STAKEHOLDERS and groups in the coastal states of Niger-Delta, taken aback at the reintroduction of the contentious Water Resources Bill currently before the National Assembly, have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to jettison the planned regulation, saying it was a threat to the survival of riverine people.
The Federal Government had introduced the bill in the 8th Assembly but shut down by the Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hon Mohammed Dogara-led Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
Now it is being reintroduced in the House of Representatives as a private member’s bill by Rep Sada Soli (APC, Katsina State).
Many Nigerians believe the Federal Government is behind the reintroduction.
Urging state governors in the Niger Delta to rise and challenge the bill which, the stakeholders believe, encroaches on their constitutional authority enshrined in the Land Use Act, they said the Federal Government cannot twist the arms of unwilling citizens to accept what is not in their interest, vowing a showdown over the reintroduction.
The regional assembly of the oil-rich region, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which dismissed the Bill in its entirety, cautioned, days ago, that government should not force the bill down the throat of Nigerians.
FG’s plan – Minister of Water Resources
Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, had, while defending the new Bill, last month, told reporters that it intended to boost the national economy and not take away the authority of Nigerians.
“People ignorantly say what they don’t know about the Bill. We cannot just keep quiet while the Nigerian citizenry is being fed false narratives about what we are trying to do”, Adamu had said.
“There is nowhere in the bill that the Federal Government would take over land from any community, not even an inch of land, as peddled by some groups.
“The bill further reduces the power of the Minister and delegates them to the various commissions to manage national water resources.
“These people want to continue to lie to the people. Some are doing things because they want to pay for the relevant usage of the water. Others are ignorant, while some oppose any policy of government”.
FG uncaring – Essien, PANDEF chair
But National Chairman, PANDEF, Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essein, who counteracted his claim, said: “How can the Federal Government want to own all the waterways?
“Once the Federal Government takes over the waterways, it includes the associated lands around that stream, river, and ocean. They are trying to take away the powers of states regarding land.
“The implication is that everything concerning waters will now belong to the Federal Government. If that happens the Land Use Act would be affected.
“It means that the governor of a state will not have the right or responsibility as it affects land in the area, because the Federal Government will say it is the owner, and all the banks of rivers will be turned to Rural Grazing Areas, RUGA, and settlement.
“So, it is another way of trying to reintroduce RUGA through the back door, and, therefore, it must be resisted.
“I was Deputy Chief Whip at the Senate and I have read through the bill. I understand the process of lawmaking and the wordings of every law that is made.
“Well, it is unfortunate that the present government does not recognize the feelings of people.
“They have pushed the bill two times before and the people have rejected it two times. If you are pushing it again, it means you want to force it down the throat of the people.
“Before people rejected the bill initially, they had their reasons for rejecting it. It is a bill that has to be rejected, and we are rejecting it in totality.
“If they bring it 10 times, we will reject it 10 times, if they bring it 100 times, we must reject it 100 times”.
Danger to riverine people–Dakolo, Bayelsa monarch
Chairperson, Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council and the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, King Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada IV, who also kicked against the bill, said it was a threat to the riverine people whose existence revolves around their environment and its water bodies.
“The water resources bill is an attempt to ensure another obnoxious law, particularly for those of us who are riverine from the Niger Delta”, Dakolo said.
“It makes little sense; you cannot come and take my home from me.
“The (Niger Delta) state governments must wake up because the Constitution places the land of this country on us who are local people and the next officers in charge are the heads state governments.
“So, anything that you bring that conflicts with what is in the Constitution is inferior.
“The state governments must get ready to challenge this madness called Water Resources Bill.
There should not be and there cannot be a Water Resources Bill. I will advise the National Assembly to throw that bill away”.
Recipe for anarchy – CHURAC
The Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, a Niger-Delta group, speaking through the chairperson, Alaowei Cleric, asserted: “The nation awakened with consternation that Hon Sada Soli has reintroduced the National Water Resources Bill 2020 at the lower House of the National Assembly.”
“We know the National Water Resources Bill was first introduced into the National Assembly in 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari and passed by the lower House but the Senate failed to concur.
