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Again, the obnoxious water bill 2022

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-submission of the controversial and vexatious water resources bill that almost tore the nation and the National Assembly apart, a few years ago, is ominous.

It portends, without an iota of doubt, that the president has an ulterior motive that, from all indications, is not in the national interest. It is necessary, in the interest of peace and stability, that the bill is withdrawn and trashed forthwith before it triggers an unmitigated crisis across the country. At a time Nigeria is literally on fire, the least Buhari should do is to engender peace rather than ignite another crisis.

The reintroduction of the obnoxious bill is indeed a bad move as it lends credence to suspicion by Nigerians that a wicked plan is being hatched somewhere to deprive Nigerians of their indigenous land and resources and make these open to herdsmen or Jihadists. Considering the opposition of the generality of Nigerians against this surreptitious plan, bringing it in through the back door again will not remove the danger that it originally posed to peace exists in the country. Why does the president insist, for the third time in about five years, on making the proposal a law? It is instructive that some members of the House of Representatives at the NASS are vigilant enough to spot the reintroduction of the bill and the danger it portends to peace. The federal lawmakers should not sacrifice the country’s interest to the president’s ulterior and suspicious motive. To keep quiet over such a serious matter amounts to their abdicating their responsibility.

The earlier bill had sought to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government which governors and other stakeholders rejected. The proposed legislation was opposed due to some of its provisions such as those in clause 13 which provided 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 groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”

Also section 2(1) of the bill provides that: “All surface water and groundwater, wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people,’’ while Section 120 of the bill makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.” The controversial National Water Resources Bill, 2020, re-emerged on the floor of the House of Representatives amidst suspicions from members while the sponsors tried to assure the lawmakers that the new version of the legislation would capture all the interests of the states.

Beyond the surface provisions, there are causes for concern that the bill seeks to give full control of all waterways and their banks in Nigeria to Fulani herdsmen with their cattle; and subsequently to further their territorial expansionism ambition, under the guise that all Nigerians have fundamental rights to free movement.

The fear is rife particularly because Buhari has always voiced his belief in grazing routes and the nomadic rights of his Fulani kinsmen, without voicing a corresponding concern about the havoc thus occasioned farmers and their farms across the country. It is not far-fetched to conjecture that if the law sails through, natives will be rooted out of their indigenous land, which is akin to handing the country, or parts of it, over to the Fulani through the back door. This of course is totally unacceptable as it has the potential of snowballing into an internecine war. This informs the wide condemnations that the bill has been receiving.

Curiously, this is the third time Buhari is introducing this suspicious bill to the National Assembly (NASS). In 2018, during his first term in office, under the leadership of senators Saraki and Dogara, Buhari brought the bill and it was rejected. Thereafter, in 2020, shortly after being sworn in for his second term, Buhari re-introduced the bill and again it was rejected and thrown out. And now this latest attempt; with barely ten months to the end of his tenure, is seen as an indirect bid to alter the provisions of the Land Use Act that entrusts state land on governors. This is a blatant attack on federalism that Nigerians badly need, besides constituting a heinous evil against the indigenous peoples of Nigeria. Clearly, the bill is part of the larger Fulanisation agenda, of which the President is seen as encouraging.

The bill, if passed into law, will clip the wings of state and local government authorities as well as individuals from making use of the water in their backyard without a permit from Abuja. This development will engender serious contentions across the country. The result would be water wars, which would be more devastating than the contentions over grazing lands.

Buhari needs to explain to Nigerians what he intends to achieve by this bill and if this is what the country needs at this time. Else, he should withdraw it in the public interest. The National Assembly would do well to once again, shut the bill down to save the country from avoidable conflagration which is what the bill can trigger.

Coming at a time when Nigerians are clamouring for proper federalism that entails devolution of powers to the states and local authorities, the introduction of a Water Resources Bill by Buhari is inimical to peace. The president should withdraw the bill in the public interest.

The leadership of the House of Representatives under Femi Gbajabiamila should not fall for an explanation of the sponsors that attorneys general of the federation and the states are working to make the bill safe. With what the country is going through, there simply is no need for it, as it will only work against the people. The lawmakers should be working seriously to enthrone true federalism, which is the only hope of preventing a total collapse of this country.

Buhari should not ignore the warning statement by the Southern and Middle Belt Forum on this hot potato. The group stated: “The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum had called on all the communities opposed to the bill, meant to grab land around waterways for cattle herders, to organise community special sittings for their representatives to explain the meaning of this latest move and their roles in it.” 

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