The House of Representatives rejected the bill to establish a South East Development Commission on Thursday, June 1 amid a rowdy session, forcing a hasty adjournment of proceedings.
The bill failed at the session, which was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, after it had been debated.
A similar bill to establish the North-East Development Commission had since been passed by the National Assembly, awaiting the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, South-East lawmakers immediately protested the decision on the grounds that the House could have, at least, allowed the bill to pass the second reading for more views to be collated from Nigerians at a public hearing.
Tension had built up in the House since Wednesday when the bill was billed to be moved for second reading.
However, it was stepped down on Wednesday because the lead sponsor and Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Chukwuka Onyeama, was unavailable in the chambers.
He returned soon after the bill was stood down.
The bill was re-listed for Thursday (yesterday), but again, Onyeama was unavailable just as the bill was to be taken and it had to be stood down a second time in line with the rules of proceedings.
But South-East lawmakers began a loud protest, insisting that the bill must be taken.
In the midst of the rowdiness, Onyeama reappeared in the chambers, just like he did on Wednesday after the bill had been stood down.
Dogara had to bend backwards to approve a motion for the rescission of the earlier ruling stepping down the bill.
The speaker said, “Let me clarify that it was not as if the bill was stopped. The sponsor of the bill was not around and we followed the rules to step it down.
“Now that he is here, we will take it. Nobody will shut out anybody because we don’t have the right to do that.”
Dogara calmed frayed nerves and opened debate on the bill.
Onyeama, while leading the debate, said the South-East geopolitical zone needed the commission to develop collapsed infrastructure and the damage suffered by the zone as a result of the Nigerian Civil War.
“The war led to massive destruction of critical infrastructure in the region, including roads, houses and environmental degradation,” he said.
Onyeama added that the region was worst-hit by erosion and other ecological problems.
The lawmaker stated that the commission would be funded from seven sources.
The first is through “15 per cent” of the total monthly statutory allocations due to member states of the commission from the Federation Account.
The second source, he explained, would be from “three per cent” of the total budget of any oil-producing company operating onshore and offshore in the South-East states, including gas processing companies.
The third source is from “three per cent” of the total annual budget of any solid mineral extracting or mining company operating in the South-East.
The fourth source will come through “50 per cent” of money due to member states of the commission from the Ecological Fund.
Five to seven of the funding sources are ”Such monies as may, from time to time, be granted or lent to or be deposited with the commission by the Federal Government or a state government, any other body or institution, whether local or foreign.
“All monies raised for the purpose of the commission by way of gifts, loans, grants-in-aid, testamentary disposition or otherwise.
“Proceeds from all other assets that may, from time to time, accrue to the commission.”
All South-East members, who spoke, including Mr. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, Mr. Henry Nwawuba and Mr. Toby Okechukwu, said they gave “100 per cent” backing to the bill.
Members from the South-South, led by the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, also supported the bill.
“Every zone deserves a commission because this country needs to be restructured. We cannot continue this way,” Ogor told the House.
Mr. Kehinde Agboola, who spoke for the South-West, said, “History will not forgive us if today we fail to support this bill.”
However, trouble started when all the lawmakers from the North spoke against the bill.