By Ernest Chinwo
Professional groups in the Ijaw nation of the Niger Delta have said the federal government should not take the peaceful mien of the people of the region for granted in its push to get the National Assembly pass the National Water Resources Bill into law.
In a communiqué issued at the end of a one-day virtual conference, the groups, led by the Ijaw Nation Development Group (INDG), noted that the bill is a product of another undisclosed and ill-timed agenda and an assault to the identity and existence of Ijaw people.
The communiqué was signed by Denzil Amagbe Kentebe for INDG; Mr. Elaye Otrofanowei for Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA); Efiye Bribena , Ijaw Elders Forum (IEF); Ijaw Nation forum (INF), Mrs. Ebiere Fumudor, Ezon Ladies Association (ELA); Comrade Joseph Eva, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG); Iniruo Will, Embasara Foundation; Mrs. Rosemary Oduone (IWC); and Dennis Banigo (Convener INDG).
The professionals said, “The Ijaw nation has suffered marginalisation and deprivation in various forms, despite being the ‘cash cow’ of the nation, via its oil reserves. In the face of all these, they have remained a calm and peaceful people. However, it must be noted that peace does not mean acquiescence; and there are limits to peace.”
They insisted that water is like air to the Ijaw man or woman and that any attempt by the federal government to control the use of water would be tantamount to taking life out of the people of the Niger Delta region, after taking away their oil.
The communiqué stated: “Ijaw communities and other ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta region, have been in control of the Water Resources of the region, as well as all its natural resources (oil and gas, and agricultural farmlands), before the amalgamation of the entity called Nigeria. It has without question, applied these resources uninhibited, to the greater good of the Nigerian economy, before the progressive distortion of our federal structure. Thus current attempt to control its waterways is viewed as yet another assault. And the reactions therefore, are considered as such.”
It also described the bill as “fraudulent, odious and provocative, just like the Petroleum Act and Land Use Decree, which continues to deny the fundamental rights of indigenous people”, adding that “the bill poses yet another threat to current security situation in the country. It is anti-people, insensitive, and a complete distortion to the basic tenets and principles of true federalism”.
While the groups resolved to work with other Niger Delta and Nigerian nationalities to ensure that the protection of their identities and restore true federalism as Nigerians from vested interests, they vowed their rejection of the bill in present form.
“To this end, we express our solidarity with the people of Benue, Niger states and other ethnic nationalities and people of good conscience that believe in true federalism, as we extend our hand of fellowship, in the quest for justice, equity, and fairness, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Africa Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights by unanimously consigning this bill and its contents, to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs.
“Ijaw-Nation is open and willing to engage, consult and negotiate, to reach a bill for an act that protects her strategic interests, for the greater good of all Nigerians without sacrificing the fundamental rights issues of federalism, ownership, control, management and right to use, including sustainable use and environmental management,” they said