The Federal Government’s decision to press ahead with the Water Resources bill has drawn a groundswell of opposition from Nigerians.
Ministers of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, at a press conference in Abuja, yesterday, said critics were ignorant of proposed amendments and new provisions in the bill.
They said the bill was not new as it was an amalgamation of four water resources laws already in existence.
However, opponents of the bill said if passed into law, the Federal Government would not only deprive the states of the minerals and oil within their territories, but would take the only resource left for states to administer to the benefit of their people. Others also flayed the government for attempting to reintroduce the rejected RUGA in disguise.
But Mohammed insisted: “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. 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.
“It is not the intention of government to take over licensing and commercialising the use of water. This is not the intention, because the current Water Resources Act, 2004 (made pursuant to the Constitution) already makes provision for this. This bill is only trying to provide a framework for implementing that provision.”
Critics contend that the Bill, when passed into law, will clip the wings of state and local government authorities, as well as individuals, from making use of the water in their backyards without permission from Abuja.
Both ministers, however, said Nigerians could drill boreholes for private use without obtaining licence as long as it was not for commercial purposes.
“You can drill a borehole in your house to use without a licence. But, there are multinationals who are drilling water and bottling it without a licence.This bill is not anti-people as critics have made it to be.
“This bill only relates to the management of water resources that crosses state boundaries. The Constitution already grants the federal legislature this responsibility (item 64, Exclusive Legislative List, CFRN 1999).
“The bill does not apply to water that is wholly within the boundaries of a state. It also does not apply to land. It clearly states that land required by any of the institutions established in the bill will be obtained in accordance with the Land Use Act that is with Governor’s consent.
“Communities on River Banks are guaranteed undisturbed use of water as stated in Section 3 of the Bill. Also, all occupiers of land are guaranteed the right of abstraction for domestic and sustenance, whether by borehole or rivers. Section 3 reiterates the right of persons to continue to access water without charge for subsistence and preserves existing customary rights to water.”
Adamu reiterated that the “bill shouldn’t be a problem, but for some reasons it has become controversial unnecessarily.”
“The idea was to merge the four laws on water in the country into one. As a professional, I feel that this bill is good for the country and I directed that copies of the bill be sent back to the states to look at it. Some commented on it, some didn’t. The bill was approved by FEC and after it was cleaned up by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation. It was then sent to the National Assembly.
“The House of Representatives passed it, but when it got to the Senate for concurrence, that was where the problem started. There’s no subterfuge and nothing subterranean about it. This is not a Buhari bill. It’s a water bill for Nigeria..The Bill started in 2008; Buhari has nothing to do with it,” he said.
We’ll reject it –PDP senators
Regardless, senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have vowed to frustrate moves to get the controversial bill passed into law.
Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the ministers who briefed newsmen and insisted that there was no going back on the bill were ignorant.
He said when the bill is sent to the Senate for concurrence, like in 2017, it would be rejected as nobody could reintroduce RUGA through the back door.
“It is unfortunate that the ministers of Information and Water Resources were not former lawmakers, otherwise they would have known the processes in passing a bill. When a bill comes for concurrence to the Senate from the House of Representatives, we either agree or we do not give concurrence. It is rejected. So, trying to come up with such a story is very unfortunate. The ministers should first get their right information before fielding the public with incorrect information. The bill was rejected by the 8th Senate. I want to warn that they should not try to bring up that bill because it will be rejected again. Nobody can impose RUGA on us through the backdoor. Nobody will force RUGA on us,” he said.
We don’t want it –Ohanaeze
Ohanaeze Ndigbo also reiterated its opposition to the bill.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation described the bill as obnoxious, anti-people, unitary and totally against the tenets of federalism, disclosing that it would mobilise Igbo senators to resist its passage.
Acting General Secretary and National Publicity Secretary of the group, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga said any decision concerning people’s land should not be made without involving the states which constitute the federating units.
