Controversy, North/South rivalry trail Water Resources Bill

Two years after the contentious Natural Water Resources Bill was dropped by the Eight National Assembly, the House of Representatives is on the verge of getting it passed into law on the grounds that it will solve the problems affecting the water resources sector but the move is being viewed with suspicion.

Fresh crisis looms in the polity following the move by the House of Representatives to pass the contentious Water Resources Bill, which failed to pass in the 8th Senate.

The bill entitled: “Water Resources Bill 2020,” seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria, and will, when passed, concentrate the control of water resources around rivers Niger and Benue as well as other water ways, which cut across 20 states in the hands of the Federal Government.

The affected states are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi. The Green Chamber had on July 23, passed the bill as presented by the House Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Abubakar Fulata, who reintroduced the bill on July 23, said there would be no more public hearings on it as such exercise took place during the Eighth National Assembly.

While some members of the House from the southern and Middle Belt parts of the country vowed to resist any attempt to pass the bill, leadership of the Green Chamber is said to have committed it to a “Committee of the Whole,” for third reading and final passage.

However, referral of the bill to the Committee of the Whole was said to have breached Order 12 Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House, which states that a bill from a preceding Assembly be gazette, clean copies and circulated to members thereby raising suspicion that those pushing for its passage have something up their sleeves.

Failed attempt in Eight Assembly

This is not the first time attempt would be made to get the contentious bill passed by the National Assembly as the executive had in 2017 presented what it christened “National Water Resources Bill” to both chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives then headed by Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara.

The move, however, hit the rocks due to the division across regional lines, when the Senate considered the bill for second reading on May 24, 2018. While northern senators supported the proposal and its objectives, their southern counterparts opposed it.

The lawmakers of southern extraction had then detected a subtle introduction of clauses that sought to commit the management and control of all waters across the lengths and breaths of the country to the Federal Government.

Then Chairman, Senate Committee on Water Resources, Senator Ubali Shitu (Jigawa North East), had insisted that the Federal Government should be empowered to have absolute control over water banks and resources all over the country but Senators Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom Northwest), who is now minister of Niger Delta and Emmanuel Paulker (Bayelsa Central), in their separate contributions, kicked against the initiative and tasked the Chamber to properly define the various type of rivers and river banks to avoid causing confusion in the process.

Akpabio who demonstrated deep concerns over the motive behind the introduction, argued that the definition of the type of rivers and river banks the Federal Government should control should be properly defined to remove every trace of ambiguity that could lead to misunderstanding in future.

The then Minority Whip of the Senate further maintained that in defining the type of rivers and river banks the Federal Government should take over, the upper legislative chamber should also take cognizance of the fact that some rivers dry up at certain periods of the year.

He cited example Lake Chad, which according to him, used to have over 25,000 kilometres of water but has dried up to about 5,000 kilometres and cautioned the Senate to be wary of promoting a legislation that would create more problems in the country. But the then Senate Leader,  Ahmad Lawan (now President of the Senate), urged his colleagues to proceed and pass the bill as according to him, Akpabio presented his views in error.

Lawan noted that the controversial clause was talking about rivers Niger and Benue, which cut across many states like River Benue. In the House of Representatives, the bill passed for second reading.

Debate on it came up July 6, 2016 during plenary and the then Majority Leader of the House, Gbajabiamila (now speaker) led discussion on its general principles. He stated that the Bill seeks among other things to provide for the equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources and for related matters.

He added that passing the bill would effectively unbundle the water resources sector to be better positioned to create economic gains to the nation.

Then chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Aliyu Pategi Ahman further revealed other components of the bill, which include the establishment of a Water Resources Institute that would be saddled with the responsibility  of research and development as it relates with water resources.

However, the controversy the bill generated frustrated its passage by both the Eight Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.