In spite of strong opposition by the Southern federal lawmakers and leaders, there are fresh moves by lawmakers of northern extraction to smuggle the controversial and vexatious Water Resources Bill to pass second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The move to ensure that the bill scale second reading this week, it was gathered, has the backing of major political juggernauts including the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government
President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-submission of the bill which was first introduced in the 8th Assembly in 2017 was reintroduced in the 2020 in the 9th Assembly and was roundly rejected by South-south leader, Afenifere leader, Ohanaeze leader, and Middle Belt Forum is causing hair rise amongst critical stakeholders in Nigeria.
Recall that on June 29, 2022, the House of Representatives passed the Bill for first reading in what can be described as an ambush of the southern lawmakers, many who are still unsettled following their inability to secure their party ticket and were absent at the sitting.
Some APC House of Representatives members from North Central zone privy to the clandestine move confided on journalists anonymously for fear of being victimized by the Presidency, said that strong opposition to the reintroduction of the bill to the House will not stop it passage as plans to get it passed this time around has been concluded.
The source added that the plot to get the bill passed in the 9th Assembly has the blessing of Mr President and the leadership of the National Assembly, and that unlike in the last attempt when the Speaker of House of Reps played a stabilizing role leading to the defeat of the bill, this time around threat of impeachment is hanging on him, if he fails to play along.
“The plot to pass the Bill was hatched here in Nigeria, but was concluded at Mecca during recent Haji. And part of the plot is to impeach the Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, whom they believe didn’t do much to ensure that the bill was passed during the 8th Assembly even when he knew the President was interested in the bill.
“Now that they have the Speaker buy-in, they wanted the bill to be passed for the second reading this past week, but many Southern lawmakers were around and with the support from Northern Christian lawmakers, the sponsor and the leadership of the House failed to bring the bill on Tuesday, Wednesday and last week Thursday.
“The National Assembly would have gone on vacation, but they are waiting for most of the Southern lawmakers who have made summer traveling arrangements to travel out of the country, then they will strike.
“They will observe this week, if they can’t pass it because of the large number of the southern and Northern Christians lawmakers at the chamber, the Speaker of the House will be made to convoke an emergency setting of the House, after the House might have been adjourned for vacation.
“The source added that the Clark of the House has prepared ‘addendum’ to enable the House to be reconvened and sit even at night or weekend to consider, pass the controversial bill with or without southern members in attendance.
My fear is that if the southern Nigerians fail to rise to the occasion, the bill will pass through as certain interests in the Presidency and core North are bent on passing the bill and have mobilized huge resources to get it done.
For me this is a fight for the soul of Nigeria, because if this bill passes through the second reading, then it’s finished and the crisis that it will trigger in the country can best be imagined. This is how they passed 3% for the Host Community Fund in the PIA, as against the 5% we collectively agreed.
The bill, which was initially introduced and rejected during the 8th Assembly, following public outcry, is believed by many to be Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) in disguise and according to our source have the backing of the presidency.
The Bill as introduced in previous assembly and present 9th National Assembly seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all water resources in the country such as rivers, streams, lakes and underground water in all parts of the country.
The First Introduction of the Bill:
President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2017 presented the controversial bill to the eighth National Assembly. The proposed law seeks to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the federal government. The bill was 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.’
It partly reads: “This Act repeals the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; River Basin Development Act Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N110A, LFN 2004; National Water Resources Institute Act Cap N83 LFN 2004; and establishes the National Council on Water Resources, Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission, River Basin Development Authorities, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, and the National Water Resources Institute.”
It would also recalled that in September 2020, following the raging controversies, debate on the bill succeeded in pitting Southern lawmakers against their Northern counterparts and efforts by the Northern lawmakers to save the bill proved abortive as arguments by the members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other opponents of the bill forced the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to order its withdrawal and reintroduction.
Those championing the bill are the Bill sponsor and Chairman of the Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Sada Soli and the Chairman Committee on rules and business, Hon. Hassan Fulata.
It was also gathered that as at the time the bill was passed for the first reading in the House, no member of the House has seen or have a copy of the Bill, except those behind it, and this according to our source prompted the Speaker to direct that every lawmaker gets the copy of the bill to study ahead of the second reading debate, this directive has not been carried out.
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