...No true-born Yoruba leader will sell out his people for a pot of porridge – Pa Ayo Adebanjo
When finally the National Assembly resumes from recess on September 24, it could be to a stormy session over the controversial Waterways Bill which seeks to cede control of the country’s waterways – spanning the stretch of Rivers Niger and Benue and cutting across 19 states – to the Federal Government.
The states affected include Lagos, Rivers, Enugu, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi.
Although the bill was defeated in the Senate when it was first introduced in 2017, whilst Abubakar Bukola Saraki was still Senate President, the Muhammadu Buhari government is allegedly lobbying traditional rulers and other stakeholders, particularly in South west, with money to get their support for the bill and will be looking to reintroduce it to the upper legislative chamber when plenary resumes.
A traditional ruler in the South West had confirmed the move to BusinessHallmark, but declined to give further details.
The thinking within the presidency, observers say, is that with Ahmad Lawan, a Buhari loyalist at the helm as senate president and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House of Reps, the bill will get better chance of getting passed and the idea therefore, is to get the traditional rulers’ support in order to avoid rancour afterwards.
“I’m aware that there has been some lobbying going on by the government regarding the Waterways Bill, and possibly even Ruga,” a source who close to Aso Rock politics who preferred anonymity told Business Hallmark.
“The whole idea is to get the Federal Government to take control of as much areas as possible with a view to shifting population. And when we talk about Federal Government, of course, it is only an alias for a certain group with a certain interest.
“They are looking at using the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill and the Niger Bridge as bargaining tools, to say ‘we have given you this, now allow us to take that,’ which is quite ironic because it’s using the resources of the people to bribe them to take their lands. They see Lawan’s senate presidency as an opportunity to push the bill through this time.”
Indeed, Lawan had last month, hinted that the National Assembly would work out an arrangement to re-introduce the bill, arguing that it needed to be passed. The Senate had expressly called on the Buhari led executive arm of government to “re-present the bill to the National Assembly for instant legislative approval.”
His assertion had triggered angry reactions from socio-cultural groups such as Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere and Middle Belt Forum who argued that the plan was internal colonialism and another Ruga in disguise.
Spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, had alleged that the planned re-introduction was part of the agenda of a section of the country to dominate the rest.
“The Senate is working to discredit itself as a rubber-stamp assembly and going overboard about the execution of the domination agenda. They should be very careful,” he had noted.
“The bill in the 8th assembly was shut down, but now they have a rubber-stamp assembly in place. It is RUGA in disguise; the other day, the Senate President was calling for the amendment to the Land Use Act; it is part of their internal colonialism agenda. They (FG) have not initiated one thing that could unite Nigerians.”
Toeing similar line, President of the Middle Belt Forum President, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, warned against the re-introduction of the bill, stating that it was dropped by the 8th National Assembly because it saw the inherent dangers in the bill if passed into law.
He had noted that the bill, just like the RUGA initiative, was meant to hand over the waterways and surrounding lands to Fulani herdsmen, thereby dispossessing communities of their ancestral lands.
“We condemn it in totality. The 8th Senate saw the dangers and refused to pass the bill. The bill if passed into law would not only take the waterways, but also the lands around the waterways and rivers,” Pogu had said.
“Already, there are so many communities that were created deliberately around the rivers and waterways and many of the inhabitants are not Nigerians.
“It is just like the RUGA programme. It is meant to take over lands and deprive communities of their ancestral lands and the Federal Government, as in the case of RUGA, would give these to Fulani herdsmen and therefore compound our (security) crisis.”
Pogu had called in lawmakers from the Middle Belt region and other parts of the country to shoot down the bill whenever it is re-presented in the National Assembly.
PANDEF had also, through its National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, argued that the water bill would divide and further jeopardise the nation, emphasizing that it portends grave danger for the Niger Delta region.
“The proposed bill will further encroach on the land and other timeless heritage of the Niger Delta people. It is a strategy for dispossession,” he had alleged.
The anticipated reintroduction of the bill, has meanwhile, drawn the ire of many Southern leaders who have vowed to resist it.
Elder statesman and Afenifere Chieftain, Pa Ayo Adebanjo told Business Hallmark that attempt will fail, as according to him, no true Yoruba son will accept to cede his people’s ancestral land for pecuniary interest.
“I dont think any true-born Yoruba leader will sell out his peoples heritage because of pecuniary gains, not to talk of an Oba,” Adebanjo said.
“They will be committing a sacrilege if they try it. Thinking of it alone is an abomination against the land and no Oba worth his salt will dare the consequences.
“The government and its agents in the South West are just wasting their time. They will just collect their money and still obey their conscience. One or two turncoats, maybe, but the generality of the people wont buy it. It wont fly. They will not go far,” he affirmed.
