•Caution MDAs against violation of Appropriation Act

Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila (middle), Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase (second left),House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa (left) and Mace bearer, Akun Jethro proceeding for plenary during resumption from annual recess at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja yesterday.

Members of the House of Representatives were locked in a heated debate over the resolution to recommit the controversial National Water Resources Bill to the Committee of the Whole, yesterday.

After the debate which pitched the proponents and opponent, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, ruled that the bill be sent back to the Rules and Business Committee for gazzetting to enable the Green chamber take the proposed legislation de-novo.

The House had on July 23 adopted a motion to recommit the bill, which was rejected by the eighth Senate,  to the Committee of the Whole.

However,  that resolution attracted widespread condemnatio, with some socio-cultural organisations calling for the rejection of the bill.

Bem Mzendu, member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)  from Benue State,  had midway into proceeding,  raised observations that the procedure the House adopted in referring the Bill to the Committee of the Whole was a breach of its extant rules.

According to him,  the decision to commit the bill to the Committee of the Whole contravened Order 12 ( rules 16,17 and 18 ) of the House Standing Rules,  which stipulates that bills from a preceding assembly should be gazetted. 

“It is important to emphasise that I have painstakingly searched through all the journals of the House and cannot find where the Bill is gazetted and I stand to be challenged or corrected,” the lawmaker stated. 

“I don’t know what is contained in the bill. And my constituents have been asking to know what is contained in the bill. But Mr. Speaker, as l am speaking now, l haven’t seen a copy of the bill and don’t know what it contains.”

Similarly,  Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said the House had no business considering the Bill as it conflicts with the 1999 Constitution.

However,  Abubakar Fulata and Sada  Soli, chairmen, House Committees on Rules and Business and Water Resources, respectively,  argued that the committal of the bill to the Committee of the Whole was done in line with the standing rules of the House.

Soli warned that any attempt to subvert the rules of the House will be challenged, stating that, “it is not true that we have no right to consider the bill.”

In his ruling, Gbajabiamila,  said there was need for the House to err on the side of caution, noting that,”l am not sure on the issue of gazetting as the bill was recommitted from the last assembly, it’s assumed that it’s gazetted in the last assembly…

“Fundamental issues have been raised. We don’t have to do things that the court will set aside.  The bill should be sent back for gazzete and brought back to the floor.”

Meanwhile, Speaker Gbajabiamila has cautioned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) against violating the provisions of the Appropriation Act.

Gbajabiamila, who gave the warning, while welcoming lawmakers back from their 10-week annual recess,  said it had been observed that MDAs were not implementing projects and programmes captured in the Appropriation Act.

He said failure of the MDAs to implement the national budget was tantamount to undermining the developmental efforts of the government.  And warned that the House will not hesitate to sanction MDAs found to be complicit.

 “There is an ongoing problem of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government failing to implement projects and programmes for which funds have been provided in the Budget. It bears restating that the Appropriation Act is not merely a policy document or a statement of intent. It is the law of the land that binds us all. Any expenditure of public funds outside of the Appropriation Act is a crime, as is a failure to implement programmes and projects for which funds have been allocated and provided. 

“But more than that, it is a betrayal of the public trust that undermines faith in the government and frustrates good faith efforts at national development. The House will take action against those who fail in their responsibilities in this regard. I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Gbajabiamila added  that the House, prior to the recess updated its legislative agenda,  to enable it respond more effectively to the effect of COVID-19 on the economy and the general well-being of the citizens.

Sada Soli, a member of the House of Representatives from Katsina state, says the lower legislative chamber will pass a bill seeking to regulate water resources in the country.

The bill seeks to bring all water resources – both surface and underground — and the banks of the water sources under the control of the Federal Government.

Although the previous house passed the bill, the senate did not pass it. The proposed law was reintroduced in the current assembly by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Wole Soyinka, playwright and Nobel laureate, is among many Nigerians that have condemned the bill.

Speaking in an interview, Soli dismissed claims that the bill is seeking to give the Federal Government more power.

The legislator said those criticising the bill do not have understanding of it, describing the opposition against it as “deep-seated hatred for this government policy”.

“The bill can’t be stepped down because the House has passed it already; the lawmakers that are saying that they will step it down or that it was introduced illegally is because, may be, they were not there on the floor of the house when the members were given the opportunity to look at the bill not once or twice,” he said.

“Remember it was passed by the eighth assembly. If people have something against the legislation, let them point it out and then it could be amended to conform to the wishes of Nigerians.

“If you don’t understand something or have an idea about something, the easiest thing is that you will misconceive the whole idea. On the claims about the bill being RUGA in disguise, people should not display their parochial mindset

“We need to harness, develop and protect our water resources. Or will you just allow our water resources at the mercy of other sovereignty? These are the innovations the federal government is trying to bring by putting all these legislations together is have one common legislation for the water sector so that it’s easy to manage and protect.

“The governor of Benue state Samuel Ortom, Wole Soyinka and others talking about this bill didn’t read it. I’m looking for an opportunity to meet these elder statesmen to educate them.

“They are being informed about something that does not exist. Maybe the backlash is political; maybe they feel it’s an achievement of this current government and they don’t want it.”

Yesterday, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, cautioned against the Water Resources Bill, warning it could throw Nigeria into another civil war.

A statement signed by HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Miss. Zainab Yusuf, Director; National Media Affairs reads partly: “Evidently, the legislative and regulatory agenda of the present NASS as illustrated in several of their proposed legislations appear to be aimed at attacking freedom of speech, civil space and to abrogate property and economic rights.

“Just like the Companies and Allied Maters Act, 2020 (CAMA 2020), an otherwise necessary and important legislation that has become divisive, the National Water Resources bill has also strayed into our delicate fault-lines and lost in the brackish waters of Nigeria’s recurrent political criticisms.

“The president should be worried that almost all his important policies have continued to energize certain concealed instincts in our society. And that Nigerians now appear incapable of having any decent conversation without resorting to ethnicity and religion.

“All factors considered, therefore, this National Water Resources bill is obnoxious, draconic and imperialistic. Conceived in a time of mutual suspicions, promoted by divisive interests and opposed by the current politics of ethno-religious distrust in the country and should be jettisoned.

“This bill on water resources if not discontinued could result in civil war if not now, then sooner rather than later because it is not possible to take over the natural water resources of the indigenous people in the South and hand them over to strangers under the guise of the central government controlling these water resources.”