• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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The National Water Resources Bill 2020: Obnoxious and against national unity!

National Water Bill is anti-federalism, president Ijaw Community Law Centre, tells NASS

As leaders of the National Assembly, it is important that the Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila appreciate and understand that their actions and inactions can result in crises of unimaginable consequences. Being in the same party with the President should not mean an abdication of their vital responsibilities to Nigerians, old and young, born and unborn. Rather than leading a National Assembly for Nigerians, they seem to be leading one that can be best described as a rubber-stamp of the Executive.

With almost all requests and bills from the President accepted and pushed through, what then is the role of the National Assembly under Lawan and Gbajabiamila? Will it not be better to scrap the National Assembly and save the billions allocated to them, a friend queried! To discountenance this growing perception of leading a docile 9th National Assembly, it might be important for Nigerians to know the bills and requests from the President that have been rejected by the National Assembly. One of such bills that should be roundly rejected is the current National Water Bill 2020 which the House of Representatives on Thursday July 23rd, 2020 shockingly referred to the “Committee of the Whole” for third reading and final passage. Interestingly this is the same bill that was rejected by the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of Yakubu Dogara and Bukola Saraki!

Expectedly finding solace and accomplices in Gbajabiamila and Lawan, the contentious water bill was most surprisingly represented to the 9th Assembly. What is even more shocking is the way Gbajabiamila allowed the bill to go through. Whereas he clearly recalled that it was the same divisive and retrogressive bill that was presented and rejected during the 8th National Assembly, he for reasons best known to him or possibly hypnotised allowed the bill easy passage. Utilising Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 9th edition but in breach of the House rules and provisions of the 1999 constitution, the bill was brazenly reintroduced and referred to the “Committee of the Whole” for third reading and final passage on July 23rd 2020 just before the House adjourned for a two-month break.

But what is the “National Water Resources Bill 2020? It is a bill that seeks to place all water resources and the banks of water sources including surface and underground sources under the control of the Federal Government and its agencies that will be established under the act. Maintaining that “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs is a common resource”, the suspicion of the bill is clearly stated in Section 13 which states as follows- “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’’

Reading through the bill, one is left not only shocked but pushed to agree to the perception that some people are really working against Nigeria or pushing Nigeria into an irreversible crisis. Moreover, coming at a time when the Nation is intensely polarised along religious and ethnic lines caused mainly by the actions and inactions of the Federal Government, the insensitivity of the Government and leaders to our peculiarities and expectations is sad. While it is glaringly clear that the Federal Government is exponentially failing in her efforts to dominate and micro manage Nigeria through the 68 items in the exclusive legislative list, one wonders why the same weak government is frantically working hard to grab more powers through bills such as this irritating water bill.

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Where does one begin! While the support for devolution of powers or restructuring of Nigeria is on the increase across all the geo-political zones of the country, the Federal Government is working hard to concentrate more powers at the centre. Are our leaders really from Nigeria and what is their agenda, another friend queried? How can the federal government be thinking of controlling all the water resources in the country when the much in her control has caused more of a crisis and underdevelopment than sustainable development. This seems to be an advanced RUGA Bill where the Federal Government can now decide who will fetch water in a village stream! Rather than focus on how to embed competition for development through the transfer of some items from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent and residual lists, the APC led Federal Government prefers to further entrench competition for power through retrogressive and anti-development bills such as the current water bill.

In examining the water bill and others such as the CAMA 2020 act particularly section on the powers of the government to remove the trustees of a non-governmental organisation such as a church, it is important to remind the Federal Government that the essence of government is to advance the wishes and aspirations of majority of Nigerians. It is difficult to understand why the Federal government believes that a farmer in Oron in Akwa Ibom or Akoko in Ondo State should get permission from a Minister or agency of the government in Abuja before he or she can make use of a stream in his village. As the passage of the bill will mean the total abdication of rights and privileges of Nigerians to use their ancestral resources, all efforts must be made to reject the bill.

This will require the concerted efforts of all well-meaning Nigerians to voice their opposition and rejection of the bill. Three groups that their contribution will be most needed are the media, traditional rulers and religious leaders. With a combined effort, the citizens will be properly sensitized to demand from their representatives at the National Assembly to either reject the bill or be recalled. The PMB government should be reminded that Nigeria is immensely blessed with abundant human and natural resources that requires only foresightedness and inclusive leadership to achieve double digit sustainable growth and development rather than the present approach of undue control, divisiveness, exclusion, tension and domination which will do no one or group any good!

Dr. Ngwu, is an Economist/Associate Professor of Strategy, Risk Management & Corporate Governance, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- [email protected]