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Water Resources Bill returns to National Assembly

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By OBINNA EZUGWU

The reintroduction, for the umpteenth time, of the controversial Water Resources Bill by the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government to National Assembly, has triggered another wave of angry reactions, with Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom once again, describing it as an “evil” attempt at land grab which must not be allowed to succeed.

The controversial Water Resources Bill which was first introduced by the Buhari government to the Senator Bukola Saraki led 8th Assembly in 2017, caused a stir, as many Nigerians opposed it, alleging that it was a plot by the Buhari government to grab lands from indigenous Nigerians to resettle Fulani herders.

The Bill, which seeks to cede the country’s water bodies and up to 18km of land after river banks to the federal government, was described by many as a plot to reintroduce an earlier rejected audacious Ruga settlement scheme, which sought to create settlement for Fulani herdsmen in every local council in the country, as a way of solving the problem of incessant attacks on communities by suspected herders.

The outrage from sociocultural groups such Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, the Middle Belt Forum, PANDEF, among other groups and individuals, had compelled the eight senate to throw out the bill.

However, while many Nigerians thought that nothing again would be heard about the bill, it was introduced as an Executive Bill and secretly passed in 2020, a development that jolted many.

Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, had moved a motion on July 23, 2020, calling for the reopening of 11 bills, including the water resources bill, not passed by the eighth Assembly.

Fulata had prayed that the bills be withdrawn from the committees they were referred to and considered by the Committee of the Whole, as the panels had failed to meet their deadlines. The motion was unanimously adopted.
And in an interview on September 7, 2020, Fulata described the passage of the bill as a done deal, saying the process would not be reversed.

However, when the public got wind of it, many called for its withdrawal, with Benue State governor, Ortom describing it as “evil bill,” while vowing to lead protest against it.

When the matter eventually came up on the floor of the house on Tuesday September 29, 2020, members of the House from the core North and their counterparts from the South and North Central engaged in a shouting match,

Members of the House, mostly from the South had raised various legal and procedural issues on the bill, arguing that it be withdrawn and properly gazetted for debate. But their argument was opposed by members from the North who insisted that passage of the bill was a done deal and could not be reversed.

The clash began when a member from Benue State, Mr. Bem Mzondu, raised a point of order, under Order 6 Rule 1(2) and (3), alleging that his legislative privilege was breached as the bill did not follow the due process and that a copy was not made available to him.

Ruling on the matter, Gbajabiamila pointed out that matters of privilege were not meant to be debated, but he allowed comments due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Speaker had recalled how accelerated passage of the controversial Control of Infectious Diseases Bill was met with stiff resistance by members of the public, forcing the House to reverse the process and subject it to a public hearing. Subsequently, nothing was heard about the bill.

But on Wednesday, last week, chairman of house committee on water resources, Sada Soli, reintroduced to the House of Representatives as an executive bill, a move Ortom, among others, have once again, risen up against. While presenting the bill, he said that it was necessary because of the benefits it offers the nation.

Reminded by the Speaker that there was angry opposition to the bill before on allegations of land grabbing for the Fulani, SADA Solo assured that he would withdraw the bill if there was opposition to it.

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The Benue governor who spoke at the flag-off of the distribution of seedlings in Makurdi at the weekend, decried the agenda of the federal government to seize land from the 36 states of the federation. The governor said categorically that Benue will not surrender its land in whatever guise to the Federal Government.

“Let me say emphatically that there will be no Water Resources Bill in Benue State; we will resist it, if other states encourage it, here in Benue we will not accept it,” Ortom said.

“The other time they brought water resources bill we said no, now they are bringing the evil bill again, it is evil plan to take over waterways.’

“Land use Act is clear about this that land belongs to people and it is entrusted to the state governor and I promise that no one will come to Benue to seize our land.”

Similarly, Chief Tola Adeniyi veteran columnist and former managing director of the Daily Times of Nigeria, described the bill as Ruga settlement through the back door.

Adeniyi restated that the bill was unacceptable and must be rejected, even as he said it is an attempt by the government to smuggle the rejected Ruga policy, which sought to create settlements for Fulani herdsmen across the country, through the back door.

“It (the Bill) is nauseating. 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,” he noted.

According to the elder statesman, 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.”
Asked if he suspects hidden agenda by the government, Adeniyi said the agenda is no longer hidden, but open for all to see.

“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 a certain 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,” Adeniyi said.

“Buhari wants to submit every river in your village to his people, that’s all. And it’s not just his people in Nigeria, it is those 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.”

Recall that Afenifere, middle forum and PANDEF under the aegis of Southern and Middle Belt leaders forum (SMBLF), among other groups, had strongly objected to the bill when it was introduced in the 8th Assembly, and subsequently when it was reintroduced in 2020.

The SMBL had in a statement, said “The bill is so dangerous as it seeks to convert waterways to RUGA facilities for the Federal Government.
“The bill seeks to give 18km after river banks to the Federal Government when in a state like Lagos you hardly can go beyond a kilometre of any river before meeting residential buildings.

“We ask that the bill be dropped immediately except there is an agenda to divide the country being pursued frenetically.

“The Waterways Bill is another land-grabbing move like RUGA by ethnic supremacists who are working against the unity of the country.

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“Major rivers in Nigeria can be made available, by Federal law if the bill is passed, to Fulani pastoralists and there is nothing the indigenous people within such vicinities can do about it.

“The Police and the security agencies will be handy to enforce it and it will be another White farmers versus the African landowners scenario in Southern Africa during the Apartheid season.

“It is a recipe for unending armed conflicts. It also means the federal government can, wherever it identifies a large body of underground water (aquifers), decide to open a “Federal” water scheme, and no one can stop Fulani cattle owners from taking over such places.

“The “all people” in the bill also means that pastoralists from any part of Africa, as explained by Bauchi Governor, Bala Mohammed, can come and settle along the lush waterways of the Middle Belt and Southern protected by Nigeria’s Federal law to the detriment of indigenes who have for centuries depended on their natural resources for their livelihood.”

 

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