Like a Phoenix, the controversy trailing the Water Resources Bill before the House of Representatives got a fresh life of its own as leaders and opinion makers from the Southern and Northern parts of the country were sharply divided at the weekend over the intent and spirit of the bill.
The bill which has already scaled second reading on the floor of the Green Chamber was introduced in the Senate at the 8th Assembly but did not scale through due to stiff opposition to it from a cross section of Nigerians.
While there are so many clauses that are beneficial to the development of the country in the Water Resources Bill, the areas of contention are clauses that tend to arrogate the powers of states and local government areas to the federal government.
Its reintroduction in the House of Representatives in the 9th Assembly is causing disaffection and unrest among Nigerians with.
But speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP at the weekend, the Middle Belt and Southern part of the country argued that the executive bill was designed by the authorities to spite their regions in favour of the North, especially the Fulani herdsmen.
Criticising the bill, they said it is a reintroduction of Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) Bill that was widely rejected in the 8th Assembly through the back door.
But leaders from the Northern part of the country welcomed the idea of the water resources bill, saying it was in the best interest of Nigerians.
The apex northern sociocultural group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said there was nothing wrong with the water bill which, according to the forum, is basically meant to consolidate existing laws.
Secretary-general of the forum who gave the position of
the forum, Alhaji Murtala Aliyu said, “The water bill is not new; it was prepared in 2006 and consolidated in 2008, with four existing laws which are not in conflict. The Waterways Bill and the Inland Bills are being consolidated in the water bill.
“We in ACF have studied the bill and we are okay with it. It has gone
through normal processes at the House of Representatives before it gets to the Senate. We call on Nigerians to have access to the bill and go through it with open mind and see if there is anything detrimental to the country”.
The ACF contended that the bill is such that usurps the powers of the minister and by extension the executive arm of government, even as it said the bill should be subjected to public hearing in line with the principle of fair hearing.
Aliyu noted: “The bill is designed to meddle with the powers of the minister in the use of water resources and no government will do that if it is not in the best interest of the country. We want to believe that instead of becoming sentimental by regionalising or factionalizing it, the important thing is to study the bill and come up with their own opinion”.
“Again, the Senate should do a public hearing and whoever has anything against the bill can go and bare his or her mind for or against it at such hearing so as to give everybody fair hearing and get their inputs”.
Also, immediate past secretary-general of the ACF, Mr Anthony Sani, punctured claims in some quarters that the bill was designed to protect the interest of Fulani herdsmen against their counterparts, especially in the Southern part of the country.
Maintaining that the bill has nothing that suggests it is to favour herders, Sani wondered why some Nigerians would allow fear that comes with mistrust and suspicion to overwhelm their intellectual ability and judgment.
He said, “Water is a natural resource expected to be commonwealth and its management should be for the common good. It is like oil, gas, solid mineral and even land, which is entrusted in the hands of the government, lest private predators in capitalist panjandrum corner them to the chagrin of generality of the people.
“And because rivers transcend states and regions, water should be on the exclusive list lest there will be controversies on its uses by different tiers of government”.
Sani explained that the water bill is intended to avoid problems arising from communities, states and regions through which rivers pass.
“The fear that because President Buhari is a Fulani Muslim the water bill is another way of helping herders is tenuous and amounts to vociferous bunkum. We cannot allow fear and mistrust that are transient to influence our judgment unduly. In any case, a Fulani person would not rule this country forever,” he contended.
But the Southern, Middle Belt and Northern Minorities Forum SMBMNF) opposed the Water Resources Bill, saying it is a conscious attempt to take over water resources belonging to indigenous communities.
“Any member of the National Assembly from South, Middle Belt or Northern Minorities who supports the bill is a traitor,” it noted in a statement signed by its President, Sidney Imohbio.
The Northern forum said the bill represents the promotion of a garrison structure which opposes the principles of Federalism.
It warned the National Assembly to be ready to face global outrage if it fails to drop the bill.
“This is a boldfaced attempt to steal resources of the coastline indigenous people who have no land but are water dependent”, the forum added.
Also, a leader in the Middle Belt region, Idris Achem, described the water bill as anti-people, saying if passed into law it will further pauperise the people of the region.
