Water Bill Suffers Setback as Reps Stalls on Passage

Water Bill Suffers Setback as Reps Stalls on Passage

…Resolve to Gazette it for Reconsideration …Bill Was Not Designed to Cause Water Wars in the Country… Lai Mohammed The House of Representatives at its plenary on Tuesday withdrew the Water Resources Control Bill passed two months ago. Following the adoption of a Matter of Privilege raised by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu (PDP-Benue), the House unanimously

…Resolve to Gazette it for Reconsideration

…Bill Was Not Designed to Cause Water Wars in the Country… Lai Mohammed

The House of Representatives at its plenary on Tuesday withdrew the Water Resources Control Bill passed two months ago.

Following the adoption of a Matter of Privilege raised by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu (PDP-Benue), the House unanimously resolved to gazette the bill for reconsideration.

Mzondu argued that the bill was not gazetted and that clear copies of the bill were not circulated to all members.

He said that a 2020 bill should have passed first and second reading, be subjected to public hearing before its consideration at the Committee of the Whole House before being passed.

“My privilege has been breached because I was denied the opportunity of seeing the bill before it passed.

“The House Rules is clear and unambiguous, Order 12 Rule 16, 17 and 18 is expressly clear on the gazetting Bills.

“I therefore, move that the bill be completely expunged or be gazetted and subjected to public hearing,” he said.

In his contribution, Rep. Nkem Abonta (PDP-Abia), said that the procedure contradicted the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He argued that rule of the House was also breached in the way and manner it passed, saying that it should be withdrawn.

However, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Water, Rep. Sada Soli (APC-Katsina), said that the right process was followed before the bill was passed.

He said that clean copies of the bill were distributed to members who were at the plenary.

According to him, the bill is a consolidation of four laws which had existed for 35, 34, 27 and 10 years.

Also, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Rep. Abubakar Fulata (APC-Jigawa), said that the bill was first read on Dec. 19, 2018 in the 8th Assembly.

He said that the bill was introduced by the Executive in the 9th Assembly and was subjected to the House rules.

The Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep. Idris Wase (APC-Plateau), recalled that the bill was stepped down when members complained that they had not seen the bill.

He said that the bill was returned and members were all given clean copies before it was considered at the Committee of the Whole House.

In response, members of the House, however, shouted aloud in disagreement with the position that clean copies were circulated.

In his ruling, the Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabimila, said that the bill be withdrawn and gazetted for fresh consideration.

The bill amongst other things seeks to provide for management, equitable and sustainable use of surface and underground water across the country.

The bill seeks to provide a legal framework for the management and use of water resources in the country with the view to generate revenue for government at all levels.

Hitting a Brick Wall

Sending signals that the bill may hit a brick wall in the upper house, some Senators had earlier vowed to reject the controversial Water Resources Bill when it is presented to the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, told reporters in Abuja that even though the Bill is yet to surface on the floor of the Senate, it would not be allowed to see the light of day when it is eventually presented.

“We have not seen it in the Senate. When it comes we will reject as before,” Abaribe said

On her part, Senator Biodun Olujimi, said Senators would not support any Bill that may be injurious to Nigerians.

Olujimi told reporters during an interview in Abuja that Senators would stand up against any legislation capable of disrupting the fragile peace in the country.

She said: “The truth is that I am not aware of that Bill at all. However, anything that will injure our people, some of us will never be part of it.

“We will speak up against it when the time comes because nobody would be allowed to injure our people.

“We will not allow any legislation to ruin the fragile peace that we have in this country.

“We will not allow our fragile peace to be destroyed as a result of any political, personal or ethno-religious reasons.

“We won’t allow it because we are one entity and we must fight for the people of Nigeria.

“The Bill which is currently being treated at the House of Representatives would require the concurrence of the Senate and when the time comes, we won’t let it just fly like that.”

UNDEDSS Vows to Resist Bill

The United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy, UNDEDSS has vowed to resist the Federal Government’s move to amend the Water Resources Bill with every iota of its might.

This came barely 24 hours after the Minister of Communications and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed lampooned critics of the bill saying they are ill informed and insisting that the federal government will go ahead.

“This FGN must come to realise that no part of Nigeria is a conquered province, and that the erstwhile insults heaped on the Niger Delta must end forthwith!”, the Niger Delta coalition of action civil society declared in a statement issued by UNDEDSS Secretary General, Mr. Tony I Uranta.

“For too long our region has been the whipping boy of Nigeria”, the UNDEDSS statement reads, “Whenever any national leader wants to appear to be serious about the war against corruption, the focus is the Niger Delta, its governors et al. Then you will hear questions like, ‘What have you used the 13% derivative for?’ Nobody asks what has been derived from the 87% that goes to the rest of the country, even though over 95% of revenues come from our bastardized and despoliated waters and land! For example, recently the NDDC has come under unnecessarily excessive fire, not because its corruption is worse, but because everybody seeks to sweep under the carpet the comparatively obscenely humongous amounts being looted via the NNPC, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, the North East Development Commission, the CBN, the FIRS, to name a few MDAs being looted by parties close to Mr. President and the National Assembly Leadership!”

