By Rotimi Fasan
JUST what could President Muhammadu Buhari have been thinking about when he sent an executive-arm bill aimed at centralising the control of the surface and ground water resources of this country under the federal government to the National Assembly is a mystery only he can provide an honest answer to. But whatever could be the motivation could not have been borne of good judgment or sensitivity to the feelings of the vast majority of Nigerians who are unhappy about the deformed nature of our federalism.
For a president whose narrow definition of corruption goes no further than somebody helping themselves to the country’s treasury and directly looting it with the primitive instinct of a prehistoric being, nothing would seem to him wrong about his latest act. But his bill is the very definition of corruption. Beyond violating his party’s pledge to restructure Nigeria along a federalist template, the bill gives the lie to his inaugural day announcement that he belongs to nobody but rather to everybody.
This bill that shows the president as bending over backwards to cater to the interest of only a section of this country is neither a product of clear thinking nor incorruptibility. Let nobody forget that the call for the restructuring of this country regained traction towards the end of last year, just about the time Buhari sent or was sending his bill to the National Assembly. That the president could think of nothing better than to propose a bill of this nature at a time his party was busy going around vending the report of a committee it says would guide its programme of restructuring portrays him as a mere politician whose words should not be paid the attention reserved for statesmen.
But whatever is the spin the presidency would put on this latest treachery, there can be no denying the fact that here is one evidence, if no other, that there is a huge disconnect between what Buhari and his party say and what they actually do. This is corruption on full display. And for anyone who would be wise to the shenanigans of this government, they would be better off paying attention to what it does rather than what it says.
Buhari’s water bill is a polarising document that can only serve to widen the gulf that has kept Nigeria as a country without a soul, a polity of about two hundred million people that is stuck in time and is unable to transit from the status of a state and a mere ‘geographical expression’ to a nation. No thanks to the perfidious activities of past and present rulers who celebrate injustice in the name of promoting unity and patriotism.
At a time when this government is seen as inept and lacking the will to engage the murderous elements that have turned large sections of this country into killing fields where farming communities are randomly sacked and the inhabitants exterminated; just when the present government that is perceived as promoting Fulani domination while employing both fair and foul means to prise off ancestral properties by way of land and other landed resources from their rightful inheritors appears lost for the right response to the security challenges facing the country- it beats comprehension that the government would do anything that could be vaguely interpreted as a backdoor attempt not only to further destroy our already twisted federal structure not to mention create a legal veneer for the terror herdsmen’s unacceptable activities of land grabbing.
Does it surprise anyone that this accursed water bill, a senselessly aggravating instrument, if there was ever any, is being interpreted as Buhari’s way of surreptitiously handing over to his Fulani kin what they have been taking away from their owners with increasingly gory violence in recent times? The egregiously polarising character of the so-called water bill can be seen from the fact that the unity that generally makes truth a sworn enemy of self-serving legislators has for once been broken along ethnic and sectarian lines.
The real tragedy here is not just that this has happened as some would want us to believe. The tragedy lies with thoughtless individuals or groups of deceivers whom we should all be condemning for proposing such a dangerous bill at a time of grave tension and suspicion in the land. Apartheid as practiced in South Africa had legal backing in spite of its aberrant provisions. In the unlikely event that this water bill which appears dead on arrival passes through both chambers of the National Assembly- should the legislators opposed to it now succumb to financial pressures or executive intimidation, the bill will still be a blight on our sense of nationhood and would be worth nothing more than the paper on which it was crafted. It would not matter that it passed through a legal process. It would simply lack moral authority which would be the basis for another cycle of acrimony across the country.
It is a strange thing that a Federal government that has no land of its own save what it takes from the states, forcefully or otherwise- it is a matter of mystery that a centre that should properly speaking depend on its constituent elements for its existence now seeks to take what does not belong to it even at the expense of violating the Land Use Act that vests control of land in state governments. Notwithstanding the ambiguity that was deliberately inserted into the provisions and operations of the military-induced Land Use Act as to who controls the land in the states and the resources above and beneath it, an ambiguity that gives the states control of the land while it simultaneously cedes control of the resources under and above the land to the centre, why should a government that defines itself as federal, one that is already overburdened with responsibilities that rightfully belong to the states that it says it wants to be free from- why should such a government seek to entangle itself further in the affairs of its constituent elements even as it professes commitment to restructuring the country in conformity with the demands of a federal constitution? What but ignorance, fed by greed that was itself borne of corruption, could explain this?
Yes, the legislators opposed to this bill should remember they have a responsibility to the corporate safety and existence of this country beyond the self-righteous avowals of one man that sees himself as upright while every other person is corrupt. They should ensure that Buhari’s water bill does not see the light of day. If the presidency under Muhammadu Buhari is at once ignorant and insensitive to the feelings of Nigerians across the different parts of this country, the legislators should show themselves wiser and responsible.