…It is Ruga through the back door – Tola Adeniyi
…Bill height of wickedness on the part Buhari’s govt – Uwazurike
By OBINNA EZUGWU
When the President Muhammadu Buhari government first introduced the National Water Resources Bill in the 8th National Assembly, it caused outrage across the South and the Middle Belt, prompting the the senate then led by Senator Bukola Saraki to kill it.
It had come as anger over the sudden announcement of Ruga Settlement scheme by the government, which sought to establish settlements for Fulani herdsmen in practically all the local governments of the country was yet to die down, and many were quick to allege that the bill was another ploy by the Buhari government to seize the nation’s water bodies and lands for the purpose of granting Fulani herders unfettered access to what is ideally the resources of the people in the communities.
Outrage over Ruga had led to its suspension, and the more independent minded Saraki led senate had ensured that the Water Bill never saw the light of the day.
However, with the coming on board of the more pliable 9th National Assembly whose upper chamber is now led by Ahmad Lawan, seen as a core loyalist of Buhari, the federal government has continued to find it easy with bills it could not push through under Saraki, and must have reasoned that it was time to return the Water Resources Bill for perhaps easy passage. The bill has now gotten to Committee Stage at the House of Representatives, a development that has irked many frayed nerves. Yet, the insistence of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) to form vigilante group that would operate all over the country has added fuel to the fire.
Now tagged “National Water Resources Bill, 2020,” the bill was reintroduced in the Green Chamber, albeit in breach of legislative convention and provisions of the 1999 constitution before the House adjourned for a two-month recess on Thursday, July 23, 2020.
Though House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, was said to have raised concerns over it by querying, “is this not the same Bill that generated controversy in the media,” he still allowed it to pass, with the House, referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders, 9th Edition, passing it to a “Committee of the Whole”, for third reading and final passage.
The development has infuriated many Nigerians who have accused the Buhari government of smuggling the Bill through the back door to use the current National Assembly to see it through even when it had already been rejected by Nigerians.
“The Water Resources Bill does not sit well with me. In a simple language, that Bill is trying to tell me that the stream in Umunaka where I come from in Ehime Mbano should now belong to the federal government. All my life, I have always known that the stream belongs to my people. Streams are not abandoned properties. Streams and rivers are owned by different communities through which they pass. Nobody has ever interfered with this since I was born,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, senior lawyer and president emeritus, Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga.
Uwazurike argued that it is pure wickedness on the part of federal government to have thought about reintroducing such a bill and called on the National Assembly to ensure that it doesn’t see the light of the day.
“Federal government has enough on its table already. We are even saying, reduce the burden on its table, but the current government is acquiring more. For what purpose? If they are interested in how people get their water, let them go and put borehole all over the country. But let me put it blintly, this Bill does not only betray the narcissistic tendencies of those behind it, it is pure wickedness on the part of the federal government to even contemplate bringing back the bill,” he said.
“The federal government now wants to dictate to us how to use our own stream, it will not happen. That bill must never see the light of the day no matter the machinations being applied. Right now, the National Assembly is behaving more like an arm of the executive, which is wrong. It should stand up. Look at the company and allied matters act, the amendment that just passed through. It has lots of defects, but they let it go.
“Now, all national assembly members must 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.”
The reintroduction of the Bill has inevitably rekindled the allegation of hidden agenda on the part of the Buhari government, but for elder statesman, veteran columnist, author and former Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria, Akogun Tola Adeniyi, the agenda is no longer hidden but open for everyone to see.
“It (the Bill) is nauseating,” Adeniyi said. “If governors from the South and Middle Belt cannot talk, it is their funeral. If members of the National Assembly from the South, the Middle Belt and Northeast, cannot stop it, then it is their funeral. That’s all I can say.”
Adeniyi said there is a tiny section of the country trying to run roughshod because they are united, while wondering why others cannot also come together to save themselves.
“A tiny section of the country is riding them roughshod because they are united, but if they (other groups) want to sit back and watch it happen, they they should bear the blame.
“There is no longer any talk of hidden agenda, the agenda is not hidden. It is open, they want to take all the resources of the country for just Fulani people to be able to graze their cattle. They want to say that every river in your village belongs to the federal government. There is no hidden agenda there, the agenda is open.
“Buhari wants to submit every river in your village to the Fulani, that’s all. And it’s not just Fulani in Nigeria, it is Fulani from all over Africa, since the same Fulani can enter Nigeria without visa and without passports. So, why should anybody be talking about hidden agenda? There is no hidden agenda, they are just bringing Ruga back through the back door, that’s it, there is nothing hidden about the agenda.
“But the issue is why should all those other people from the other parts of the country allow it to happen? Don’t they debate in their midst? Don’t they debate in the National Assembly? Are they there just to warm the seats? Don’t they have a voice? There are people from the Southeast, Southwest, South South, Middle Belt and so on in the cabinet of Buhari, don’t they have a voice? Can’t they talk? Is Ngige not in the cabinet? Is Fashola not in the cabinet? Is Aregbesola not in the cabinet? Why are they not talking? We should ask them why they are not taking,” he concluded.
In a statement on Thursday, Lagos based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) asked the National Assembly to drop the ‘illegal’ Bill as according to it, its provisions are not acceptable to Nigerians.
“We call on the leadership of National Assembly to immediately drop the illegal Water Resources 2020, which requires Nigerians to obtain a permit before sinking a borehole in their homes,” SERAP said in a statement via its twitter handle, @SERAPNigeria.
“We’ll challenge this illegality in court should the bill ever be passed into law. The bill also states, among others, that “the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions”. The licence can be withdrawn on flimsy grounds.
