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Noxious Water Bill

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Emeka Omeihe

Resource control is generally associated with agitations by oil bearing states in this country for greater access and control in the management of revenues generated from natural endowments within their shores. It also denotes a protest against excessive centralization and control of oil revenue and other natural resources by the federal authority.

The term seeks in the main, to confer more powers to the states in the allocation of funds generated from with their territories.  An integral part of the larger agitations for true federalism, fiscal federalism and power devolution, it seeks to whittle down the omnipresence and omnipotence of the central authority in virtually controlling the powers of life and death.

These concepts also share much in common with the raging calls for the restructuring of the country so as to give more powers to the constituent units in the control of their affairs. Not unexpectedly, the tardiness or refusal of the federal leadership to take decisive action in this regard has led to agitations and feelings of self-determination among some of the component units.

With these centrifugal feelings on the upward swing, it is surprising that the leadership of this country could be proposing legislations that will further polarize the country along ethnic and primordial fault lines. One of such proposed pieces of legislation is the Water Resources Control Bill which has again been brought before the House of Representatives in a manner that has remained very suspicious.

Tagged “A Bill for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and Related Matters”, it seeks to concentrate the control of water resources around rivers Niger and Benue and other waterways across the country in the hands of the federal government.

When that executive bill first surfaced in the Eighth National Assembly, it generated intense controversy dividing legislators along ethnic and regional lines. The senate, on account of the sharp divisions the bill created, did not waste time to throw it away when it came for second reading in May 2018.  Curiously however,   the chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata in July re-introduced the bill in a manner that is not in consonance with the rules of the House. And he appears set to bulldoze his way to push the bill through even against extant procedure for the passage of reintroduced bills.

Expectedly and like events that followed when the bill was first introduced, it has again frayed nerves, generating intense controversy and suspicion. Southern, Middle Belt groups as well as other notable Nigerians including Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka have all in unison expressed deep reservations and opposition to the proposed legislation.

It is also creating ripples within the National Assembly with many legislators vowing never to allow the bill see the light of the day. From the look of things, the bill is going to further polarize the National Assembly along ethnic and regional lines given its perception as being tailored to satisfy an agenda which the current federal leadership has been holding to its chest for some time now.

If the bill is passed into law, it will vest the control of water resources as well as river banks in the federal government. By extension, a sizable portion of the land close to those rivers will also revert to the control of the same central authority. The implication is that the federal government will not only have absolute control of the waters and the resources in them but also lands around them.

By the same extension, communities and hamlets that solely depend on these water resources and land for their daily lives will lose them all to the all powerful federal government. States and local governments will not only lose their right to water resources within their domain but portions of land very close to them. It is this foreboding reality that stands the greatest challenge to the bill.

But that is not all. The motive of the federal government in seeking the passage of the bill by all means is suspect. Allegations are now rife that the obsession for the control of water resources and adjoining lands is a subterfuge to accelerate unfettered access to pastoral lands for herdsmen especially given the futile attempts in the past to achieve the same objective.

It is largely seen as Ruga settlement, grazing reserve or grazing route in disguise. That raises the propriety in grabbing lands and water resources that constitute sources of livelihood to indigenous people to satisfy objectives of very questionable value.

Many of the communities in and around the banks of those rivers depend on them for survival. They fish there, farm there and engage in sundry productive endeavors such environment engenders. It is this category of people that the federal government seeks through the obnoxious bill to grab their means of livelihood and stifle them out of existence. The bill is anti-people and therefore cannot serve our national interest.

The suspicion of odious agenda in having the bill scale through, is further underscored by Section 2(1) of the bill which states – “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people”. It is inconceivable how the water resource at my back yard which over the years had served as a source of life can now be tagged a resource common to all people. Who are those people and what business do they have at my backyard?

What the bill intends to achieve is to provide cover for all manner of people including militant herdsmen whom we are told are mostly foreigners to invade the privacy of the local population. It goes with serious security repercussions. At a time this country is stretched to its elastic limits by the insurgency of the herdsmen, armed banditry and kidnapping as well as the Boko Haram insurgency, the passage of such a bill will inexorably lead to catastrophic consequences.

But more seriously, current sentiments in the country are for the whittling down of the powers of the federal government through restructuring. Through restructuring or power devolution, the constituent units are to be empowered to effectively take over more of those unwieldy functions that are currently suffocating the federal leadership. The nagging corruption in public offices, the rancorous and deadly competition for power at the centre which accentuates amateur leadership are all linked to the defective federal contraption we have had to contend with.

It is a thing of immense worry that instead of seeking ways to align with the dictates of true federalism, the same executive is obsessed with further expanding the noxious frontiers of such powers. All this seem to reinforce the suspicion that some people nurse an agenda to dominate others by surreptitiously appropriating the resources of the constituents to serve clannish and self-serving predilections.

Or how else do we rationalize the scant heed by those entrusted with power to the sensibilities of the people they claim to rule? It is not uncommon to see leaders equate their self-serving interests to that of the collectivity they claim to serve.  It is also not out of place that people in leadership sometimes displace national interest with their own personal interest. That often leads to the erroneous notion that loyalty to the government in power equated to loyalty to the country. They are two different things. We have seen leaderships that constituted unmitigated liability to the collective interests of their constituents.

It is hoped we are not contending with that verity. Or how else do we rationalize the crass insensitivity of the federal leadership to the current mood of the country evident in the desire to grab lands and waters resources through the contentious bill. That piece of legislation is an evil omen. It is divisive and potentially explosive and must not be allowed to scale through.

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