It’s a view shared by President of Okun Yoruba Development Union, an umbrella association of Yoruba in Kogi State, Mr. Femi Mokikan.
Mr. Mokikan insisted that, “There is no way this Waterways Bill will fly, because no Yoruba monarch or political leader will work against the interest of his people and go scout free. It is about our land, remember there is ancestral attachment to land. It can not work. It is another Ruga game plan.”
For foremost Maritime lawyer and rights advocate, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), there can’t be any justifiable reason for the federal government to take over waterways or state lands as the case maybe.
“Why should a leader not see that the person closest to the land should exploit it? Why would the federal government wish to own land in Ikoyi?” Agbakoba wondered.
“The only reason is that these were crown lands bequeathed to the colonial government of Lagos by Her Majesty, the Queen. But that’s a long time ago. What is the federal government doing in Lagos? Nothing.
“If I were a leader, I would allow Lagos State to take its land. I don’t need Ikoyi, I don’t need Apapa. Lagos will develop it more. The federal government shouldn’t own anything. It should own policy,” he said.
Alfred Ilenre of the Minority Rights Agenda also noted that, The bill in the 8th assembly was shut down, because they knew it was divisive and imbued with ulterior motive. Like in 2017, I can assure you it will not see the light of day. It is RUGA in disguise.”
Similarly, Aremo Oladotun Hassan, President, Yoruba Council of Youths pointed out that the bill s anti federalism and its intention is suspect.
“We are aware of the plans around the Waterways Bill, but I cannot say how they are interacting with the traditional rulers because in Yoruba land, there is a limit to how you can intervene when it comes to royal fathers and the government,” he said.
“But we continue to insist on decentralisation of our administration processes. We cannot be talking about decentralisation and the federal government is moving in the opposite direction. The waterways should remain under the prerogative of state governments. We will not accept any attempt by the federal government to take them over under any guise.”
Hassan wondered why the Buhari government continues to pursue policies that tend to have ethnic coloration even as the country is reeling from ethnic tension.
“This has been a major issue and there are suggestions that it could be a means to annex people’s lands through the instrumentality of the federal government for a certain agenda. We must not continue to give this impression by continuing to pursue policies that are parochial or intended to serve ethnic purposes. It is killing our nation,” he said.
“We frown totally at that bill. It is anti development. We are not even running a federal state; we are running a unitary, parochial system of government. It is as if the present administration is attempting to annex the whole country but it will not work.
“The federal government attempt to take over the waterways is highly insensitive. It should not even come up considering where we are as a nation, but it’s unfortunate that the present administration doesn’t seem to care about people’s feelings, but just what they want to achieve for themselves.”
Also opposing the move, Chief Abia Onyike, political analyst and former Commissioner of Information in Ebonyi State, argued that the bill cannot be allowed to stand. Onyike noted that Nigeria is a country of diverse cultures and ethnicity, and that each group survives by the resources available in their environment.
“Nigeria is a federation; we have always stood for a genuine federation that is based on regional autonomy. You cannot come with a policy as federal government and impose it on all the federating units. The federal legislature cannot be making law for the good governance of the regions,” Onyike said.
“Our regions are supposed to be autonomous because our cultures are different; our religions are different, our economic organisations are different. Nigeria is a large and complex country, there is no way somebody will stay at the centre and be making a law that will compel the entire country to do his wil; that is dictatorship.
“You can’t stay in Abuja and impose a bill that will seize the waterways in the various ethnic nations and federating units, that is maximum dictatorship. It’s unheard of, because you are trying to destroy the economic life of the various peoples that make up federation.
“A genuine federation is such that each unit will organise their lives around their resources. I don’t buy it and no genuine federalist will buy it. We don’t even know the motive, whether they want to overrun the entire country, dominate it and threaten the life of people. If they are making such laws, they should make it for themselves in their own regions.”
Onyike regretted, however, that federal lawmakers have continued to disappoint the people by not standing with them. He expressed concern over the ability of the lawmakers to reject the bill if and when presented to them.
“But unfortunately, our lawmakers at the national level are a huge disappointment. They are not representing us well,” he said.
“The national assembly members are not with the people, you can hardly talk to them on any issue. You can even start from Ruga and the issue of Fulani herdsmen attacks in Southern Nigeria; our national assembly members have never spoken against it. They have turned their backs on the people.”
BusinessHallmark contacted Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe to comment on the development, but he noted that the National Assembly is on vacation, and will deal with any matter presented to it when plenary resumes.
“The Senate is presently on vacation. When we resume, then one can discuss matters that are presented on the floor of the Senate,” he said.