By Jerome-Mario Utomi
If there are two events in recent times that reinforces King Solomon’s warnings thousands of years ago that when there is no vision, people perish, it is President Muhammadu Buhari led administration’s reintroduction of a Bill which was rejected in 2018 by the outgone 8th National Assembly (NASS, entitled “National Water Resources Bill, 2020,” on Thursday, July 23, 2020. The second is the questionable decision by the Femi Gbajabiamila led House of Representatives to reconsider this Bill presented by the House Chairman on Rules and Business, Fulata-which in 2018 enjoyed more burden than goodwill.
Also qualifying the episode as not only lack of leadership vision but a misguided vision is the media reports that 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.
To explain this fact, the Bill aside being considered by various public policy commentators as an unjust man-made code that neither squares with moral laws nor uplifts human personalities, this latest representation of the Bill by the Federal Government, which supporters of the government position in their slanted argument say seek: to establish a regulatory framework for the water resources sector in Nigeria, provide for the equitable and sustainable development management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water, groundwater resources and for related matters,is to Nigerians with critical minds an argument that does not hold water and faces a number of embarrassing facts but a sign that Federal Government’s attitude of listening without being attentive is still alive and active on the nation’s political shores.
What calls for emphasis here is that this is happening at a time when Nigerians still recall with nolstagia the strange outcry that greeted the first attempt to have the Bill passed by the 8th National Assembly.
Specifically, the Ijaw Youths Council about a year or so issued a release where the group among other concerns stated that; if the government should reintroduce what they referred to as inimical and controversial water Resources Bill which was formally stepped down by the 8th Assembly after much public outcry, Southern Nigeria people will do everything lawful to resist the passage of that inimical Bill which tends to colonise them. While adding that this should not be petroleum laws that have denied the Niger Delta people from controlling the petroleum resources in our land, the Group warned that that bill if passed is capable of causing a civil war in the country.
In the same vein, while warning that the above threat should not be characterized as a familiar music hall firm-as it`rings apprehension that the nation is having on its hands a situation that unless we repurpose our priority may constrain the nation’s key resource, affect a wide swath of people; depress the economy, and adversely reshape the socioeconomic well being of the nation, this author in two separate but related topics entitled; National Water Resources Bill: Crucial Issues and Concerns, published by the Guardian Newspapers (August 23, 2018) The Daily Independent Newspaper (14th August, 2018), Blue Print (August 17th 2018), The Peoples Daily Newspaper(14th August,2018), and another entitled; The Planned Reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill, also published by the ThisDay Newspaper(September 29,2019 and the Daily Trust Newspaper September 26 2019) among others, expressed concern that a peep into the controversial Bill reveals without labour that the greatest ill associated with it lies in its tendency to disenfranchising, and separating Nigerians from ancestral ownership of their water rights and handover same to a set of federal technocrats by confusing Nigerians with the fallacy that ‘’ownership rights to water’ is the same as water use rights.’’
Also, underlined in those separate but related reports(a position that is still relevant to the present discourse), is a belief by wide spectra of Nigerians with critical interest that the urge to have the bill passed is driven not by love for having the nation’s water resources judiciously managed or for the nation to develop agriculturally as claimed by the lawmakers, but by sectional and parochial interests as some pro bill senators in the outgone 8th Assembly used barefaced inaccuracies to mislead the Senate and drum up support for the bill.
For example, it has been claimed on the floor of the outgone 8th Assembly Senate that the World Bank is waiting on passage of the bill into law to “grant” trillions of naira to develop Nigeria’s irrigation infrastructure. This cannot be further from the truth. The World Bank would never and cannot ask a nation to dispossess her citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water as a condition for granting loans.
Another obstacle that confirms the bill as plagued however seems not to raise so much dust but could be costly in economic and political terms if ignored, is the asymmetrical support structure given to the bill. It is barefaced that virtually all the senators (in the outgone 8th Assembly) that queued behind the bill were from water-poor states and regions that stand to gain from the passage of the bill when passed.
Interpretatively, this lopsided support given to the bill looking at commentaries was fuelled not by the burning desire for the public good but for sectional gain. Glaringly as it stands, this trend no doubt has become a pernicious problem embedded in our administrative culture that will be too difficult to eradicate. And has also necessitated the question as to how the nation can redistribute lands from land-rich states to land-poor states since the bill if passed as it is without amendment could conceivably make inter-basin transfers of water to be undertaken by the Federal Government without consent from or even consultation from indigenous communities…exactly like crude oil and associated problems of mean, wicked and evil inequities.
The bill in the writer’s views has justified the fears by Nigerians with discerning minds that the Federal Government by this move to acquire more power may not be interested in the devolution of power as currently demanded by Nigerians or maybe paying lip service to the imperativeness and urgency of having this country restructured. Accordingly, the whole argument by the FG becomes even vaguer variable and ungraspable when one remembers that some of these items will be better handled and serves the greater good to the greater number of the people if left in the hands of the state, the local government or private owners.
From what Nigerians are saying, what has caused serious concern is that it was a similar Decree 101 of 1992 which is now incongruously dressed up as an act of the National Assembly (Water Resource Act Cap W2 LFN 2OO4) that robbed every Nigerian of their water rights as it was hurriedly signed into law by the then military Ibrahim Babangida as his parting gift to Nigerians.
Lamentably, this and other sordid laws from the Federal Government in the past has particularly left the Niger Delta/coastal regions in social difficulties with no good record for survival as their environment is daily devastated/destroyed, with their teaming youths unemployed while the communities are periodically dispersed by the flood.
Allowing this bill signed into law, will not only usher in a code that is out of harmony with moral laws but set the table to truncate the nascent peace currently enjoyed in the region while ushering in another round of hostility as the people are committed to peace by any means necessary but may not be committed to becoming the victims of peace.
To succeed in this assignment, the Federal Government must, therefore, be holistic in approach and practice ‘deliberative democracy. This will entail halting the ongoing consideration, in order to pave way for other stakeholders such as the Civil Society groups, Water experts as well as the southern states to fully make their inputs.
On their part, the lawmakers should remember that they are primarily representing their constituents at the two Chambers, and should, therefore, make laws that are people-purposed and also with a human face.
Utomi,( email@example.com.), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.