, the South East Development Commission bill co-sponsored by Oduah is a child of necessity given the neglect the South-east has been subjected to by successive military and civilian governments after the Nigerian civil war.
It was birthed to respond to the growing agitation in the South-east to appease Ndigbo and give us a semblance of belonging in the affairs of the nation.
Recently, the minister of works, power and housing, Babatunde Fashola, told the Senate committee on Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) that the federal roads in the southeast region are the worst in the country.
“When we did the audit of our roads, we discovered some sections are bad. Many roads have outlived their lifespans.
“Many roads in the South-east and South-south were built before the civil war. They are among the worst in the country. They need to be replaced,” Fashola said.
Fashola’s revelation is a tip of the iceberg when compared to other major infrastructures in the South-east.
It is safe to say that many of the critics of the South East Development bill have not taken time to go through its contents and see for themselves the merits of the bill.
According to the proposed features of the bill, the South East Development Commission if established would last for ten years, during which period it will address some of the critical issues of underdevelopment of the region in areas such as environmental degradation, infrastructure deficit and growing poverty.
More importantly, the commission will provide policies and guidelines for the development of the southeast, conception of plans for development in accordance with set rule as well as produce regulations, programmes and projects for sustainable development of our region.
It is expected to provide a master plan for reduction of unemployment while also providing the master plan and schemes to promote the physical development of the southeast.
A critical look at the southeast development statistics, indicates that it is a far cry from what it should be and not at par with other regions in the country.
The South East Development Commission bill is simply a bold attempt to address these lacuna and ensure that the gaps are closed.
Our region is in dire need of infrastructure and an enabling environment as its economic potentials are enormous, but stagnated because it lacks the infrastructure.
On the southeast economy, the bill is the first step in ensuring that our region have access to global markets through an inland port and cargo airport.
The South-east is a commercial region best known for trading and an industrialization hub. For the potentials of our people to be realized, exportation is key in order for the business owners in our region to have unhindered access to global markets.
Indeed, an inland container terminal is long over-due in our region, and this is on the premise that, a place where you do not have access to sea or deep water, government will make it accessible by creating the ports authority environment within that land locked region.
The intention of our people that conceptualized the Onitsha river port could not have been to serve the region as a port for simpler reasons: it is a shallow water, it is River Niger, the dredging was haphazardly done and even if it were well done, because it is a river it would not have served the purpose because it bores down to vessels having access.
In her lead debate, Senator Oduah had submitted that the bill sought to address the infrastructural deficit of the southeast and act as a catalyst to develop the commercial potentials of our region.
According to her, our region requires a minimum of three container ports to boost the economic growth of the country.
She lamented that our region had contributed immensely to the overall of Nigeria yet the federal government was not doing enough for the region in terms of infrastructural development.
“What the South-east region requires now from the rest of the country is support and understanding and this will help to engender a sense of belonging to the Nigeria project.
“The Senate is in the right position to show maturity in the face of the plethora of problems and challenges facing the geopolitical zone.
“Nigeria has abundant capacity to beam a sympathetic focus to begin to address these issues in a more holistic and systematic manner.
“The public works projects to be executed by this commission will engage the youths in a more serious fashion and help to develop needed human capital in both the public and private sectors.
“This will also curb the cases of kidnapping and other criminal activities that create a security situation not conducive for growth and development. The peaceful co-existence of the Nigerian state will be enhanced with the establishment of the commission.
“The enactment of this bill will help to rebuild the South-east and provide the opportunity for the people to display their talent and contribute immensely to the development of the country,” Senator Oduah told her colleagues.
On his part, Senate president Bukola Saraki said: “We have the responsibility to bring down tension, bring unity. In doing this, we are showing we listen to everybody but the issues go beyond this bill. More work needs to be done, there are people we are leading and we have to play our role. We have only one country.”
Also adding his voice to the bill, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, Honourable Leo Ogor, said the bill will address most of the issues affecting the region.
His words: “This country cannot continue with the situation where we come to Abuja every month to share money. I think every zone deserves such commission because it will make everybody look inward.”
One can only hope that all men and women of goodwill and intention in the corridors of power, will take the bull by its horn to support “Ada Eze Chukwu” and ensure that the southeast get its place of pride in Nigeria.