“We don’t know whether they have a different meaning of the word federation in their dictionary. If Nigeria is a federation, it means that there are federating units; that’s the states. The states and Federal Government should sit in a roundtable and take decisions. The Federal Government should not be lording it over the states. They can’t be making such a bill without input from the states.
“The Federal Government wants to take the waterways; what will the people own? Nigerians have rejected this bill. If they want to bring it back again, Nigerians will still reject it, unless they want to put the country in turmoil.
“However, for the avoidance of doubt, Ohanaeze Ndigbo is steadfast on its stand and we have continued to reach out to our representatives in the National Assembly. You can’t continue to lord it over us saying that there’s no going back as if Nigeria belongs to one man. We don’t even know whether they are thinking at all about implementation of the law when they finish, because a law you can’t implement is dead on arrival,” he said.
Middle belt forum kicks
President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Bitrus Pogu, described the decision of the Federal Government to go ahead with the controversial bill as unfortunate and capable of escalating crisis in the country.
“This decision is an unfortunate development. If they go ahead with this bill, there would be crisis because the Fulani would say, yes, the Federal Government has given it to us because it is now the government’s land. As those in the Middle Belt, we have always said that a large chunk of the Fulanis roaming our lands are not Nigerians. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government, which is Fulani controlled has imposed foreigners on us, and I am sorry, this is not acceptable to us. They are in government now and they have the powers to do whatever they want, but let us wait and see, that is all I would say,” he said.
Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere said the bill was a ploy by the government to create chaos in the country.
Its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said: “By saying that there is no going back, it means that they are hellbent on fomenting trouble in this country. The bill was rejected by the National Assembly. They should not join the executive to cause crisis. They should throw away the bill like the eighth Senate did. If this government wants to cause crisis for Nigeria, the National Assembly should not be enlisted.
“This bill is RUGA by another means. The reason the last assembly rejected it was because there was widespread outcry against it. It is a mad bill. Afenifere, Ohaneze, PANDEF, Middle Belt Forum have rejected this bill. We have sent a message to all representatives in the parliament. When the bill comes up, they should stand with their people and not with this oppressors who want to take over the whole of Nigeria,” he said.
Former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, admonished the government to realise that Nigeria is a country of almost 200 million people, and as such, should not pursue policies that tend to give one ethnic group an undue advantage over others.
“They cannot Fulanise the nation. They are trying to create an avenue to rugalise Nigeria. They cannot; that will not be accepted. The water resources bill should not be allowed to fly in the National Assembly. It is a colonialist bill, a bill to that wants to subjugate the rest of Nigeria to the Fulanis. That will not happen. Nigerian belongs to all of us.”
Elder statesman and Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who described the bill as an agenda by the Fulanis to take up other people’s assets, said it would undermine the unity of the country.
President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Sam Ohuabunwa, said Nigeria should be looking towards deregulation, true federalism and restructuring that would set the sub-units free and empower the people and not a bill that would concentrate resources in the hands of the Federal Government.
“I don’t understand what the bill really means. Anything that will concentrate resources in the hands of the Federal Government, i don’t think its the right move or bill now,” he said.
Charles Okorefe, Advisory Head/CEO, Kamany Marine Services Limited, also cautioned against the bill, saying it would lead to war.
“The Federal Government is only looking for war because it cannot go down well with all the stakeholders. What they are telling Nigerians now is that before you drill borehole in your compound, you have to seek permission from the Federal Government. That is the implication of that law. But Nigeria seems not to understand what they are doing because they are still playing politics,” he said.
National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA queried why the government said it was not going back on the bill. He said the government lacked the power to take people’s waters by force and urged government to be careful with the bill because it was bound to create problems. According to him, the essence of creating law was for the good governance of the people.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had earlier condemned the bill saying it would give the president absolute control over the entire water resources, both over and underground.
“The National Water Resources bill is a deliberate, flanking move towards RUGA colonisation. It must be resisted across board. No compromising or this nation is doomed since it will be resisted by any and all means,” he said.
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