Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has given the Joint Senate Committee on Special Duties, Establishment and Public Service up till May 25, 2016 to complete work on the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) Bill and report back to the Plenary.
Saraki who gave the charge while declaring open a two-day public hearing on a “Bill for an Act to Establish the North-East Development Commission” in Abuja, lamented that what had been witnessed in the North East demanded special attention from all well-meaning Nigerians and not just from government.
The lead Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako, had in his opening address promised that the Committee would work assiduously to ensure that the report on the Bill is laid before the Senate and read for the third time on May, 25, 2016.
Following Nyako’s remarks, Saraki said that he would hold the Committee to its promise to return the report on the Bill to the Plenary on May 25, despite the fact that time is running out.
Saraki said that it has become imperative to pass the Bill on time to permanently mitigate the precarious situation of those affected by insurgency in the North-East.
“We must all rise up and say never again. We have seen families wiped out, children orphaned, incomes plunged below a tenth of what they were a decade ago. Families that have survived this onslaught have largely survived with little to live by and now rely directly on handouts for food rations.
“More than a quarter of the children in this area are either malnourished or in danger of malnourishment. Schools have become deserted and the social fabric of our national unity severely perforated in this area, threatening to create deep set divisions amongst us, fueling animosities amongst Muslims and Christians, leading to the entire economy of the region bleeding profusely. It is in this unique and dire context that we must appreciate the importance and urgency for us as a legislature and government to act, to restore hope and rebuild the North-East,” he said.
Saraki said that for members of the 8th National Assembly, the Bill is a National priority issue.
“It reflects our mandate to make laws for the good governance, peace and security of the entire country. The effort at this Bill, therefore, is aimed at creating the legislative framework to enable government provide the basic structures and capacities that will enable it rebuild the North-East.
“It will also provide an avenue for external collaborators such as international development agencies to make effective contributions towards the region; further ensuring internal stability, a base for restoration, rehabilitation and conflict resolution. All the aforementioned are crucial not only for the sustained future of the people of the North East but also for the country as a whole. This is a peculiar time in our history,” he said.
Saraki also lauded the efforts of members of the armed forces who through their gallant efforts have largely pushed back the insurgents from territories they hitherto occupied, preserved the territorial integrity of the nation and thus made rebuilding efforts easier.
He said the importance of the bill becomes more germane since the war against insurgency cannot be won by might alone.
“Thankfully, we can talk about rebuilding due to the remarkable bravery, patriotism and courage of our Armed Forces whose members continue to take the fight back to the Boko Haram. The insurgents have now largely resorted to sporadic soft attacks. We are therefore here to show solidarity with their gallantry and act like leaders of a united and indivisible nation.
“However, we must not forget that this war against terrorism cannot be won by might but through the hearts and minds of citizens who are certain that they have a secure and guaranteed place within the fabric of our society and thus choose to live and act in harmony towards collective growth. Thus, in making a conscious, collective decision to focus development efforts in this region, we are fostering a strong sense of place and rebuilding a positive, shared identity.
“It is my firm hope that your contributions to this public hearing would further enrich the bill, deepen our discussion at Senate plenary and help provide us the missing links if any towards the process of giving back hope, belief and optimism to our people that wherever they may be, their welfare and security will remain the central purpose of government.
“I urge you to make haste in bringing this Bill to pass. Every day we wait to take legislative action, we delay the opportunities that ought to abound within and from the North-East,” he added.
On his part, the Chairman, Joint Senate Committee on the NEDC Bill, Nyako said it is time Nigerians come to terms with the alarming fact that the North-East zone is rapidly deteriorating as a result of the insurgency that began in 2009.
“We often consider death as the most noticeable effect of this insurgency, but we need to look at our current situation holistically.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of schools have been reduced to rubble; magistrate courts that used to resolve communal conflicts have been destroyed; hospitals and small clinics that used to treat nursing mothers, children and the elderly are non-existent; police and law enforcement structures have been demolished; homes, markets, public parks and community centers are completely ruined; women, men and children fleeing their homes have been forced to take shelter in completely foreign communities; our fellow brothers and sisters have been murdered, tortured, raped, dehumanized and rendered homeless,” he lamented.
The Committee took both oral and written submissions from most of the stakeholders who attended the public hearing.
In his contribution to the debate, the Director General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Mohammed Sani Sidi, disclosed that over 800 repentant Boko Haram insurgents are currently undergoing skill acquisition training as part of efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.
Sidi said the skill acquisition exercise is being handled by the military and monitored by the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Also, while responding to the comment by a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Kaka Kyari Gujbawu, who called for general amnesty for repentant Boko Haram insurgents.
“It is not true that the Federal Government has no amnesty package. There is what is called safe corridor. I do know that 800 plus (Boko Haram) have been registered. I don’t want to be specific. They have exited Boko Haram through the window. They are currently receiving various skill acquisition training. The military is handling it. It is being monitored by the Office of the CDS,” Sidi said.
Gujbawu had in his presentation at the event said the NEDC Bill should include amnesty for repentant Boko Haram members because most of the insurgents were conscripted and forced to fight along Boko Haram members. He said that a second life should be given to the repentant insurgents.
He also canvassed that provision be made for Civilian Joint Task Force members who he said were used and dumped.
Gujbawu said integration in the form of employment should be evolved for the Civilian JTF members, who helped tremendously to push out Boko Haram insurgents from Maiduguri.
Responding to the observation, Senator Abubakar Kyari noted that the Borno State Government was already doing something for the Civilian JTF.
He said the State Government has trained members of the Civilian JTF under the supervision of the military and provided vehicles and uniform for the group.
Kyari also said the state government is paying stipends to members of the Civilian JTF out of its meager resources, adding that it would be wrong to say that nothing is being done in aid of the members of the Civilian JTF.