There was confusion on Tuesday over the Water Resources Bill as two leaders of the House of Representatives sharply disagreed over public hearings on it.
The Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason in an interview with The PUNCH, said public hearings would be held on the controversial bill, which was abandoned by the eighth National Assembly.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, who reintroduced the bill on July 23, 2020, said there would be no more public hearings on it.
He said a public hearing on the bill was held in the eighth National Assembly, adding that there was no need for another in the current ninth assembly.
But some National Assembly members from the Middle Belt and southern parts of the country vowed to resist any attempt to pass the bill.
The executive had in 2017 presented the controversial bill to both chambers of the National Assembly. The bill seeks to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government.
The Senate on May 24, 2018, considered the executive bill for second reading, during which senators were divided across regional lines.
While northern senators supported the proposal and its objectives, their southern counterparts opposed it.
The controversy the bill generated frustrated its passage by both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The proposed law is titled, ‘A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the 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 for Related Matter.’
When passed, it will concentrate the control of water resources around rivers Niger and Benue as well as other water ways which cut across 20 states in the hands of the Federal Government.
The affected states are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi states.
Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; and organisations such as Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum; the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Middle Belt Forum, had last week warned the Federal Government and the National Assembly against bringing back the bill.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, the lawmaker representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Constituency of Rivers State in the House, Awaji-Inombek Abiante, said he was surprised when the bill was brought back to the floor of the House.
Abiante said, “I was in the chamber one morning and I saw someone (Fulata) move a motion, bringing something (the bill) back. I can’t find it in any gazette. If there is, they should let me know because nobody knows it all. The attempt was made; they said second reading and Committee of the Whole. It is not procedural as far as I know in this National Assembly. It is against the procedure.”
When told that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), sent the bill to the last Assembly but it failed to pass and that such bills could be revisited by the current Assembly, the lawmaker argued that the process through which the legislation was reintroduced was flawed.
He stated, “Bills that were not passed, you cannot bring them back in the manner in which they have attempted to bring this back. It cannot come back that way. It is only bills that have been passed, which have become an Act of Parliament and which are not assented to (by the President) that can come back in this manner, through a motion.
“That bill, as it was killed in the eighth Assembly, can never come back this way. So, we should be able to respect our own rules. At least, let us know exactly what we are doing so that we can stand and defend the institution wherever we are.”
The lawmaker warned that the proposed law would adversely affect Lagos State and states along the rivers Niger and Benue and their tributaries.
Abiante said, “There are some states that will not exist. Lagos will not exist. If you say 3kms from the water, there will be no Lagos State for Lagos people. If you take three kilometres away from River Niger in Anambra, Kogi, Benue, what will be left? It is just like telling us that one man wants to sit in Abuja and be controlling the entire country and every resource, both ground and surface waters.”
Also, the lawmaker representing Jos South/East Federal Constituency of Plateau State, Dachung Bagos, said his constituents had rejected the bill.
Bagos asked, “How can the House foist it on Nigerians? Our constituents are talking about it and they have asked us to reject it. It is something that will be discussed. If you make a law that Nigerians don’t like, what is the essence?”
Similarly, the lawmaker representing Ede North,South/Egbedero/Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State, Bamidele Salam, stated that any law Nigerians do not support will not pass.
Salam said, “Whatever piece of legislation that would further take us into a unitary system of government is condemnable. Any law that will make to do today must be such that will engender the spirit and letters of federalism as seen everywhere in the world.”
The Deputy Majority Leader, Peter Akpatason, in the interview with The PUNCH, stated that the bill would be subjected to a public hearing.
Both the Majority Leader and Deputy Majority Leader supervise and solicit support for executive/presidential bills in the Senate and the House.
He said, “Any aspect of it that is found not to be in line with the expectation of Nigerians will be altered. That is why it is called a bill and that is why public hearings are conducted. During public hearings, Nigerians are given the opportunity to come and make their inputs, and these inputs at the end of the day are factored into our final work.
“I can assure Nigerians that, like many other cases, in the case of this bill, Nigerians should come out and let us know how they feel about the provisions of the bill and the aspects that are going to be inimical to their interests, so that it will guide us in our final conclusion. We are going to do the bidding of Nigerians.”
When asked if he was certain that a public hearing would be held on the bill, Akpatason said, “There must be a public hearing of some sorts.”
