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Halt Buhari’s insidious Waterways Bill!

By Ochereome Nnanna

NIGERIANS should be grateful to God for the democratic governance we are enjoying. The concrete, direct dividends may be few because of poor quality governance which worsened in the past few years.

But one thing we must remain highly appreciative for is that our National Assembly is alive and vibrant. You can accuse them, perhaps correctly, of being inordinately self-loving, what with the huge perks they lavish on themselves. But, without our National Assembly, we would have lived under an autocratic rule worse than military dictatorship. Since 2000 when the Senate under the late Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo began to boldly assert the legislature’s independence, the National Assembly has refused to be the rubberstamp of the Executive Branch.

All efforts by successive presidents to pocket the federal legislature repeatedly failed. It would have been disastrous, for instance, if the All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government led by President Buhari, had succeeded in installing their handpicked surrogates on 9th June 2015. The plan of the party’s main leaders (then), Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was to reduce the National Assembly to a rubberstamp of the party. But it failed because a rump of the upstart ruling party went into alliance with opposition legislators to install independent-minded leaderships in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari

The benefits of this often escape most of us. Imagine what would have happened if Buhari had successfully installed his ultra-reactionary arch loyalist, Senator Ahmed Lawan as the President of the Senate! One of the pains that would have imposed on indigenous Nigerians would be the existence of National Grazing Reserves. A bill to this effect sponsored by Northern senators in 2016 was halted due to national outrage and stiff resistance which reverberated in the NASS chambers. Early this year, those behind these moves changed tactics. The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, announced in January that the Federal Government had perfected plans to set up what he called “cattle colonies” all over the country as a way of halting the killings by armed Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt and Southern states.

Miyetti Allah, the umbrella interest group of Fulani cattle owners, has always insisted that the killings by their foot-soldiers would continue unless their cows are allowed unfettered grazing everywhere in Nigeria. The two failed efforts made through the National Assembly and the Presidency were obviously aimed at satisfying the demands of the Fulani cattle owners for unhindered access to other peoples’ lands throughout the country. President Buhari, being Miyetti Allah’s Life Patron, appears determined to leverage on his exalted position to find new territories backed by federal laws for Fulani cattle owners all over Nigeria.

From the relentless ways this agenda is being pursued, one could imagine that if Buhari were still a military dictator, he would simply have promulgated a decree to confiscate these waterways and swathes of land. If he had a rubberstamp National Assembly, he would still have got it done. These are our reasons for always supporting the independence of the Federal Legislature, irrespective of their shortcomings. They are there to defend the Nigerian people against powerful forces with evil and unpatriotic intentions; people whose narrow ethnic, religious and regional interests override those of the nation at large.

The Executive Bill sponsored by President Buhari is the third effort in actualising the agenda. It is “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.” This bill seeks to abrogate all existing laws and institutions governing the management and control of water resources nationwide and replace them with new ones in a manner that gives the President, through the Minister of Water Resources, the power to control the nation’s rivers (especially those that pass through more than one state), lakes and underground water.

According to it:  ”All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control. There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”

Furthermore: “As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.

“States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and this Act.”

This bill is already being called “the Fulani herdsmen waterway bill” in the social media. It immediately divided the Senate along regional lines, with the far-North in support and the rest against. It, understandably, sparked off another round of vehement rejection by regional groups of the South and Middle Belt, state governors, civil society groups and other concerned Nigerians. It became so hot that Senate President Bukola Saraki referred it to a committee “for further legislative action.”  This is the President’s first Executive Bill, and it is threatening to set the nation alight!

There are obvious reasons why the Waterways Bill will flop like other land-grabbing moves by ethnic imperialists who have scourged this nation’s unity since 2015. Major rivers in Nigeria can be made available, by Federal law, to Fulani pastoralists and there is nothing the indigenous people within such vicinities can do about it. The Police and the security agencies will be handy to enforce it. It will be another White farmers versus the African landowners scenario in Southern Africa during the Apartheid regimes. It is a recipe for unending armed conflicts.

It also means the Federal Government can, wherever it identifies a large body of underground water (aquifers), decide to open a “Federal” water scheme, and no one can stop Fulani cattle owners from taking over such places. Note the emphasis on “all people” in the bill. Pastoralists from any part of Africa can come and settle along the lush waterways of the Middle Belt and South, protected by Nigeria’s Federal law to the detriment of indigenes who have for centuries depended on their natural resources for their livelihood. This falls in line with Buhari’s call on Benue people to learn to live together with “your fellow countrymen”, even though he told President Donald Trump the killer herdsmen were from Gaddafi’s Libya!

It will pit the Federal Government against the governors in whom the constitution still vests powers over the land in trust for their people. It will strengthen the impunity of central control and negate the current push for restructuring and greater devolution of powers. The entire Niger-Delta, which is serviced by water from elsewhere, can lose their lands to outsiders protected by Federal law.

This Waterways Bill is a blueprint for the seizure of the ancestral lands and river resources of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria, as well as their re-colonisation for the expansion of an ethnic empire. It will not work!

Every state should be allowed to harness the human and natural resources within its territory for the maximum uplift of all residents within it. This invidious bill and its unpatriotic proponents MUST be halted.

 


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