Gbajabiamila And The Water Bill

Femi Gbajabiamila

The Ninth House has been prioritising interests of the greatest number above the few minority, writes Yakubu Sule

Water, nature’s gift that enables life and sustains the universe, was the subject of interest. The Nigerian Government or better put, powerful interests from certain quarters were alleged to have wanted to harness and control God’s gift for ulterior motives. Ethnic and rights groups screamed and described the suspended Nigeria’s Water Resources Bill as obnoxious, vexatious.

The controversial bill which was first introduced in 2018 was rejected by the then Eighth National Assembly over clauses that could endanger national unity and cohesion. The bill among other provisions vested the powers to control the bodies of water both surface and underground in the federal government.
The bill proposed that water usage be subjected to licensing provisions and that the licence may be cancelled if the licensee “fails to make beneficial use of the water.” According to the bill, all landlords must obtain a driller permit before sinking a borehole in their homes. It directs persons who have excess supply of water to cater for their domestic needs to reduce the quantity to what they can consume.

Only authorised personnel may carry out routine checks to inspect water usage or water disposal on properties with the production of their identity card or other instrument or certificate of designation if so required. Only those permitted under the Act are permitted to consume water.
The above and other contentious provisions in the act further worsened the nation’s fault lines as southern leaders accuse the Fulani elites of plans to take over their lands through subterfuge. The Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) have condemned plans by some members of the House of Representatives to reintroduce the National Water Resources Bill, which was withdrawn on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 after a debate in the House.

Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila acted in the nation’s interest by stopping the passage of the law which was smuggled in by some elements. According to the Speaker, the bill didn’t pass through the established due process. Despite pressure and intimidation, Gbajabiamila stood his ground on the controversial bill. Groups and eminent Nigerians commended the speaker for standing firm in face of pressure.
Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its counterpart in the South-East, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Middle Belt Forum hailed the speaker for withdrawing the bill. These regional groups have been at the forefront of criticisms against contentious portions of the bill which seek to transfer control of lands from states to the federal government.

Again, Gbajabiamila has demonstrated a strong leadership commitment to the large preponderance of Nigerians who are not satisfied with the certain provisions of the bill. This has been a pattern in the Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives. The Ninth House has been prioritizing interests of the greatest number above the few minority. After all, democracy is all about popular will. When the people say no, the no should stand.

No a few observers of political events have taken more than passing interest in the leadership style of Gbajabiamila since he assumed saddle as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He has been a strong stabilizing force for the current government. He wades in on national issues and most often on industrial disharmony and diplomatic rows. He was in Ghana in September to foster brotherly love between estranged brothers (Nigerians and Ghanaians). Nigerian traders in Ghana were subjected to inhuman treatment. Gbajabiamila urged Ghanaian authorities to revisit the component of the law that requires a capital base of $1m for businesses to start.

The speaker made far-reaching conclusions with the Ghanaian authorities on behalf of Nigeria. He said, “First, amicable settlement of trade disputes through arbitration and fair judicial processes. In this context, we do believe that while it is the sovereign right of the government of Ghana to pass and implement the GIPC Act, we would implore you to explore alternative and less aggressive options of engaging, sanctioning and relating with our traders and business people who operate in your country, pay taxes and contribute to the development of both our nations.

“Secondly, we would encourage you to revisit the component of the law that requires a capital base of $1,000,000. We are all Africans, we all have towns and villages, and we know only too well that majority of our traders across the continent are petty traders. The prospect of them being able to raise a capital base of $1,000,000 before they can trade in goods that may be worth less than $1,000, clearly is a major challenge.
“Thirdly, one of the things we are all proud about and the common surname that we all bear is ‘ECOWAS’ and as you know, by virtue of being ECOWAS countries, our nations and our citizens should be able to live, work and thrive in any of our nations without any form of hindrance or discrimination.

“It is in this light we would encourage that we explore how the principles and the application of ECOWAS protocols – which we are both signatories to – may perhaps conflict with the application of the GIPC Act, especially vis-à-vis the recent adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement by African nations; and the movement towards a single currency in the West African sub-region.

“Fourth, is the importance of strengthening legislative diplomacy and collaboration. Legislative diplomacy is a tool that has been used across the world – both in developing and developed nations – to negotiate, to arbitrate and to find peaceful resolution to disputes between nations. Legislative diplomacy is akin to back-channel diplomacy, which in many cases, makes it more possible for countries to debate and find solutions to problems, without any country losing face publicly.”
In the history of the legislature in Nigeria, no one has matched Gbajabiamila in performance and innovation. He introduced a digital parliamentary chamber to ease the legislative business on the floor. He was not just comfortable with his legislative role. He is concerned about nation-building and sustaining the modest gains of this current government.
––Sule wrote from Kaduna.