Guardian Newspaper Editorial
By Editorial Board
A recent reintroduction of the vexatious National Water Resources Bill, which was rejected in 2018 by the National Assembly (NASS) is curious at this time.
President Muhammadu Buhari, whose office returned the Bill, must have some inexplicable motive for pushing it at all cost. The surreptitious plot to ram it through the federal legislature speaks volume for some hidden agenda.
That Bill is suspicious. A Bill that is out to rob many people, in broad day light, of their means of livelihood cannot but attract resentment and condemnation.
It is inconceivable that indigenous peoples, especially, in the South and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria would accept to be alienated from their God-given water resources. The National Assembly would do well to once again, trash the Bill to save the country from avoidable conflagration. The representatives of the people had better let the sleeping dog lie to avoid another round of crisis in the already volatile polity.
The repugnant and detestable land-grabbing Bill, which obviously is suspected to grant Fulani herdsmen and Miyeti Allah cattle breeders unfettered access to land and water resources in Southern Nigeria, can only trigger national upheaval.
Coming at a time when Nigerians are clamouring for proper federalism that entails devolution of powers to the states and local authorities, the introduction of a Water Resources Bill by President Buhari, to further alienate the people is unfortunate. The president should withdraw the bill in public interest.
When the Bill was first introduced in the 8th Senate, it generated controversy across the country, because of its desire to have the Federal Government take control of lands and water resources in the country. The perception by the public that the Bill was a decoy to advance the interest of the cattle herding Fulani population was palpable.
Though the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had reportedly raised concerns over the piece of legislation, by querying, “is this not the same Bill that generated controversy in the media,” he still allowed it to pass. And the question is why? Why did he not shut it down knowing the gravity of the implications of the Bill if passed into law?
The Bill, entitled “National Water Resources Bill, 2020,” was arbitrarily reintroduced in the Green Chamber, in breach of its rules, legislative convention and provisions of the 1999 constitution before the House adjourned for a two-month recess on Thursday, July 23, 2020.
It was therefore shocking that on Thursday, July 23, 2020, the House had, in referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 9th Edition, passed the National Water Resources Bill, 2020 and committed it to a “Committee of the Whole”, for third reading and final passage. The presentation of the Bill was done by the House Chairman on Rules and Business, Fulata.
Analysts say the referral of the Bill to the Committee of the Whole breached Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House. Though the Order states that such a bill from a preceding Assembly be gazetted and clean copies circulated, reports say none of that was done.
The Bill seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) and the banks of the water sources under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies to be established by the Bill.
Section 13 of the Bill, states, “in implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”
Section 2(1) of the Bill, says: “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.’’ The Bill is primed for passage by the House on their resumption from recess next month, which is September.
Reacting to the secret plot to pass the bill, the Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), called on Nigerians to be ready for a protracted resistance to the move by the lawmakers.
The authorities in Abuja should not ignore the warning statement by the Southern and Middle Belt Forum on this hot potato. In their statement: “The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum calls on all the communities opposed to the bill, meant to grab land around waterways for cattle herders, to use the break time to organize community special sittings for their representatives to explain the meaning of this latest move and their roles in it.” The Bill, if passed into law, will clip the wings of state and local government authorities as well as individuals from making use of the water at their backyard without permit from Abuja. This development will engender serious contentions across Nigeria. The result would be water wars, which would be more devastating than the contentions over grazing land and even oilfields.