Speaking with our correspondent in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, Achem called for immediate withdrawal of the bill, maintaining that it is an attempt to reduce the middle belt zone into a mere pun.
On its part, the pan Yoruba sociocultural and political organisation, Afenifere, opposed the water bill on the ground that it is against the principle of true federalism.
The publicity secretary of the organization, Comrade Yinka Odumakin, said, “We will never support the water bill. We won’t support it because it is anti- federalism; it is against the constitution because the constitution of Nigeria recognizes the Land Use Act which vests the land in the state government, but for the federal government to take it over now, it is the subversion of federalism.
“We are against it; we supported the killing of the bill by the 8th Assembly. Now that it is being brought back surreptitiously, we stand tall against it.’’
On effort being made to ensure the bill does not sail through, he said, “We are talking to our lawmakers, to oppose it and we are talking to our partners across Nigeria in PANDEM, South South, South East, Middle Belt, they are joining hands to ensure that the bill does not survive.”
Similarly, a member of the House of Representatives, Jide Jimoh, promised to oppose the water bill if it is presented in the hallowed chamber.
“If they bring it again, even for the fact that I am still a member of the Waters Resources Committee, I will oppose it. I can assure you on that. We are still waiting; that’s what we are looking for,” Jimoh who is a member of the House committee on water resources stated.
Also, the Igbo apex socio cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, argued that the bill is an attempt to strip the South East of federalism.
Specifically, the leaders from the South East said if passed into law, the water resources bill may lead to the breakup of the country.
President-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, described the Water bill as a time bomb that is capable of disintegrating the country if passed into law by the National Assembly.
Speaking through his media aide, Emeka Attamah, Chief Nwodo noted that no ethnic nationality in the country would want to lose their ancestral land without a fight, adding that the whole country could be embroiled in the resultant turmoil if the bill scales through.
“The federal government should not forget that no amount of force can subdue the people’s will. This explains the refusal of Mr. President to change the service chiefs and the posting of soldiers to strategic places in the South,” Ohanaeze said, adding that the federal government should jettison the bill for the unity of and peace in the country.
Also, the youth wing of the Igbo apex socio cultural organization, Ohaneze Youth Council (OYC), rejected the water resources management bill in its entirety.
OYC said the bill is seeking to promote expansionist agenda of land grabbing, while depriving indigenous fishermen and farmers their sources of livelihood.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP, national president of OYA, Igboayaka Igboayaka, urged the Senate to unanimously reject it.
Igboayaka said it was rather unfortunate that such a bill was being introduced at a time the Southern region was demanding for restructuring and elaborate devolution of power concentrated at the centre.
He expressed concern that if passed, the bill would further deplete the resources of the states and local governments.
For the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the water bill is not “only despicable but draconic and imperialistic”.
PANDEF’s national publicity secretary, Ken Robinson, told our correspondent in Port Harcourt that the people of the Delta region were strongly against the bill.
According to him, the major occupation of the Niger Delta region is fishing, a trade they said cannot concede to the federal government under such guise of ownership control from the central.
The PANDEF spokesman claimed that if passed into law, the bill could ignite unimaginable crisis, and undermine the fragile unity of the country.
He stated: “The Bill is not only despicable but draconic and imperialistic. It is anti-people. That was why it attracted wild condemnation. And the 8th National Assembly heeded to the voice of the people by throwing it out.
“It would therefore be awful if the 9th National Assembly act otherwise and allow itself to be used against the people. We consider it an attempt by the federal government to divest Niger Delta communities of their exclusive control of the waterways, seas, rivers, and creeks in the region.”
Also, stakeholders from the Nine States of the Niger Delta rejected the water bill before the National Assembly, describing it as anti-federalist and an attempt to instigate violence along the waterways and creeks of the region.
The Bayelsa State legislators represented by Hon Tarri Porri and the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide described the bill as “demonic” and vowed that the entire state and their lawmakers will support all efforts to shoot it down at the National Assembly.
IYC said, “The presidency and the National Assembly have clearly shown that there’s a sinister motive behind this bill. That is why they hurriedly reintroduced it through the backdoor against the wish of the governed.
“What the country urgently needs is a bill that will stop corruption, strengthen our electoral laws and curtail insecurity which has become unabated under the Buhari government and not an obnoxious water resources bill.”
