WATER BILL TO BRING BACK RUGA — SOUTH, MIDDLE BELT
Some regional political pressure groups including Afenifere, the Middle Belt Forum, and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, have opposed the plan to revisit the Water Resources Bill by the Senate. They described the plan as “internal colonialism and another ‘Rural Grazing Area in disguise.”
There are strong indications that the Federal Government may soon re-introduce the controversial bill, which was rejected by the 8th Senate.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had last Monday hinted that the National Assembly would work out an arrangement to re-introduce the bill, which seeks to concentrate the control of water resources around Rivers Niger and Benue which cut across 19 states, in the hands of the Federal Government.
However, senators in the 9th National Assembly are divided over the plot to reintroduce the bill, which aside from making the Federal Government to be in control of water resources, would also make lands around the water resources to be taken over by the central 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.
Lawan specifically called on the Executive to re-present the bill to the National Assembly for instant legislative approval.
Bill is bringing RUGA back in disguise — Southern, M’Belt leaders
But the spokesperson for the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, alleged that the planned re-introduction of the bill was part of the agenda of a section of the country to dominate the rest.
Odumakin said, “The Senate is working to discredit itself as a rubber-stamp assembly and going overboard about the execution of the domination agenda. They should be very careful.
“The bill in the 8th assembly was shut down, but now they have a rubber-stamp assembly in place. It is RUGA in disguise; the other day, the Senate President was calling for the amendment to the Land Use Act; it is part of their internal colonialism agenda. They (FG) have not initiated one thing that could unite Nigerians.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Middle Belt Forum President, Dr Bitrus Pogu, warned against the re-introduction of the bill, stating that it was dropped by the 8th National Assembly because it saw the inherent dangers in the bill if passed into law.
He stated that the bill, just like the RUGA initiative, was meant to hand over the waterways and surrounding lands to Fulani herdsmen, thereby dispossessing communities of their ancestral lands.
Pogu said, “We condemn it in totality. The 8th Senate saw the dangers and refused to pass the bill. The bill if passed into law would not only take the waterways, but also the lands around the waterways and rivers.
“Already, there are so many communities that were created deliberately around the rivers and waterways and many of the inhabitants are not Nigerians.
“It is just like the RUGA programme. It is meant to take over lands and deprive communities of their ancestral lands and the Federal Government, as in the case of RUGA, would give these to Fulani herdsmen and therefore compound our (security) crisis.”
He admonished lawmakers from the Middle Belt region and other parts of the country to shoot down the bill whenever it was revisited in the National Assembly.
Also, the PANDEF National Secretary, Dr Alfred Mulade, who said the water bill would divide and further jeopardise the nation, emphasizing that it portended grave danger for the Niger Delta region and the southern part of the country.
“The proposed bill will further encroach on the land and other timeless heritage of the Niger Delta people. It is a strategy for dispossession,” he alleged.
The President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr Eric Omare, also opposed the reintroduction of the bill, saying it is against the spirit of federalism.
He said, “The proposed bill is anti-federalism and it is also against the corporate existence of peace and security in this country. As a people and as an organisation, we are vehemently opposed to the reintroduction of that bill for whatever hidden agenda. We warn against its being passed into law.”
Senators divided over planned reintroduction of bill
Meanwhile, some senators who spoke with one of our correspondents on and off the record on the issue expressed divergent views on Lawan’s proposal.
While some called for its reintroduction, others said bringing it back would create further tension in the affected states.
The PDP senator representing Edo South Senatorial District, Mathew Urhoghide, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, said he had received text messages from his constituents who expressed concerns over the proposed bill.
Uroghide said, “We cannot make input into a pronouncement as a legislator. The Senate President said the bill was misconstrued when it was brought to the 8th Senate. It was not passed because of that. It was an executive bill not a private member bill.
“The rejection of that bill was across the states. The Benue legislators led by Barnabas Gemade stood against it seriously. Everybody is now circumspect about the issue of giving land to the Fulani herdsmen.
“The Senate President did not go into the details that day so that he would not raise emotions. It is when the bill comes back that we will treat it on its merit. We should not look as if the bill is a southern issue. People in the North who also have suspicion that the bill is a plot to take over their land for grazing are equally against it.”
However, a former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, said the planned introduction of the bill was in order.
Ndume said, “There is no point throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are some aspects of the bill that would be in the interest of the nation. Those provisions that are against the national interest should be reviewed but I think the bill should be reconsidered.”
But the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the bill would be attended to and subjected to scrutiny whenever it comes.
However, a senator from the North-Central geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bill would suffer the same fate that befell it in 2017.
He said, “When it appears that the RUGA scheme is doomed to fail, they now want to introduce the water resources bill that could not scale through the 8th Senate. They will have their say but we will have our way at the end of the day.”
Efforts to speak with a former minority leader who strongly opposed the bill in the 8th Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, on the issue failed on Saturday as he could not be reached on phone.
However, a senator from the South-South geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Akpabio might not be part of attempts to reintroduce the bill because he really studied its provisions and the implications on the affected states during the tenure of the 8th National Assembly.
The proposed legislation was stepped down during the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Water Resources in May 2018.