JUST as it elicited outrage in 2018, the recent smuggling of the vexatious Water Resources Bill into the parliament is rankling the Nigerian populace at the moment. It has elicited threats of litigation by major stakeholders in the Nigerian project. On their part, the critical mass of citizens have vowed to resist the objectionable document with all legitimate means. This is because of the obvious attempt to deprive them of their natural resources and birthright via a dubious piece of legislation. The bill, which was killed by the Eighth National Assembly due to spontaneous and stiff resistance by Nigerians, seeks to take over all the waterways for the Federal Government. And this time around, Nigerians are even more resolute in their insistence that the divisive and obnoxious bill must be killed and buried without further delay. The emerging consensus among the populace is that its reintroduction in the House of Representatives is a calculated attempt to set the country on fire.
The proposed law seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) and the banks of the water sources under the control of the Federal Government through the agencies to be established by the document. Section 13 states: “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 ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.” According to Section 2(1): “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.’’
The reintroduction of the bill strongly accentuates the suspicion of a selfish motive, namely to annex the land in littoral states to favour the economic and political interest of a particular section of the country. There can be no justification for depriving individuals, states and local governments of the benefits of their waterways. That the same document that was unequivocally rejected in 2018 has even resurfaced in the parliament depicts the disdain that some politicians have for the peace and stability of the Nigerian society. It is disturbing that anyone can contemplate the reintroduction of the patently invidious bill. This shows insensitivity to the genuine desires and aspirations of the founding fathers of Nigeria as a federal entity.
The move is irreconcilable with reality. It undermines the cornerstone of federalism as against the unitary system of government. With the many challenges occasioned by undue centralisation of control and authority at the centre, Nigerians have consistently called for the devolution of power and restructuring. The defects in the existing federal arrangement are legion. Sadly, the Water Resources Bill seeks to compound the centralisation which has hobbled developmental efforts for decades. It seeks the annexation of the legitimate resources of states and negates the restructuring imperative. It seeks to undermine peace, progress and stability in the country. It breaches the tenets of federalism.
To be sure, the issue at stake transcends the egregious disregard for due process by the proponents and their accomplices. Seeking to vest all surface and underground water in the Federal Government amounts to appropriating the wealth of people. It is aimed at enslavement through exploitation and deprivation of natural endowments, especially of the littoral states. It impinges on the power of states under the Land Use Act, as they will be weakened in capacity and authority under what should ideally be a coordinate relationship. It is preposterous and foolhardy to say that the bill has any semblance of merit and benefit: it is aimed at supplanting the rights of citizens and states under the Constitution.
Politicians should not use their privileged position to further encumber the system and throw the country into turmoil. At all times, they should endeavour to be broad-minded, conscientious and guided by the fact that they only hold public office in trust for the citizenry. On their part, the citizenry must remain eternally vigilant against the conspiracy of a capricious ruling elite. The Water Resources Bill should be thrown into the trash can without delay.
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