But countering the position of the Southern and Middle Belt leaders, a university don, Prof Jimoh Isah, described the bill as the best thing to have happened to the country in terms of revenue generation.
“This important bill in most countries has helped in shaping the conduct of the people towards effective use of water”, he averred, pointing out that water metering is key.
Prof Isah noted that of all the water everywhere, only 3 per cent is being utilised, adding that there is every need to regulate water usage.
The national chairman of the SOS Mandate, Dr Ibraheem Saka Ominiwe, and the national president, Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners Practitioners (AWDROP), Engineer, Micheal Ale, also expressed support for the water bill currently before the National Assembly.
Ominiwe said water resources must be regulated by the government but should be devoid of corruption.
He said the issue of borehole drilling has to be regulated but at no cost to the owners.
“Those interpreting the bill don’t even have the authority to do so. It is a pity this bill is coming at a later time because of the denigrate effect of the water and the consequences of our political mistrust,” he said.
Also lending its voice, the World Bishops Council (WBC) kicked against the water bill, alleging that there are ulterior motives behind it which are not in the interest of the people.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Osogbo, Osun State, director of Information of the WBC, Bishop Seun Adeoye, said he was in the vanguard of the rejection of the bill by Nigerians when it was presented by the last Assembly, just as he wondered what informed its reintroduction again after Nigerians had kicked against it.
Bishop Adeoye insisted that the sponsors and presenters had ulterior motives, which according to him simply was to secure the water sides from the North to the South for the grazing of cattle by herdsmen.
He called on Nigerians in the Middle Belt and the Southern part of the country to vehemently resist the imposition of laws aimed at favouring a section of the country on them.
But the House of Representatives clarified that the bill was passed by the 8th Assembly, but was not accented to by the president, which was why it was reintroduced at the House.
Spokesman of the House, Hon Benjamin Kalu, said by the rule of the House, all bills that were passed by both the House and Senate but were not accented by the president should be brought back for the progression to continue.
He explained that the bill was still going to the Senate, and Nigerians still have the opportunity of making their inputs to the provision of the bill where they feel they are not comfortable with.
The lawmaker stated: “The process of bill making does not end with the House of Representatives; it goes for concurrence at the Senate. Public hearings would still be held on it. So Nigerians still have opportunities to the bill on the issues that they are not comfortable with.
“It was not passed by this current 9th Assembly; it was passed by the 8th Assembly, but reintroduced as some of the bills that were passed but did not get the accent of the president, which is in line with our House rules. So, that was what we just did before we closed for recess.
“I am sure the Bill will now progress to the Senate at which point the Senate would concur. If they do not concur, or if they want to make any amendment, they can make any amendment.
“But Nigerians have access to public hearing on that bill before the Senate. Nigerians have opportunity to speak to their representatives and the Senate to take notice of their concerns”.
Also, the Senator representing Benue Northeast Senatorial District, Gabriel Suswam, said he was solidly behind Governor Samuel Ortom in his quest for the National Assembly to reject the Water Resources Bill, describing it as a bill dead on arrival.
The former Bunue governor, who spoke in Katsina-Ala during the official commissioning/inspection of projects in Katsina-Ala local government area by Governor Ortom, said the bill which originated from the executive arm of government was totally unacceptable.
Suswam said, “This bill is capable of creating confusion and anarchy in the country. Therefore, we can’t allow it to take off in Benue and the country at large.
“We at the National Assembly cannot fold my arms as the representative of the people to watch their water and land taken away from them. We will not in any way agree to that. So I am urging my people not to be afraid. Let us join hands together and support the governor to succeed in developing the state.
“The said Water Resources Bill, as I speak to you, is still a mere rumour. None of us have seen it. So, we don’t even know the provisions in the bill and I want to assure you that we will not allow that bill which is at the detriment of the general public to see the light of the day.
“The Land Use Act of 1978 empowers all the governors to be in-charge of land and waters in their domain. So, any move to repeal this law needs another constitutional review. I want to also tell you that the Water Resources Bill which was rejected by the 8th Assembly did not originate from members of the 9th Assembly. It is an executive bill which is anti-people and we will not agree on anything that has a negative effect on our people”.