•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.

Ijaw leaders kick against Water Resources bill

The Ijaw ethnic nationality has opposed the Water Resources Bill currently before the National Assembly.

Ijaw leaders under the aegis of Ijaw Nation Development Group (INDG) said the bill was aimed at further distorting Nigeria’s federalism.

The leaders, both in Nigeria and Diaspora, during their zoom conference stressed that the region should be given the right to manage their water as it was their heritage.

The participants maintained that there was serious threat to the Ijaw nation inherent in the Water Resources bill.

Guest speaker, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, said the Water Resources Bill 2020 was “a re-branded version of RUGA policy, designed to grasp people’s ancestral settlements and resources to set up grazing reserves or cattle colonies.”

Okaba described Ijaw as the fourth largest ethnic nationality and dominant group in the Niger Delta, adding that they were the most ancient and aborigines of the Niger Delta. He explained that the Ijaw occupy the most deltaic riverine and coastal belt of Nigeria.

“They have large community-city original settlements in Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers states in Nigeria. Water and its associated marine resources means everything to the typical Ijaw man. Its major occupations, fishing, gin production, canoe building, seasonal coastal farming, and  others are all aqua-dependent.  Water is synonymous to air, to the Ijaw man. Therefore, denying him/her free access, and rightful ownership, control and management of the water resources around her, can be likened to pulling a fish out of the river onto a dry land.”

Prof Okaba, who is Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State, reminded the Federal Government that its primary constitutional responsibility to citizen was to protect, safeguard and secure the fundamental human rights of citizens and promote their welfare and well-being.

Also Anthony George-Ikoli (SAN) urged Ijaw nations not to sit aloof and seemingly oblivious of the hole being dug all around it, adding that  the people must set an agenda for its legislators.

Similarly, an  Ijaw female activist, Annkio Briggs, alleged that the Federal Government was trampling on the rights of Ijaw people.

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.