By Tordue Salem – Abuja
For the House of Representatives, there is no let off over the controversial National Water Resources bill which has pitched Southern Nigeria against elements in the North.
Even though the bill suffered a major setback weeks ago, we gathered from sources in the House that things have since changed.
Staff of the Committee told VANGUARD that “The National Water Resources Bill), has now been gazetted to be presented again”, he said.
He also disclosed that “The Northern caucuses of the House and the Senate, herdsmen groups and other Northern leaders, are pushing for the Bill”.
The Bill was rejected on Tuesday, September 29, by a majority in the Green Chamber, but the co-sponsor of the polarising piece of legislation, Rep. Abubakar Fulata (APC-Jigawa) who doubles as the Chairman, Committee on Rules and Business, quickly set back to business, to rework and reintroduce the Bill. One of the key sponsors, is Rep. Sada Soli(APC-Katsina).
The Legislative instrument which has faced a stiff opposition from groups across the country, it was learnt a few days ago, to be pushed by the Northern Caucuses of both Houses of the National Assembly, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, associated herder groups, Ministry of Water Resources and mostly Northern leaders.
The House was thrown into a turmoil on Tuesday, while considering a Matter of Privilege, raised by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu(PDP-Benue) to be heard on the contentious National Water Resources Bill, 2020.
Mzondu’s motion sought the withdrawal of Bill, owing to the public outcry against it and its breach of House’ Rules.
In presenting his Matter of Privilege, Rep. Mzondu cited Order 6, Rule 1(1), 2 and 3, as he argued forcefully, against the transmission of the Bill to the Senate and its finally becoming law.
According to him, “I wish to refer to Order 6, Rule 1(1), 2 and 3 and Order 12, Rule 18 to state that I was deprived of my legislative Privilege of sighting gazetted copy of the National Water Resources Bill HB 921, and such could not participate in the consideration of the report by the Committee of the Whole, which also deprived me of my rights and privilege of representation to my people.
“Mr Speaker, Hon Colleagues, it is in the effort to eliminate the “Element of Surprise”, that the House in its wisdom, included in its Standing Rule, thF every Bill, must be gazetted or clean copies circulated. It is important to note that the word emphasized here, is “gazette”, which means appearing in the Bills Journal of the House.
“The words used are clear and unambiguous, they ought to be given their ordinary meaning, as stated.
“Mr Speaker, Hon Colleagues, I was misled by the use of order 12, Rule 18 of our Standing Orders. Mr Speaker, Hon. Colleagues, it is an issue of law and procedure and Hon Speaker, the onus of interpretation, lies with you. Where the Bill was labeled as Bill 2020, it was not considered at such.
“The laws lay, on your shoulder to interpret these rules as stated in Order 7 Rule 1(7). It is important to emphasize that I have painstakingly searched through all the journals of the House, and cannot find where the Bill is gazetted and I stand to be challenged or corrected.
“The next question for your consideration, Hon. Speaker, deals with jurisdiction, whether the House such powers to entertain a bill, such proceedings become a nullity, ab initio no matter how conducted and decided”.
“So having not met this condition, I wish to move, relying on Order8 Rule 8 and the above stated rules, that “The House do rescind/expunge its decision of 23rdJuly, 2020, which adopted the National Water Resources Bill, 2020 HB921 to have been read the Third time from our records”.
His latter prayers were granted, after a prolonged debate from both sides of the legislative divide, as the Speaker ordered for the withdrawal of Bill.
“Fundamental issues have been raised by Hon. Mzondu. He has backed them up, with a clear language, that such bills, must be re-gazetted”, Gbajabiamila said.
While the Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep. Idris Wase who argued against Mzondu’s position, stressed that the Bill followed due process in its passage .
Wase’s argument, was buttressed by the sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Sada Soli(APC-Katsina) and the Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Rep.Hassan Fulata(APC-Jigawa).
Lawmakers, led by Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers), however put up a strong defence for Mzondu’s submission, leading to the decision of the Speaker to Order for the withdrawal of the Bill, for a fresh gazetting.
Recall that the same Bill which was earlier introduced as Executive Bill, was killed in the Senate, but passed in the House. The instrument, however couldn’t be retransmitted to the Senate for Senate’s concurrence, before the 8th Assembly lapsed.
The House resumes plenary on Tuesday to consider pending Bills.