“Rather than addressing severe water crisis and improving access of Nigerians facing daily challenges just to access safe water for drinking and hygiene, the National Assembly is pushing to take away Nigerians’ fundamental human right to clean water.
“Yet, Nigeria has ratified numerous human rights treaties that contain obligations related to water and sanitation, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
Similarly, Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, in a statement on Thursday, condemned the reintroduction of the Billto the National Assembly.
Soyinka 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.
He said, “A roundly condemned project, blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions,” Prof Soyinka said in the statement titled ‘MLK’s Mighty Stream of Righteosuness,’ in reference to the late Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Fortnight ago, civil society groups, including the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) and Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), frowned at several provisions in the bill which would breach Nigerians the right to water.
For example, 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 licencee “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 – 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 – Entry onto land in furtherance of duties
(2) An authorized person’ may, at any reasonable time and on 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 waste water under any authorization.
Sec 131 – Non-compliance
(1) No person shall-
(a) use water otherwise than as permitted under this Act;
“The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness – is to become exclusive to one centralized authority,” Soyinka restated.
“It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitized rockery that cannot even boast of the water divining wand of the prophet Moses. If the current presiding genius – and this applies equally to all his predecessors without exception – had a structured vision of Nigerian basic entitlements, Nigerians would, by now, be able to boast the means of fulfilling even that minimalist item of COVID-19 protocols that calls for washing one’s hands under running water.
“As for potable water, for drinking and cooking, let us not even begin to address such extra-terrestrial undertaking.
“What next for the exclusive list? The rains? I declare myself in full agreement with virtually every pronouncement of alarm, outrage, opprobrium and repudiation that has been heaped upon this bill and its parentage, both at its first outing, and since this recent re-emergence.”
Soyinka said it was time to move beyond denunciations and embark on practical responses for the bill’s “formal deactivation and permanent internment.”
“Let all retain in their minds that, from the same source that preached the ‘streams of righteousness’ is encountered the promise of ‘no more floods, the fire next time.’
“In any case, let the promulgators of this obscenity, high and low, understand that the placid waters they think to control unjustly and grotesquely, will turn to be Martin Luther King’s ‘mighty stream of righteousness’ that will overwhelm and sweep them off their complacent, and increasingly loathsome sectarian, conspiratorial heights.
“One polluted stream of human existence compounds the next. A violation here joins forces with its tributary of resentment there yonder, all seemingly unconnected. Martin Luther King’s streams of righteousness turn into a mighty torrent of repulse that overwhelms the perpetrators but, alas, takes down much else as collateral, irreparable damage.
“That is the only cause for regret and – restraint. Hence our duty to position that anguished question frontally, and call the world to witness our open propagation of that challenge: Do future lives matter?
“Let Buhari and his myrmidons ponder that question in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds. They should not bequeath to future generations the harvest of the grapes of wrath,” he concluded.
In a related development that is equally brewing tension, the Miyetti All Cattle Breeders Association last week, vowed proceed with the formation of vigilante group that will operate all over the country.
Speaking in a interview with a national daily last week, National President and Secretary of the association, Bello Bodejo, who disclosed news of the formation of the vigilante group, said the outfit code-named Miyetti Allah Vigilante, was aimed at assisting security agencies in checkmating kidnapping, cattle rustling and banditry and must operate all over the country.
When the outfit was first launched in July, it was vehemently opposed by various opinion leaders in the South and Middle Belt, with Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom vowing to arrest any vigilante who dares to come into the state.
But the group proceeded regardless, with no word from the Buhari government signaling tacit support, and last week, Bodejo announced that the vigilante are currently in camps and would be deployed all over the country, “very soon.”
Many have wondered why the federal government which has shown discomfort with the formation of Amotekun Corps in various states of the Southwest, and vehemently kicked against the idea of Southeast governors forming security outfit of their own, will allow a non state actor trade organisation like Miyetti Allah to form a security outfit.
Reacting to Bodejo’s insistence while speaking with journalists on Thursday, Benue governor Ortom restated his warning to the Fulani organisation not to come to his state.
“No Fulani group will come to Benue State where I’m the governor; you people know that it is a lie, they cannot come. No room for vigilante group in whatever kind. When I confronted them, they said they would not use vigilante group of Nigeria. That one will not operate here,” Ortom said.
“We have our own vigilante that operates here; we have community policing in which we are recruiting now and livestock guard that take care of herdsmen in active support with security men.
“So, no single vigilante group of Miyeitti Allah will come to Benue State to make any noise here. For us in Benue State, we believe in the rule of law and we will jail them.”
Reacting in similar fashion, the Oyo state, Chairman of Amotekun, Gen Ajibola ‘Kunle Togun (retd), declared that the outfit will not cooperate or work with the Miyetti Allah vigilante group under any guise, insisting that Miyetti Allah is not the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has the power to deploy security personnel across the country.
Togun stated that deploying vigilance group across the country by a non-state actor is illegal and rubbish, adding that the people of Oyo State and indeed other southwest states do not want Miyetti Allah security operatives. According to him, Governors Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Adegboyega Oyetola(Osun), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), and Babajide Sanwo-Olu(Lagos), would not toy with the idea of welcoming Miyetti Allah vigilantes to their states.
“I have no business with Miyetti Allah Vigilantes. They are not a state. So, how can they come and have vigilantes across the country? As far as I am concerned, that is illegal, and I am not going to cooperate with them. Of course, I don’t think my governor, the governor of Oyo State, and I don’t think any governor in the South West is going to have them in their states”, he stated.
Meanwhile Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and Igbo National Council, INC have handed an outright ban on the deployment of the Miyetti Allah vigilantes in the entire South East while the Benue state internal security network has also warned it would not have anything to do with the herders.
The South East governors are billed to discuss the implication of this development on the security architecture of the region in their next meeting.