THE Federal Government and the National Assembly have come under searing attacks over the re-introduction of the National Water Resources Bill rejected by the last set of federal lawmakers following the outcry that attended its presentation last year.
The bill, which has resurfaced in the National Assembly in form of an executive bill, is seen as desperation to annexe waterways in the country for the Fulani herdsmen. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, on Saturday, described the re-introduction of the bill as a ploy to grab land for Fulani herdsmen.
The governor, therefore, called on the current lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives to reject the bill in the interest of the country. In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the governor said the bill, which seeks to bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as river banks under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies, is anti-federalism and negates the right of Nigerians to their God-given resources.
Ortom said 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 groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”
He described as curious, the reintroduction of the rejected Bill, adding that those pushing for the passage of the bill at all costs have a surreptitious motive which is not yet clear to other Nigerians. “He (Ortom) says the bill, in addition to its provisions which are at variance with the Land Use Act, is disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country.
“The governor maintains that the bill is another version of RUGA which objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock. “He commends sociocultural organisations such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze and Middle Belt Forum for speaking against the reintroduction of the bill at the National Assembly.
“Governor Ortom urges the federal lawmakers to act as true representatives of the people for the sake of posterity and to remember that the destiny of the country lies in their hands. “He advises senators and House of Representatives members to toe the path of honour by rejecting the National Water Resources Bill like the eighth Assembly did,” the statement said.
Also condemning the decision, a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, on Saturday, expressed strong opposition to the reintroduced Water Bill for debate and passage into law by the National Assembly, saying it was a move by the North through the antics of President Muhammadu Buhari to dominate the entire country in all aspects.
The elder statesman, in a telephone interview with Sunday Tribune, warned that President Buhari is “joking with fire,” as much plot would not be accepted. According to Chief Adebanjo, the reintroduction of the Water Bill by the National Assembly is a confirmation of a move by the Fulani to dominate the country, having taken control of the country’s borders, security, economic, among others already. “With the step being taken, they are confirming all that we have been saying which they said were allegations.
But they just want to dominate the country in all aspects. “All the water areas which they haven’t got in the North for their cattle rearing and all that, they now want to force the people in the South to make them available for them. That is it.
“They are in control of the borders, security, economy and are in control of everything. We have been canvassing a Nigeria where everybody will live in peace, they said no. I will only say Buhari is joking with fire. We will not accept it. And the way he is opposing peaceful resolution of a united Nigeria, he is pushing us to the wall.
“With the development, people who are adamant to separate from the country will be difficult to control. They will not submit themselves to domination. They made a constitution that dominated the economy, and they are talking about Amotekun now,” he said.
Speaking further, the elder statesman, noted that the president had continued to ignore counsel from prominent well-meaning Nigerians and groups, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, the Afenifere, among others, against allowing an ethnic group to dominate the entire country.
He warned that Buhari was pushing Nigerians to the wall and “looking for the constitutional crisis and he will get it.” “All the noise people are making about the domination of the country by the Fulani shows that he doesn’t care. Obasanjo is talking about it. General Babangida is talking about it. Afenifere is talking about it. Well-meaning Nigerians are talking about it.”
In its own response, the Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN) asked the legislature to question the motive behind the re-presentation of the controversial bill. The national secretary of ASOMBEN, Reverend James Pam, said it was surprising that despite the condemnations that trailed the first presentation of the bill, the president still re-presented it as an executive bill.
“Why does the president want that bill to be passed into law? It was rejected by the National Assembly in 2018 by a majority of members because it did not reflect the yearning of Nigerians. “They did not see the need for the creation of another agency. It is like the government is trying to take the only thing that remains for the common man away from them.
“The government has taken over the sea and lands, including all the minerals and now they want to take water from ordinary Nigerians, it is not fair, they have not explained to us why,” he said. According to him, based on the content of the bill, the government is looking for an avenue to pacify the Fulani.
He noted how, in an attempt to satisfy them, the government mooted the introduction of cattle colony, which changed to RUGA and National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) after it was rejected by Nigerians. He said under the NLTP the government promised a lot of things which are yet to be fulfilled, adding the bill before the National Assembly was a ploy for another RUGA.
“In Nigerian parlance, the National Assembly should shine their eyes. The president has an ulterior motive. They should find out why the president is forwarding the bill to them for the second time and this time as an executive bill. He has an interest in it. He wants all the rivers in Nigeria to be made available to the Fulani,” he said. But the secretary of NLTP implementation in Plateau State, Professor John Wade, debunked the notion that the bill was designed to fulfil the need of the Fulanis, especially the herdsmen.
He implored state governments and Nigerians to study the bill and study how they can domesticate it, adding that the bill did not stop states from accessing water that runs through their states. Echoes of opposition to the development were heard in the South-South zone where the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) described the re-introduced bill as an affront and a ploy to grab lands by the northern oligarchy.
A former president of IYC, Pereotubo Oweilaemi, who spoke to Sunday Tribune, reiterated the opposition of the Ijaw youths and nation to the bill. “We have made our position known to the world. We are opposed to it. It’s not going to be in our best interest. The Bill is going to be another draconian law that tends to colonise the Niger Delta region. “That Bill, if passed into law, will further emasculate us.
The purpose, as we have seen already, is to take away our riparian rights over the waterways. That is dangerous to our survival as a people. “They have taken control of the natural resources in our lands through legislative instruments, now they want to have exclusive control of the creeks to the detriment of the riverine dwellers? We will not allow that to happen.
“The passage of this inimical Bill will beget anarchy in the Niger Delta region because the people will revolt against its operation. “At least, let us learn from the bitter experiences of the oil crisis occasioned by the legislative colonisation of our economy right,” he warned.
In the same vein, a leader among the Urhobo and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Sunny Onuesoke, appealed to Nigerians to rise against the bill, insisting that if allowed to sail through, the bill will vest power over all water sources across the federation in the hands of the executive.
Some socio-cultural groups in Benue State have also condemned attempts plan by the Federal Government and National Assembly to reintroduce the bill. Leaders of Tiv socio-cultural group, ‘Mzoug U Tiv’ and ‘Tiv Youths Organisation Worldwide,’ Iorbee Ihagh and Timothy Hembaor respectively have described it as another form of RUGA settlement plotted to grab lands from original owners.
Ihagh, who is the president of Mzough U Tiv, expressed sadness over the manner the Buhari administration is plotting to ensure that he paves the way for the Fulani herdsmen to have access to every part of the country. According to him, no way, we will not support such a move, it is a grand plan to grab lands from other states for their benefit.”
In the same vein, Hembaor advised the Federal Government to jettison the idea, stating that such negates the Land Use Act. The duo advised the present National Assembly to be patriotic enough to reject the Bill in any form.
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