UPDATE: South West Development Commission Bill divides Senate

• Senators Bulkachuwa, Nwaoboshi kick, claim Amosun, others want to balkanise Nigeria

A Bill for an Act to establish the South West Development Commission, passed the second reading on the floor of the Red Chamber, on Wednesday.

The Bill, sponsored by former Ogun State governor and senator representing Ogun central, Ibikunle Amosun, on behalf of all the 17 other Senators from the South-West geopolitical zone of the country, however, met with stiff opposition from certain senators who claimed that the Bill could instigate the Balkanisation of the country.

Senator Amosun, in his lead debate, noted that the South West, which witnessed tremendous transformations in terms of social infrastructures and human capacity development in the First Republic under the administration of its pioneer Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was facing serious infrastructural decay.

He attributed the unsavoury development in the region to the ever-increasing population due to rural-urban migration, which he further noted has stretched the social amenities in the region while living standards continue to plummet.

The former Ogun State governor further argued that the proposed Commission would act as a catalyst to develop the geo-political zone by providing legislative backing to address some of the challenges in the South West.

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He said: “Mr. President, Distinguished colleagues, the push for the establishment of the South West Development Commission is an attempt to address the dwindling fortunes of the South West region by implementing a regional development plan, taking into consideration the region’s unique endowments, natural advantages and capabilities. This is one of the major reasons we are proposing the establishment of this commission.

”This Commission, if passed into law, will enhance regional integration which is capable of delivering the benefits of large economies of scale. It is my firm belief that this Bill will act as a catalyst to develop the geo-political zone by providing legislative backing to address some of these challenges in the South West, just as it has been done for other geo-political zones in this hallowed chambers.

”The Bill seeks to resolve issues of underdevelopment by redirecting Federal attention to the development challenges of the South West region which comprises Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo States. Issues which include, but are not limited to, Agriculture, transportation, health, infrastructural decay, education, environment, housing, industrialisation, water supply, electricity, commerce etc, which when addressed will have a multiplier effect of great proportions not only for the South West region but Nigeria as a whole.

”The Bill seeks to establish a commission that will mobilise the collective strengths, assets, and capabilities within the States of South-West Nigeria. towards achieving sustainable socio-economic growth and development that would result in the high standard of living and improved well-being for the people of the region to make it the preferred place of choice for people to live, to work, to visit, and to invest in. The main thrust is the attainment of an egalitarian, democratic and economically self-sustaining region that unlocks the energies and resourcefulness of her people for greater good and prosperity while assuring their liberty and freedom.”

Senator representing Bauchi North, Adamu Bulkachuwa and his counterpart from Delta North, Peter Nwaoboshi, however, dismissed the Bill as capable of promoting the Balkanisation of the country.

Senator Bulkachuwa said: “I have a completely different view about this bill. I rise to alert the senate, this chamber should not be the chamber where it would be pushing for disintegration in Nigeria. There was first Amotekun, now there is South West Development Commission.

“All the other Commissions that were approved by this Senate,  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), North East Development Commission (NEDC) were actually children of circumstances. North East was devastated by Boko Haram and all the wars they need rehabilitation. Niger Delta because of the oil exploration activities the livelihood of the people there was rendered almost useless they could not farm, they could not fish so the NDDC was created.

”I do not see a reason why South West Development Commission should be created because South West is the most developed subregion in Nigeria. Before the civil war, all shipping activities were either in Port Harcourt or Calabar but because of the civil war, all shipping activities were diverted to Lagos. Tin Can Island was built, Apapa Port was built and up till this moment, shipping has not reverted to Port Harcourt, or Calabar or Onne. I think this is going to be a very dangerous bill. It means every region of Nigeria will now be agitating for their own commission.

”I don’t support it and I urge other senators not to support the bill.”

Senator Nwaoboshi spoke in a similar vein as he cautioned that the Senate should not unwittingly turn itself into a platform for the disintegration of Nigeria.

He said: “If we balkanise Nigeria, we will be held responsible. What we are doing today, promoting regional Commissions we will end up balkanising Nigeria and every zone will have its own, including Midwest. We shouldn’t seat here and divide this country. The foundation we are laying now is the foundation to balkanise this country.”

Senators Emmanuel Bwacha, Ayo Akinyelure, Bashiru Ajibola, James Manager amongst others, however, spoke in support of the Bill.

Senator representing Kebbi South, Adamu Aliero hinted that senators from other geopolitical zones should bring similar bills to the Senate as he assured them of his support for speedy passage.

He said: ”Every region has certain peculiarities, the South West has its peculiar development problem, the same with North East, South-South, North Central.

”Every zone should present its own development agenda. The South East has its development commission. It is on this note that I am supporting this bill and subsequently every zone should come forward with its own because of fairness and equity. But the truth must be told that the South West is the most developed. Distinguished colleagues, allow this bill to pass so that you can bring your own.”

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan later referred the Bill to the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters, with a directive to report back in four weeks.

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