In this interview with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, Hon. Chris Emeka Azubogu, deputy chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, representing Nnewi North/South/Ekwusigo Federal Constituency of Anambra state, expresses optimism that though the South-East Development Commission Bill, had earlier suffered a set-back in the House, the House would concur to the passage of the bill in the Senate. The lawmaker also spoke on the 2018 budget and other issues that affect the development of the South East geopolitical zone. EXCERPTS
The Senate recently had a public hearing on South-East Development Commission Bill and we know that after the hearing, the Bill was read the third time and passed. What do you think is the fate of this Bill, since it failed to pass second read¬ing in the House?
We have a bicameral legislature and what this means is that if a House passes a bill, the second House concurs on the bill without necessarily going through the whole process of passing the same bill. In other words, if Senate passes it the House will simply concur. The South-East Development Bill was read first on the floor of the House and it did not scale second reading, and it is progressing in the Senate yet it is the same National Assembly, and we operate a bicameral legislature. So, if Senate passes the bill, it will refer it to the House for concurrence. So the bill has not suffered anything. The issue of South-East bill is on-going; it’s alive in National Assembly. We have one National Assembly but it is a bicameral legislature, and so what is alive in the Senate is alive in the National Assembly. All the bill will require is for the House to concur a bill passed by the Senate or for the Senate to concur to a bill passed by the House.
In the course of the public hearing, the President of Alaigbo Develoment Foundation, Prof. Uzodimma Nwala, urged the Senate to consider the inclusion of reparation to Igbos for the great loss sustained by the region during the Nigerian civil war. Do you buy the idea?
I don’t believe in all those things they are talk¬ing about because South-East Development Com-mission is about economic development of the region. We are not talking about Biafra. We are not talking about the civil war. We are talking about how to develop South-East geopo¬litical zone. Going forward, the war is behind us. That is my position; talking about reparation is a lazy man’s attitude. What I am talk¬ing about is the institution¬al framework to develop strong economic potentials in the South-East geopoliti¬cal zone, and not taking us back to the civil era.
How much was budgeted for infrastructural development in the South East geopolitical zone in the 2918 appropriation bill which has just been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari
The South-East zone has key projects in the 2018 budget. There are key infrastructure such as the Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu -Port Harcourt Express road, Oba -Nnewi-Okigwe and a couple of other subsidiary routes that were included in 2018 budget that are going to be over-sighted to ensure that work is in progress based on releases of funds. However, there is a hundred (100) billion SU¬KUK fund that was received and shared equally among the geopolitical zones and those funds are already disbursed and South- East got its own share of it. Other infrastructure development projects are power, health and Economic Free Zones. The power projects that are ongoing are the transmission projects and they are not standing on their own. They are linked up to other similar projects in other zones. Also talk of industrial infrastructure, Agricultural infrastructure. For instance Enugu, Nnewi and Aba are special economic zones that are already captured in the budget and based on the resources we have at hand and those projects will impact positively in the lives of our people. We believe that South-East no matter how it looks will have their fair share from the federal budget. However, it is important to note that federal budget does not represent national budget because you have to put up inter¬est on how our resources are being appropriated and how our projects are being implemented at the states and federal government levels because it is only when you compare what is happening in federal, state and local government levels that you will be in the position to take a holistic view of what the government is doing. We are looking at diligent and funding implementation of projects by the federal government. The primary duty of government is to provide enabling environment for business to strive so that unemployment would reduce, quality of life enhanced, infrastructure improved and when all these things are done we have a better society. That is why the infrastructural deficit in the country is worrisome and it is affecting productivity.
A recent visit to parts of the South-East revealed that some of the key federal gov¬ernment roads in the area are still posing death traps. What is your comment on this?
Like I mentioned earlier on the roads, attention has been given to those roads in the South-East. There was money that was borrowed to fund projects. When you borrow money you attach them to projects. So the SUKUK loan was borrowed from an Islamic bank, and it is attached to projects. It is a loan that would be repaid sometime by Nigeria and all states in Nigeria are given equal allocation, it is about $16.5billion. South-East has appropriated its own on those roads you are talking about. The contractors are there and when you go there you would see one signboard written ‘SUKUK projects’. The loan is attached to road infrastructure. For instance, on Onitsha to Enugu the road project is being funded by SUKUK; on Enugu Port-Harcourt, the project is being funded by SUKUK, and all these things have been done because government is borrowing money to make sure that infrastructural decay is being attended to. It didn’t happen today, it happened years back. So efforts are being made to correct it, and I believe that government is doing the much it can to complete work on these roads considering that we have excited from recession. The decay has been there for long and government is doing its best to improve on the roads. We are not giving excuses and all we are saying is that there is room for much to be done and government is doing its best to rehabilitate the roads. We are all doing our best to ensure that life is made easy for the citizens.