Twenty-four hours after some northern groups issued an ultimatum to Igbo to vacate their region within the next three months, the much-anticipated South East Development Commission (SEDC) bill has passed second reading on the floor of the Senate.
The debate on the bill was read by one of its sponsors, Senator Samuel Anyanwu. It was not debated, following an appeal made by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu that it should be passed in the spirit of fairness and justice.
When the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, subjected to a voice vote, lawmakers gave a resounding ‘aye’. It was thereafter referred to the Senate committee on Establishment.
The next phase is a public hearing where stakeholders and government officials are expected to make inputs before it will be passed into law.
Saraki, speaking afterwards, said: “The unity and development of a nation go beyond a bill. I want us all to see that we owe the responsibility to ensure the unity of this country.
“We all have that role to play. In doing this as a Senate, we are showing that we are ready to show that we are ready to look at the pros and cons of the issues. But I think the issues go beyond just this bill.
“Distinguished colleagues, as some celebrate for this, we have to do more work. There are people that we are leading and we must go back and play our own role in uniting this country. Having commissions all over the country might not bring the results that we need.”
Before the bill was read for the second time, members of the House of Representatives, drawn from the South East, had already stormed the Senate gallery, in solidarity with their counterparts, to observe a debate on the bill.
The bill was shutdown in the House of Representatives last week.
Some of the members of the House of Representatives from the South East seen in the Senate gallery, include Uzodinma Abonta, Chike Okafor, Nnenna Ukeji, Nkiru Onyeocha, Jones Onyenreri, Jerry Alagbaoso, Igariwey and ten others.
Some of the lawmakers who spoke to Daily Sun off the record, said they were in the gallery to show solidarity and drive home the importance of the bill to the development of the geopolitical zone.
According to the proposed bill, when established, SEDC will be operated for a period of ten years. The commission can however cease to operate after ten years following a proposal to that effect by the President and endorsed by the National Assembly.
The Bill titled: “An Act to Establish the South East Development Commission in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to act as Catalyst to develop the Commercial potentials of the South East and other Connected matters,” is coming in days after shouting match in the House of Representatives following the rejection of a similar bill by the lower chamber.
Section 1(4) of the bill however introduced another dimension, which provides the leeway for the Commission to only exist for ten years after which the President can wind it up following the approval of the National Assembly.
The Section reads: “The President may subject to the approval of the National Assembly wind-up the Commission after 10 years.
The bill also indicates that the management board of the Commission shall consist of the Chairman and one representative each from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states as well as representatives of Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice.
According to the bill, a member of the Board of the Commission shall, according to the bill hold office for four years and can have his appointment renewed for another four years.
Some of the functions highlighted for the Commission include release of policies and guidelines for the development of the South East as well as the conception of plans for development in accordance with set rules, while also producing regulations programmes and projects for the sustainable development of the South East.
The Commission is also expected to provide roadmaps for development of roads, education, health facilities, industrialization, agriculture, housing and urban development, water supply, 3 9 electricity and commerce in the area.
It is also expected to provide master plans for reduction of unemployment while also providing master plans and schemes to promote the physical development of the South East.
It would estimate the cost of implementing such master plans and schemes while implementing all the approved measures for development.
But like the bill rejected in the House, the Senate Bill does not impose any financial burden on the Federal Government as its operations will be funded by 15 percent of federal allocations due to its member states.