By Deji Elumoye
The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere and its counterpart in the Niger Delta, the pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have criticised the federal government and the National Assembly over the re-introduction of the National Water Resources Bill 2020, rejected by the eighth Assembly.
While the Benue State Governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom, had at the weekend called on the National Assembly to reject the bill, saying it was a ploy to hand over the banks of the rivers to herdsmen, a Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had warned President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration against passing the bill.
The bill, which seeks to bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as river banks under the control of the federal government is seen as anti-federalism as it also negates the right of Nigerians to natural resources.
Section 13 of the bill states that “in implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”
Those opposed to the bill had alleged that the people pushing for the passage of the bill at all costs have a surreptitious motive, which is not yet clear to other Nigerians.
Ortom had alleged that the bill, in addition to its provisions which are at variance with the Land Use Act, is a disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country.
He had described the bill as another version of Ruga, whose objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock.
Civil society groups, including the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) and Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), also opposed the bill, saying it will deny Nigerians the right to water.
For instance, Section 98 of the bill states that “the use of water shall be subject to licensing provisions.”
Section 107 says that a licence may be cancelled if the licensee “fails to make beneficial use of the water.” Section 120 makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.
Afenifere and PANDEF in their separate reactions described the bill as destabilising, obnoxious, draconian and anti-people.
National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told THISDAY that the federal government and the National Assembly” are making surreptitious moves to destabilise Nigeria, given how sensitive land issues are and which are safely vested under the governors in our laws. “
He accused those behind the moves to pass the bill of having ulterior motives, saying that “they are doing all these for Miyetti Allah”.
On its part, PANDEF said it would be most unfortunate if the federal government and the National Assembly were planning to pass the bill.
Its spokesman, Hon Ken Robinson, told THISDAY that the group had rejected the bill when it was presented to the eighth National Assembly, adding that “our position has not changed”.
He cautioned the National Assembly against any plan to re-introduce the bill “as it would ignite unimaginable crisis and such a plan should be jettisoned immediately in the interest of national peace and stability.”
“That bill is not only obnoxious but draconic and imperialistic. It is anti-people. That was why it attracted wild condemnation. And the eighth National Assembly heeded to the voice of the people, by throwing out the bill. It would therefore be awful if the ninth National Assembly acts otherwise, and allows itself to be used against the people.
“It is absurd that while citizens are clamouring for the restructuring of the country, to divest more powers to the federating units, the federal government is wanting more powers to control waterways and resources in an already over centralised, unitary system. Instead of initiating constructive dialogue processes to address the yearnings of Nigerians for true federalism.
“The people of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-south geopolitical zone, are against the bill in its totality. We consider it an attempt by the federal government to divest Niger Delta communities of their exclusive control of the waterways; seas, rivers and creeks, in the region. They have plundered our oil and gas, our hitherto luxurious ecosystem has been devastated, without any meaningful development; they tried to take our lands through the so-called Ruga scheme. Now they want our waterways, Niger Delta Region people will resist it,” PANDEF stated.