The rejection of the bill for the establishment of the South East Development Commission by the House of Representatives does not demonstrate the desired spirit of national accommodation and sensitivity towards the people and problems of the South East Zone.
The South East caucus of the National Assembly must however be commended for bringing the issues of the needs of the region to the front burner. It is also heartwarming to note that a good number of lawmakers from other geo-political zones supported the bill. This is a laudable act, showing that other regions are beginning to appreciate the issues related to the developmental predicaments of the South East.
The current momentary hitch in the bid to establish a South East Development Commission therefore must not be seen as the end of the road, or a badge of defeat. It should become a rallying stimulus for all men of good conscience across our nation to strive towards restrategizing appropriately in order to redress the shameful neglect of the zone. The resultant massive infrastructural decay under successive administrations since 1970 is a national embarrassment that has lasted long enough.
This bill, when properly reintroduced, must get the National Assembly and indeed the entire nation to pause and reconsider the terrible situation Nigerians in this region have faced for nearly 40 years now.
Notwithstanding the long standing debates on the successes or failures of the post civil war “3 Rs” and the controversies surrounding the timing of the indigenization decree one year after the south easterners were limited to only 20 Pounds refunds from their bank savings, a cursory look at the application of the national budget for infrastructure development since 1970 reveals a horrendous imbalance against the South East. The result is decayed infrastructure, absence of substructures for development and total lack of government presence. This is unacceptable in a nation that professes unity, equality and accommodation of the interests and welfare of all its citizens.
Every impartial observer would without hesitation, agree that the establishment of the South East Development Commission is the least the region deserves at this time in our national life. It will serve as the beginning of a responsive accommodation to help assuage the sensibilities of a people who believe they are completely deprived of government presence and patronage.
Our great nation has at various times designed and implemented development commissions in some zones for commendable reasons. These Commissions are in addition to other highly rated special intervention projects, such as those for educationally disadvantage areas and the much acclaimed federal character programme to help accommodate zonal interests.
The South East issue has been a burning topic in the hearts of the people. It is on record that way back in 2001, prominent South East stakeholders under the aegis of the South East Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Committee (SERRAC), and under my leadership, delivered a bill on the same subject matter to the South East caucus of the House of Representatives then led by Senator Mao Ohabunwa. I note with joy that it has at last come to the center stage, a development for which the present crop of lawmakers must be commended.
I believe that as this issue is brought back to the floor, the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly should, in the national interest, allow for robust debates and considerations on the basis of the wisdom and merits of the issues at stake. This is desperately important and right, especially at this defining time in our national life.
Signed Olisa Metuh