•As Kogi, Kebbi, Adamawa, Ondo, Ogun, others differ
•PDP senators vow to oppose the bill
By Emma Amaize, Dayo Johnson, Henry Umoru, Vincent Ujumadu, Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu. Peter Duru, Boluwaji Obahopo, Emma Una, Femi Bolaji, David Odama, Umar Yusuf, Kabir DanKatsina &Daud Olatunji, Chinonso Alozie
No fewer than nine out of the states that would be affected if the Senate passes the National Water Resources Bill it recently urged the executive to reintroduce have vowed to resist any attempt to take over their lands under any guise.
In kicking against the move the states told Sunday Vanguard that the bill if passed into law would encroach on urban lands vested in them by the Land Use Act.
They queried why the Senate called for the reintroduction of the bill which was rejected by the eight Senate following outrage across concerned states.
However, Kogi, Kebbi, Adamawa, Ogun, and Kwara shared different opinions with others.
The Senate President, Sen Ahmad Lawan, had less than a fortnight ago, said the National Assembly, NASS, would work out an arrangement for the executive to re-introduce the bill.
The proposed legislation 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.
States that would be affected are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau, and Kebbi.
Sunday Vanguard recalls that the Eight Senate had rejected the bill which was sent by the executive because it would further centralise powers and the nation’s resources.
Most lawmakers had frowned on the provisions of the bill that deal with the Public Trusteeship of Water during the clause-by-clause consideration.
Specifically, the provision gives the federal government the right to use, manage and control all surface and groundwater including water beds and banks across the country.
Chiefly among the grouse of the lawmakers was the fear that could create conflicts in affected communities.
Similar sentiments are held by the opposing states, who made their positions known to Sunday Vanguard.
TARABA: Law seeking to seize our lands unacceptably
Making its position known, Taraba State Government said such legislation requires the input of state governors.
Senior Special Assistant to Governor Darius Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan-Abu, who disclosed this to Sunday Vanguard, said any law that seeks to take over the lands that belong to the state would not be acceptable.
He explained that the Land Use Act gives state governors full control of lands in their respective states and the resources in them.
The governor’s spokesperson, however, noted that what state governments cannot take ownership of according the constitution is the mineral resources, which he said are solely vested in the federal government.
Dan-Abu said: “What the federal government controls solely are the mineral resources because the constitution already provides for that and cannot be changed.
“However, land in every state comes under the control of the governors and they hold them and the resources in trust for the people of the state.
“Whatever seeks to contravene this is not acceptable to Taraba State Government.
“Water resources are part of what belongs to the state governments and the federal government. The resources cannot by any legislation be centrally controlled without the consent of the states.”
BENUE: Bill, an advanced form of Ruga
Toeing the same line, the Benue State government cautioned against the plan to reintroduce what it described as controversial Water Resources Bill.
The government described the proposed law as an advanced form of introducing the Ruga settlement policy by the federal government.
Also, the government said the bill would not be in the interest of the majority of Nigerians, urging the NASS not to accept it from the executive.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the state governor, Mr Terser Akase, described the move as a deceptive plan by the federal government to grab land from the people.
He said: “Benue State Government finds the reintroduction of the water resources bill curious. It is another veiled attempt at land grabbing.
“We view the move as an advanced form of Ruga. We reject the bill. We urge the 9th National Assembly to reject and throw out that bill. It is clearly not in the interest of the majority of Nigerians.
“If the bill is passed, the Land Use Act will be suspended and the people will lose the rights to their lands. We wonder why the federal government is hell-bent on issues of land at a time there are numerous issues of urgent national interest, especially the widespread insecurity in the country.
“Benue certainly will not support this move because it is anti-people hence it will not enjoy the support of Nigerians.”
ANAMBRA: Constitution places custody of lands on states
On its part, Anambra State maintained that the Land Use Act is clear on ownership of land in the country, noting any alteration on the Act should be constitutional.
On fears that the central government might use the lands for Ruga settlement if the bill becomes law, the state government maintained that Ruga would not work in its territory.
The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, who spoke on behalf of the state government, said the issue of implementation of Ruga in any state would not work unless the governor of the state supports it. “The Land Use Act is very clear and only constitutional amendment can change it”, he said.
C/RIVER: We’re not in support of the bill
Making its stance known, Cross River State, said it would not support any action that would take away land from its people.
Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Mr Christian Ita, urged the federal government to concentrate on maritime authority and allow states to handle shoreline issues.
He said: “The state, I mean Cross River, cannot be in support of anything or action by the federal government that will take away land from the people.