But Fulata said a public hearing was held in the eighth Assembly when civil rights groups made their contributions
When asked if a public hearing would be held, Fulata said, “No. The bill was considered by the eighth Asseembly and there was a public hearing by the eighth Assembly. All the stakeholders were invited. All objections by the public – civil society organisations and stakeholders – were taken into consideration. The bill was passed at the third reading after taking the views of all the stakeholders. But for whatever reason, the Senate of the eighth Assembly, which was then had a running battle with the President, refused to pass the bill.
“By our rule, if we are committing the same bill again, you don’t need another public hearing. We circulated a clean copy to all members. We gave notices. Then, we did clause by clause consideration. So, if there were any objections, it was expected that those objections would have been raised at the point of clause by clause consideration. But there was none.”
Fulata also berated the Peoples Democratic Party that were criticising the bill. According to him, the PDP caucus was convinced and allowed the bill to pass third reading in the eighth Assembly.
Fulata also criticised groups and individuals condemning the bill, recalling that the last House conducted a public hearing on it and, various stakeholders made their inputs.
The lawmaker said, “I only decommissioned it. It was passed in the eighth Assembly for third reading. It was sent to the Senate for concurrence but the Senate did not concur (with the House). So, when we came back in the ninth Assembly, in my capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business, I committed the bill again, to the Committee of the Whole. I reintroduced it.”
According to Fulata, PDP members agreed with the bill in the eighth Assembly.
He said, “On two occasions, members of the PDP caucus raised objections. They were contending the fact that it passed third reading at the eighth Assembly and on two occasions I had to step the bill down. The Speaker instructed me to convince the PDP caucus that it was actually passed by the eighth Assembly. So, I produced a copy of the votes and proceedings of the eighth Assembly which captured the third reading. I showed and gave them, so they withdrew their objection. Their only reason for the objection was that they were not sure that the bill was passed for third reading by the eighth Assembly.
“When I showed them the votes and proceedings, they withdrew their objection and we did a clause by clause consideration (of the bill) and there was no objection by any members. We did the clause by clause consideration by the Committee of the Whole – all members of the House. It was passed unanimously and sent to the Senate for concurrence. Now, I don’t know what the issues are.
“Why didn’t they raise the objection when we were doing the clause by clause consideration? The Speaker called for vote on each clause and the bill was passed.”
Meanwhile, efforts to get the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, proved abortive. His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, who was contacted on the telephone on Tuesday, listened to The PUNCH’s correspondent’s question and asked for more time to react.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, kept mum despite efforts made to get him to react to the allegation that the House plans to foist the proposed law on Nigerians.
The House’s spokesman, who picked on of our correspondents’ calls after several attempts, asked him to call back. He, however, did not pick several calls made to him hours after.
In the Senate, leading PDP members said they would oppose the approval of the controversial bill.
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told one of our correspondents the water resources bill would be vehemently resisted in the Senate
Abaribe, a leader of the PDP representing Abia South Senatorial District, however, noted that the bill was not yet in the Senate.
The principal officer said, “I am not aware that any such bill has come to the Senate. If it comes, we would do the needful.
“It came before in the eighth Senate and we rejected it. If it comes to the Senate again in the ninth Senate, we will reject it in like manner.”
Similarly, a former minority leader of the Senate, Senator Biodun Olujimi, said her colleagues would reject the bill.
Olujimi, who is a chieftain of the PDP, vowed to resist anything that would affect the peace and unity of Nigeria.
Another PDP leader in the National Assembly representing Delta South Senatorial District, Senator James Manager, described the bill as unpopular.
Manager said, “It is a bill that anybody from the riverine area would reject. It is not a popular bill.”
In his reaction, the member representing Benue South Senatorial District, Abba Moro, said the ninth Senate would not pass any bill that is against the interest of Nigerians.
He said, “We will look at it if and when it is introduced on the floor of the Senate for debate. This Senate will only pass bills that are in the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria.”
But President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, declined comments on the issue when contacted through his spokesperson, Ola Awoniyi.
Awoniyi said, “Please direct your enquiries to the Senate spokesperson who would speak on behalf of the Senate.”
However, the Senate spokesperson, Dr Ajibola Basiru, refused to make any comment when contacted by our correspondent.
He said, “No comment as the bill is not before the Senate to the best of my knowledge.”
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