President Buhari

The reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill in the National Assembly has inevitably provoked anger and outrage amongst Nigerians, particularly in the south, and rekindled the allegation of a hidden agenda by the President Buhari government to expropriate the resources of the south for the benefit of his Fulani kinsmen, who are, among others, facing dire environment challenges in their quest to sustain their nomadic cattle rearing businesses.

For years, the growth rate of desertification has continued to endanger economic life in the far north of the country, and this is now exacerbated by security threats, and resulting in the increasing push southward by the herdsmen. This in turn has become a major source of insecurity in the country, following frequent clashes between them and farming communities. But as pathetic and disconcerting as this may be, it is not an excuse to dispossess other Nigerians, especially in the south and Middle Belt, of their communal and ancestral inheritance.

It is simply an attempt at robbing Peter to pay Paul and this newspaper considers it insensitive, provocative, divisive and unjust. The standard of lawmaking by the government is that it should be fair, just and beneficial to all. Law should never be made to address the interest of a section or group of people to the detriment of others – even the majority. Any law that strives to advance sectional or group interest is obnoxious, ungodly, and repugnant to natural justice and equity.

When the government first introduced the Bill in the 8th National Assembly, it caused uproar across the South and the Middle Belt, prompting the senate then led by Senator Bukola Saraki to drop it. This was not surprising or unexpected because of the sectional nature and discriminatory orientation of the bill. Water as a natural resource is simply more abundant in the south and Middle Belt, and the government’s attempt to control it obviously should arouse suspicious given the previous hegemonic actions of this government.

Coming on the heels of the botched attempt to introduce the Ruga Settlement scheme, which had sought to establish settlements for Fulani herdsmen in practically all the local governments of the country, many people were quick to allege that the bill was another ploy by the Buhari government to seize the nation’s water bodies to grant Fulani herders unfettered access to what is ideally the resources of the people in the communities.

Before Ruga, there was also the Open Grazing Bill that wanted to create some reserved routes for the herdsmen to move from the north to the south unhindered. Again, public outcry led to its abandonment. So there has been sufficient intention by the government to introduce legislation meant to favour the herdsmen, contrary to the constitution and natural justice. In the past, the introduction of the Water Bill, in particular, had apparently been frustrated by the more independent-minded NASS led by Saraki.

However, time seems to have changed with a clearly more pliant NASS that is ready to do the bidding of the administration. Accordingly, the bill was reintroduced on Thursday, July 23, 202 and is now at the Committee Stage in the House of Representatives.

Although House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, had, upon its introduction, made a show of querying it by saying, “Is this, not the same Bill that generated controversy in the media before,” referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders, 9th Edition, he however still allowed it to pass first and second readings.

The development has infuriated many Nigerians who have accused the Buhari government of once again smuggling in the Bill through the back door and then proceeding to use the current National Assembly to see it through even when it had already been rejected by NASS and Nigerians.

In particular, critics and opponents find some sections of the bill very disagreeable and offensive. For instance, Section 98 of the bill states that “the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions.” Section 107 says that a licence may be cancelled if the licensee “fails to make beneficial use of the water.” Section 120 makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.

Other controversial provisions in the bill include Sec. 104 on “Emergency powers” in case of shortage of water; (1) (b) direct a person who has a supply of water in. excess of his needs for domestic purposes to reduce the amount he is permitted to abstract under the terms of any licence or general authorization. Sec. 125 (2) says “An authorized person’ may, at any reasonable time and on the production of their identity card or other instrument or certificate of designation if so required, enter a property with the necessary persons, vehicles, equipment and material in order to carry out routine inspections of the use of water or disposal of wastewater under any authorization.

Sec 131 – Non-compliance states that(1) No person shall- (a) use water otherwise than as permitted under this Act; This newspaper shares the position of  Prof. Wole Soyinka, who in a recent statement condemning the Bill, warned that the bill, if passed into law, would hand the president “absolute control over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground”.

Continuing, the Nobel laureate had quipped: “The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness – is to become exclusive to one centralized authority.”  This is true, a ‘season of anomie.’

Streams are not abandoned properties. Streams and rivers are customarily owned and maintained by different communities through which they pass.

It is inconceivable that the government would wish to control both land and water, leaving the people as strangers and tenants in their ancestral communities that had indeed existed before and predated the coming into being of the country as we know it today. It smacks of a conquest mentality and hegemonic imposition. Besides, the Federal government has enough on its table already.

On the flip side, it is to be noted that the growing clamour for the restructuring of the country is based on the premise that the federal government already has too many functions to deal with and that there is a need to reduce or decentralize powers to the other levels of government. The federal government has 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative List against the 38 it had in the First Republic, and this has been one of the core factors responsible for the lack of development and poor performance in the overall governance arena in the country.

In the view of this newspaper, it is imperative now that all national assembly members stand up and speak for the people they represent. They don’t represent the federal government, they represent their various constituencies. And these constituencies will bear the burden of any bad legislation they allow to pass. We are saying no to the Water Resources Bill.

Indeed, several issues about the bill raise serious questions about its motive and necessity. The defenders of the bill talk about clashes and conflicts over water bodies in the country. Even with such challenges, it is defeatist to solve a problem by creating a bigger one; or by denying and depriving people of their fundamental right to property.

This newspaper joins its voice with those against this bill and urges that NASS does the needful and shoots it down. This is their natural and constitutional responsibility to do as representatives of the people who have clearly risen as one man to oppose it. To pass the bill under whatever guise is to betray their mandate and mortgage the interests of their people whom they represent.

You have done it before with Open Grazing; you have to do it again. There are more important legislative demands such as the PIB, electoral Act and constitution review to waste any further time on this ill-fitting proposition.