“Territorial land though vested in the federal government is exclusively within the purview and rights of the state to manage. The state has a Water Management Agency charged with the responsibility to oversee what goes on in the river shorelines in the state and also collects revenue for the development of such areas.
“The state expects the federal government to be concerned about the activities of Maritime Authority and allow the state to handle immediate matters that directly concern the water shorelines. We are certainly not in support.”
IMO: Govt to liaise with Senators
In Imo, the Special Adviser on Media to Governor Emeka Ihedioha, Steve Osuji, said the state would respond to the planned reintroduction of the bill through its legislators.
He said that part of the decision would be to invite the senators from Imo state, to explain to the people what the bill is all about before it will take its position on the matter.
Osuji said: “The Senate does not have the powers to call for an executive bill. It is the duty of the executive to send an executive bill. If the Senate wants the bill it should introduce its bill. The Senate can raise its bill and pass it.
“When the bill gets to the Senate we can take it from there. We have our senators there who represent us. We can through our senators to make our points. We will even invite our Senators to come and tell our people what the bill is all about and we will take a stand.”
NASSARAWA: Natives oppose the bill, state govt mum
In Nasarawa state, some natives expressed fears that the move could result in the loss of their ancestral lands.
A community leader in Lafia, Jonas Aminu said only ordinary Nigerians, do not understand what the bill is aiming at, adding that the implications could breed communal conflicts.
He said: “We will not subscribe to that bill. Our forefathers died and left the rivers for us. As at today if this bill is passed considering the issues and reality on the ground, it then means we have lost our source of livelihood to those the government.
Today, most of the river banks are used for farming and dry season cropping but when this bill is passed we all will lose that opportunity. Many people will suffer because their earnings are from fishing and farming at the bank of the rivers.
“We are opposed to the bill. Most of us who are Magali sons and daughters in Nasarawa are farmers. We have already held a meeting and we are not in support of this bill, even if the government comes up with a referendum we would oppose it.”
On his part, a community leader in Wamba, one of the areas earmarked for Ruga settlement, Audu James said: “The quick acceptance of the Ruga settlement programme by the Nasarawa State governor raises serious questions that need urgent and sincere answers.”
Also speaking, a retired civil servant, Jerry Kwampok said:” They should formulate a policy on boundary dispute and adjustment to address the age-long injustices against the people of the North Central and Southern Nigeria.
“Under the new national action plan that we are calling for, the government should send a bill to the National Assembly for constitution amendments to cede the present states of Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, and FCT to Southern Nigeria.”
ONDO: Govt, indigenes on different pages
On his part, Ondo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation Mr, Donald Ojogo said: “ We would rather wait for details because it will be preposterous to embark on such without having a deep knowledge of the bill.”
However, South West Zonal Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Ayo Fadaka urged the Senate to focus on issues that promote true federalism instead of what he described as those that promote centralisation of powers.
He said: ‘’lt is getting clearer that the current Senate leadership is assiduously working to reduce the clout and independence of the National Assembly by reducing it to a mere pliant tool in the hands of the Buhari government. It is sad to note that at a time Nigerians are clamouring for restructuring and proper federalism, these elements are still focused on tightening spaces and stealing privileges from the federating units. This clearly shows that they are pursuing internal colonisation and their schemes will fail.”
Similarly, Publicity Secretary of the pan- Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, cautioned the Senate against becoming a puppet of the executive.
Puppet of the executive
“We have noticed how he has been trying to bring up the defeated bill through which the executive arm that sought to take over riverbanks across the country in pursuit of the Ruga policy and other domination quests.
“The wisdom of the Land Use Act investing lands in governors through whom the federal government can apply for spaces for projects should never be violated.
Nigeria is presently in a precarious situation and all those who are holding temporary offices should not inflict permanent damage to the country.
Our people have made it clear that they don’t want Ruga. The governors know the implications of getting of losing the support of their people. They will and must be careful with this poison.
“His flaunting of the APC majority in Senate shows a lack of understanding of the fact that national cohesion overrides the number of any party in parliament.’’