UNDEDSS continues, “We have said ad nauseam that we know that Niger Delta leaders are as corrupt as virtually all other leaders are, but that we expect that what is good for the goose that lays the golden eggs for all, must be good for the parasitic ganders that contribute next to nothing to the national GDP! Yet nobody listens to the region, not even our erstwhile friend the new Chief of Staff!”

“And, now, to rub insult into our injuries, the FGN thinks we shall let it take over our ancestral waters and lands”, asked a furious Uranta, “they may rig the NASS, but we shall call on every ally within and outside the country to resist these diabolical amendments! Many forget how far-reaching our tentacles really are, inside and outside Nigeria. May we never need to remind them.”

Mr. Uranta agonised that “Appointments are made onto bodies that exist ostensibly for the region’s good without inputs from our key political, traditional or socio-cultural leaders, and even the NDDC still has Board members who are not even remotely connected to the region. Yet, no Niger Deltan is on, say, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) Board, nor are strategically and adequately represented on the oil and gas bodies that owe more than 95% existence to the region! Enough is enough.”

According to Prof Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha of the University of Lagos, “The nation, or a regional block of the nation, has virtually been on edge over the Water Resources Bill that invests on the federal government control over water resources in the entire geographical landscape of the federation.

“Among other provisions, the 55-page document states: “the right to the use, management and control of all surface water and ground water affecting more than one State pursuant to item 64 of the Executive Legislative list in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and as set out in Schedule 1 to this Act, together with the beds and banks thereof, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act”.

“It further states that “States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the State but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and the Act”.

Managing Resources

“Now, what is the business of an insensitive and faraway federal government that sits in Abuja with the water in my hometown in Delta State? How efficient has the federal government been in managing resources of the country that it wants to arrogate more responsibilities to itself? How do the provisions of the bill cohere with federalist principles? In view of the widespread clamour for restructuring the country, how wise and sensible is it to introduce such an obnoxious bill now or at any other time? Do the sponsors of the bill recognise its contradictions with how we want to manage our political affairs?

“In the light of the failure of RUGA, is this not another attempt by a set of people in power to appropriate water as they have appropriated oil and gas? Why has the government allowed the mining of gold and other mineral resources without federal government control? Is the government bent on destroying whatever shred of national unity there is between the south and the north? What are the elected representatives of the southern States in the National Assembly doing to ensure that the bill is not passed?

Party Loyalty

“Are they playing the party loyalty game to the detriment of the lives and property of the people they represent? Why have they not followed the steps of the 8th National Assembly that threw out the bill as a piece of garbage from depraved land grabbers? Do they remember that someday they will return to their homeland now deprived of control over the power to sink a borehole without approval from Abuja?

Eghagha maintained that, “This is a bill that must be shot down with the necessary mobilization. Indeed, all the Houses of Assembly in the States that object to the Water resource Bill should pass an objection to the unitary tendencies of a supposedly federal government. This is both political and economic. It is the style of a conquering power to strangulate the people of a conquered territory. Not even the British went this far to squeeze Nigerians in the days of colonialism. But we now have a federal government that cannot secure life and property, but it is more interested in seizing and grabbing natural resources in one section of the country.

“Life in Nigeria is already difficult, made more difficult by the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the federal government. A government that has not been able to manage roads under its nose wants to manage water, above and underground! Who has cursed us with such warped thinking?” he retorted rhetorically.

FG Wears Blinkers

But the Federal Government has declared it will go ahead with the Water Resources Bill in spite of the barrage of criticism it has received from a large section of the populace.

Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed told reporters the bill was not designed to cause water wars in the country.

He said the bill is a panacea to likely water conflicts in the country. He said critics of the bill have either not read it or might be mischievous.

He said there is no hidden agenda behind the bill and that it is not a subterfuge reintroduction of RUGA.

Mohammed made the clarifications at a joint briefing with the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu in Abuja.

He said: “There is nothing new about the National Water Resources Bill. This is because it is an amalgamation of Water Resources Laws that have been in existence for a long time.

These are:

  • Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004
  • The River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004
  • The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004
  • National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004

“So, why are the laws being re-packaged as the National Water Resources Bill 2020?

“The answer is that they are being re-enacted with necessary modifications to bring them in line with current global trends as well as best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

“The overall objective of this amalgamation is the efficient management of the Water Resources Sector for the economic development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.

“The Bill provides for professional and efficient management of all surface and ground water for the use of the people (i.e. for domestic and non-domestic use, irrigation, agricultural purposes, generation of hydro-electric energy, navigation, fisheries and recreation).

Nation’s Waters’ll be protected

 “The Bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons.

“Critics contend that the Bill is aimed at taking the resources of a certain part of the country for the use of herders. In other words, the Federal Government is seeking to implement RUGA by subterfuge.

“We also want to state that the Bill is for the good of the nation, and has no hidden agenda whatsoever.”

Mohammed said the bill was sent to all the states for concurrence without any objection.

He said the bill predated the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“This was never a Buhari bill, it is a bill for Nigeria. It started 2008 long before the President thought of winning election,” the Information Minister said.

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