“The same Sada Soli in July 2020 reintroduced the bill in the 9th House of Representatives. However, the proposed inimical legislation again suffered setbacks.
“Just the way we have been opposing the passage of the obnoxious and draconian bill from inception, if passed into law, communities, and people living along waterfronts in the country, particularly in the Niger Delta, Lagos State, and other aquatic areas in the country will lose their major source of livelihood, which is fishing.
“Besides, they may also forfeit the 13 percent oil derivation fund from offshore fields accruing to littoral states to the Federal Government. The truism is that over 80 percent of riverine communities play host to offshore acreages in the Niger Delta region.
“The bill’s aims are to confer ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the Federal Government like what they did in the petroleum resources.
“Implicitly, all waters in streams, lakes, seas, rivers, underground (boreholes), river beds and banks found in and around any community in Nigeria become the exclusive preserve and property of the Federal Government, bringing water under the exclusive legislative list.
“Even if Hon. Sada Soli said he has removed the controversial clauses in the bill, in our holistic overview of the entire law at face value, we are sure that it will prohibit people living in the coastal areas to carry out fishing or use the river for any other purposes in the exercise of riparian rights without authorization and permission of the Federal Government, the new owner of all water bodies in the country.
“Again, no person(s) or companies may discharge wastewater in the river without the authorization of the Federal Government. The process is to be managed by Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission.
“On critical analysis of the bill, we got to know that the proposed Water Resources Regulatory Commission’s responsibility, among others, is to grant permission or license to water users for a particular period upon the payment of a fee.
“The commission has the power to renew, suspend or cancel any license it has issued. It also has the obligation to determine the cost.
“The danger is that the Nigerian government will again colonize the Niger Delta people through legislative intervention.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that the poor riverine community dwellers must apply for a license, pay the required cost and get approval before they can carry out commercial fishing activities or any other businesses in their own ancestral territorial waters and they will penalize any community that cannot meet these criteria for illegal encroachment.
“The riverine communities, particularly those without land mass like the coastal Niger Delta communities, who use the bank of the river for domestic activities like washing and occasionally for others, will pay for discharging waste into the river.
“The bill, if passed into law, will contravene the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It will also run contrary to the Supreme Court cases affirming the powers of state governments over inland waterways and physical planning.
“The same also applied to the Land Use Act which vests ownership of land in state governors.
‘The Bill, therefore, is an interloper designed to arrogate state governments’ powers.
“We once again alert Nigerians to reject this evil bill whose intention is to colonize and impoverish riverine dwellers. People of good conscience with fear of God must rally around to ensure that they reject it once again, otherwise, history will record them as accomplices to this wicked plan to deprive communities in the coastal areas of their territories, fishing business, and means of livelihood.
“We cannot rule out a corresponding response from the affected people which we believe is a recipe for anarchy if the nation allows this inimical legislation to divest the riverine dwellers of their source of livelihoods. It will resurrect youth restiveness and trigger anarchy.
“The river bank of a coastal community extends its territory; in law, whoever owns the land owns the resources, and this principle is supported by the Ad Coelum Doctrine. How do you expropriate the territory belonging to a riverine community and forcefully give it to a regulator, an outsider, for commercial purposes?
“The occupation of the riverine communities is fishing, and this is what they know and do for a living, either as subsistence or commercial.
“Through this means they provide food, shelter, clothing, education and other necessities of life for themselves and their dependents.
“Water like the land is God’s gift to a man as part of his heritage. Depriving him of this gift is tantamount to distorting celestial orchestration.
“If they take away the source of livelihood of these helpless coastal communities, what will they depend on as humans? It is absurd that a government that has failed to provide for their welfare and security will now use the law to dispossess them of their territorial waters and source of livelihood.
“We foresee another violent agitation coming if the sponsors of that draconian bill have their way.
“God in His infinite mercy knows why He provided a natural habitat for every community with a means of survival.
“We know those in the Sahel region raise livestock and those in the rainforest are into farming while those in the coastal areas are anglers.
