Leke Baiyewu, Abuja
The Federal Government has started to mobilise support for the controversial Water Resources Bill by lobbying members of the National Assembly to pass the bill.
The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, on Wednesday, met with the House of Representatives Committee on Water Resources, where the lawmakers openly aired their opposing views on the bill.
At the meeting, in a video footage which our correspondent obtained on Friday, Adamu said the government had engaged experts to sensitise Nigerians, especially the critical stakeholders, on the benefits of the proposed law.
Adamu accused those criticising the bill of being misled, saying many people were fabricating things about the bill.
“And because there are people that are gullible, they have taken it, and to the extent that it almost even became a security issue. I don’t think these people have done a good service to the country; it is a disservice,” he said in the video.
Adamu recalled that the bill was presented to the 8th Assembly and there was a two-day public hearing organised by the committee, after which it was passed by the House.
He said, “There was no issue at all until some unpatriotic Nigerians came out and gave it a colouration, a very bad and dangerous colouration, and tried to entice the people against all the good things that we are trying to do.
“So, we will continue to do that; we have been doing that. But like I said, for me, the most painful aspect is people being misled. But I will also say this: administratively, I will be okay with the status quo because all the laws are there; they are existing. But the unfortunate thing is that with this kind of campaign of calumny, the country stands to lose all those benefits that we are talking about.
“When I hear people say ‘throw away that bill’, I say ‘if only they knew…if you throw away this bill…if only you knew what is going on.’ We have even had a meeting with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and their attorneys general are looking at it.
“So, we are doing quite a lot and we will continue to do more, and this is part of the process and I am also ready to meet individual members. I know that community pressure is too much and it can influence the way you make decisions, but I also know that you will take decisions that are in the best interest of this country, no matter what.”
The minister also took a swipe at the Ijaw Youth Council for issuing threats on the bill.
The IYC had on October 20, 2020, vowed to cripple oil installations in the Niger Delta region over what they termed lopsided applications of the mining regulations in the country.
In a veiled reference to IYC, Adamu said, “I heard one Ijaw youth organisation threatening fire and brimstone. I said, ‘Oh my God! These people don’t even know that this Water Resources Act 2004 and the bill, they are the ones that are most protected by this bill because they are at the extreme downstream.’
“If things are happening and the waters from River Niger and River Benue are being truncated or damaged or diverted, the Niger Delta will not exist. All the freshwater is flowing – River Niger is flowing from Kebbi State; River Benue flows in from Adamawa State; River Kaduna and many other tributaries from the Jos Plateau and Mambilla – and going all the way and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
“If states are allowed and it is an all-comers affair or business, how can you prevent pollution and protect the diversion of the water at the expense of downstream users?”
Panel members divided over legislation
The member representing Zaki Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, Mr Mohammed Jatau, who supports the bill, noted that the majority of the lawmakers would determine whether the bill would pass or not.
Jatau said, “The idea is that the majority always carries the vote. There is no way you can bring a bill, no matter how good it is, and expect 100 per cent acceptance by the community you are presenting it to, and the National Assembly is not an exemption. So, the majority always carries the vote. I emphasise that this information is very key.”
Another member, Blessing Onuh, from Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue State, said only the government could convince her constituents to accept the proposal.
Chairman of the committee, Mr Sada Soli, who had previously defended the bill on the floor of the House, said that the states still had the opportunity to amend the bill.
Soli partly said, “I think this (bill for an) Act is just trying to develop the regulatory framework that the states will key in. Remember that the states are members of the National Water Council – all the states – which are part and parcel of this legislation.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had in 2017 presented the controversial bill – which seeks to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government – to both chambers of the National Assembly.