The South East Development Commission: Time to Tell Ourselves the Bitter Truth
The rejection of the bill seeking to establish the South East Development Commission by the House of Representatives on Thursday, June 1, 2017 once again brought to the fore the issue of the Nigerian Question. The House rejected the second reading of the bill after it was put to voice vote by the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara. The promoters of the bill are of the view that if passed, it will tackle poverty and ecological problems in the region, and also propel development and rehabilitation of roads and other infrastructure in the region. They were led by Hon. Chukwuka Onyema from Anambra State. However, most members from the north opposed the bill. According to Hon. Sani Abdul from Bauchi State, the agitation for the commission was as a result of government’s inability to address the socio-economic challenges in the country, noting that “timing of the bill with the agitation for Biafra is suspicious.” Other members of the House from the north who spoke on this re-echoed this fear, while some maintained there were no wide consultations before the bill was tabled for deliberation. However, in protest, members from the South East staged a walkout.
The agitation for a development commission for the South East is not out of place, given the ecological problem and infrastructural decay the region has suffered over the years as a result of serial and criminal neglect of the region by successive governments in Nigeria. That it coincided with the period the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra has gained so much momentum is exactly what it is – a mere coincidence. In fact, the coincidence should have been the elixir needed to douse the tension and agitations in the South East region. With the rejection, another opportunity to cement the unity and inclusiveness in an obviously fractured country has been bungled. There is no doubt that ethnic solidarity took the better part of the opponents of the bill. In fact, watching the debate on television, it was obvious that it was the presiding officer, Hon. Dogara, that killed the bill. It was clear that the ‘aye’ votes were louder than the ‘nay’ votes.
A very important necessity for the establishment of the bill is the great injustice done to the South Easterners after the fratricidal civil war that for thirty months destroyed the very foundation on which the South East stood. The then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, had declared ‘no victor, no vanquished’, and subsequently came up with his 3Rs policy of ‘Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation.’ This was meant to reconstruct and rebuild the war-torn South East, rehabilitate its people, and reintegrate them back into Nigeria. However, this became the greatest fraud ever committed by the government against its people as there was neither any form of reconstruction, reconciliation nor rehabilitation. In fact, deliberately hostile policies such as the infamous ‘abandoned property’ saga were unleashed to further hurt South Easterners. There were also the post-war economic policies of the Gowon government – such as the twenty pounds given each person in return for whatever amount he/she had in the bank before the war started – which drained the South Easterners of financial capital to continue or restart their livelihoods. With little or no money in hand, the region was plunged into insufferable hardship and impoverishment as the people were left to feel the pain of being vanquished. This commission would have taken care of the injustice meted out by Gowon and subsequent administrations in Nigeria.
Indeed, while the destruction done to the North East as a result of Boko Haram insurgency is definitely incomparable to the enormity of the carnage and genocide faced by the South East, the Nigerian government is on the verge of approving the North East Development Commission. Apart from Senator Abdul-Aziz Nyako from Adamawa Central, Hon. Dogara is another person vigorously championing the bill. The same Dogara who used his authority to suppress the South East Development Commission bill that used his authority to push through the North East Development Commission bill for the first reading on November 15, 2016 in the House of Representatives. By January 2017, the House had already passed it and it was sent to the President for his assent. Though the bill was later withdrawn in February for more legislative inputs, it was passed again in May and it is now ready for Presidential approval. Meanwhile, the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) already has billions voted for it for the reconstruction of the North East, while the establishment of the Commission is being awaited. So why is the one on South East different?
The frustration and anger towards Nigeria among the people of the South East is not just increasing on a daily basis; it is beginning to take a frightening dimension. The near-total shutdown of the entire South East on May 30, and the rallies held across the globe on that same day are indications that things are beginning to completely fall apart in Nigeria. With the compliance of the people to the call to sit at home on that day without any form of visible compulsion or coercion, anyone who thinks Nigeria is still one is living in self-delusion. The people of the South East have felt for some time now that they are not wanted in Nigeria due to the series of injustice meted out to them. The government of the day, by its actions and inactions, is helping to perpetuate this notion. This is unfortunate. Any government that thrives on injustice does not have interest in peace. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
(The opinions expressed in this write-up are personal opinions of the writer, and do not in any way represent the opinions or position of AfriHeritage).