“Every community is endowed, thus, to deprive the coastal communities of their trade is to undermine their existence and fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act amongst other international treaties.
“The Federal Government must get its priority right. A country that faces mounting misery index (inflation and unemployment), insecurity, corruption, and capital flight, resulting in acute poverty and frustration, cannot be making water resources a priority.
“Already, there are enough existing laws on water resources viz: The Water Resources Act; River Basin Development Authority Act; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act; National Water Resources Institute Act amongst others.
“A law that seeks to strip a people of their heritage, properties, and sources of income with the capacity to push them deeper into the abyss of poverty cannot be in the country’s national interest, except for reason covertly to advance the cause of sectional interest.
“Reintroducing the bill to the 9th National Assembly that was twice rejected based on national interest by the 8th Assembly and earlier by this 9th Assembly is suspicious.
“Like the botched Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) Bill, the desperate push to passage the Water Resources Bill by vested interests in the core North is a snare to have a hold on the country’s waterfronts across the country, particularly in the Niger Delta areas.
“Quest for sectional domination without consideration for equity and justice within the context of national interest puts the unity of the Country at risk and pushes it to the brink.
“As equal stakeholders, it is imperative to respect the boundaries of one another as the absence of this will engender distrust and disunity.
“The people of the Niger Delta, who play host to the largest bodies of water in the country, have suffered for too long and do not deserve further oppressive policies.
“It is enough anguish to declare oil resources in the region as national assets, while the Niger Delta people alone to bear the burden of the hazardous effect of environmental degradation and despoliation, arising from oil exploration and production”.
Governors, political leaders should take up the gauntlet – Wills
President, Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland Chapter), comprising Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states, Mr. Iniruo Wills, challenged the governors, political representatives, and community leaders in the littoral states to rise against the Water Resources Bill.
His words: “My take is that it (Water Resources Bill) is a direct leadership challenge for the governors, political representatives and paramount community leaders of the littoral states.
“Why has no governor come up with any firm and methodical action plan on this yet? Why should the work of defending collective interests be left to so-called concerned citizens, activists and NGOs only, while those with the statutory contractual work are busy with less important things? What else is their job description?
“The moment our political and traditional leaders show seriousness in defending the destiny of their people, nobody will have the temerity to introduce a Water Resources Bill in the nonsensical way it has been done.
“A hundred years more of this style will take us nowhere till we direct all demands and agitation to the fellows meant to be in our collective service, whether in our states or in our communities”.
N’Deltans ready to fight collaborators – Pukon
Secretary-General, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Worldwide, Frank Pukon, sent a notice to the Presidency that the people of Niger-Delta would ward off purported conspiracy by the Federal Government to take over their land and waters through the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020 after appropriating their crude and gas resources.
Pukon warned: “To avoid doubt, the Land Use Act clearly stipulates ‘All land comprised in the territory of each state in the Federation is hereby vested in the Governor of that state, and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians, in accordance with the provisions of this Act’.
“Therefore, all well-meaning Niger Deltans and indeed even those in Buhari presidency that are against the bill, assert that Federal Government would not take our crude oil and gas resources, while also plotting to take over our land and waters. We will resist it.
“As Ijaw people, we would not be advocating for true federalism or a restructured Nigeria under the pillars of devolution of power that will underscore fairness, justice and equity, yet the President will precipitate setbacks to our agitations through a bill that gives constitutional power to the Federal Government to have absolute control over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground.
“Also, the reintroduction of this obnoxious Water Resources Bill is indeed a confirmation that they do not commit President Muhammadu Buhari to national unity and cohesion.
“What should have been more important to the government now is to contextualize frameworks on the passed Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2022. Such landmark legislations that will enhance the oil and gas sector in our country and improve the electoral system of our dear nation, the government is, rather, doing hide and seek.
“I want to take this opportunity to once again urge the implementation Committee to expedite action so that our country will reap the benefits of these laws. I have been following recent developments to the controversial National Water Resources Bill, 2020 that has re-emerged on the floor of the House of Representatives. Indeed, as many public commentators posit, the bill is not in the interest of our nation”.