Also, a former Commissioner for Environment in Ondo State, Mr Sola Ebiseni said: “One should ordinarily have dismissed this with a wave of the hands because no knowledgeable person would contemplate introducing a law that would seek further concentration of resources and powers in the federal government. The proposed unitisation of water resources and federal government’s appropriation of land close to the rivers, is in my view, unconstitutional, provocative, irrational, against the spirit of federalism and unacceptable. In the first place, the Land Use Act, which enjoys constitutional flavour and status in the sense that its amendment requires the same rigorous procedure as the provision of the constitution, vests all land, comprised in a state, in the state governor. Where then does the National Assembly derive its powers to appropriate any land in a state for the federal government? In all the 63 items unreasonably vested in the federal government under the exclusive legislative powers, not one is related to land use or control. Talking about river banks, in some parts of the federation, like Bayelsa and my own Ilaje and Ese Odo Local Government, where everywhere is crisscrossed by rivers, how do you define river banks without in reality taking over the whole territory? It is fraudulent to say that the proposed law is not applicable to all rivers but only rivers that connect two or more states. The reality is that all the rivers, for instance, in southern states, are connected, navigable and perpetually navigated from the Republic of Benin through Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers into the Cameroons. This is why the victory ascribed to Lagos State against the National Inland Waterways Authority on control of waterways in the state was actually pyrrhic because no water route is internal and restricted within the state.
Inconsistency and contradictions
“The proposed bill, which was the first rashly introduced by the Buhari government in 2017 suffered instant miscarriage because of its inconsistency and contradictions. This time, because of fears of Ruga and all such anti-federalism contraptions, the bill will have no requisite sperm count even for conception. In the Second Republic, the Shagari Federal Government had to apply for land from the states governments for its housing programmes. You can then imagine the current situation where a federal Permanent Secretary invaded states, clearing thousands of hectares of land without the knowledge and approval of the governors.”
OGUN: Govt trusts FG, no cause for alarm
Ogun State government allayed the fears of the people over the alleged plan that the bill would introduce Ruga policy in disguise.
The state government through the Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Kunle Somorin, said the government trusts the federal government.
Somorin said “There is no point suspecting a piece of legislation that is still being processed.
“We trust the federal government not to impose unfriendly policies on our people or be mindless to “forcefully” takeover anything.
“At any rate, Ruga policy has died and we have explained our position concerning how we plan to encourage ranching in consonance with global best practices.’’
On the implications for Land Use, Somorin said “ The Act has not been repealed and so, let’s not cry wolf where none exists.
“ Our laws are our laws and we swore to uphold its tenets. We shall do no less”.
KOGI: FG, NASS mean well
Kogi State government has thrown its weight behind the move to reintroduce of the bill.
The Director-General, Media and Publicity to the governor, Kingsley Fanwo, who spoke on behalf of the government, said the Land Use Act will not be affected if the bill is passed into law.
He said: “The federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has been transparent and honest. We believe in their policies and not the fears of others.
“If they want to introduce Ruga, they have the capacity. We believe the government and our parliament are acting in the best interest of the nation.
“Kogi State Government has no problem with federal policies because we believe in the leadership of Mr President and our National Assembly.
“The federal government understands the Land Use Act and would not have envisaged any policy that violates the Act.”
ADAMAWA: Watching events
The Director of Water Resources in Adamawa State Ministry of Water Resources, Mr Medudu Aliyu, said the ministry is aware of the move by the National Assembly, adding that it is watching events unfold.
KEBBI: Executive on the right path
When Sunday Vanguard sought the opinion of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Water and Rural Development in Kebbi State, Aminu Umar, he expressed hope that the bill if passed into law, would assist the state in the management of water resources.
“If the executive arm of government sends the bill, and if it is passed into law, I am sure it would assist state governments in water management.’’
He, however, debunked insinuations that the bill is aimed at introducing Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen in disguise.
The Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Dakingari said:’’ Governor Bagudu has clearly explained the meaning of Ruga in his speeches and if we go by his explanations some Nigerians have misunderstood the programme completely. I think this bill is not about Ruga. It is aimed at another thing but some are saying it is for Ruga. It is very unfortunate.”
National Chairman, Miyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, Alhaji Kiruwa Ardon Zuru said:’’ We welcome this bill. Whatever purpose it would serve, be it Ruga or any other thing, we welcome it.’’
Edo: ‘We’re opposed to the water bill
Officials of Edo State government declined official comments on the development as they feared it could affect the state government’s relationship with the federal government. However, River Niger passes through Ilushi in Esan South-East Local Government Area, LGA, and Agenebode and other parts of Etsako Central and East LGAs.
Officials, who pleaded anonymity, told Sunday Vanguard that the state is not in support of the bill and its objectives.
A top government official said: “The state governor, Godwin Obaseki has made it very clear. The state has plans for all its land, those for agriculture, those for sports facilities and activities, those for recreation, those areas for industrial development, housing and several others. If the federal government takes over parts of our land because River Niger passes through our state, what happens to the government’s plan for those places and the people there? For instance, areas like Ilushi, Eghono, Agenebode, Udaba, Ekperi and several others, are places we already have plans for as part of the agricultural policies of this administration What happens to these programmes? I don’t see how the government will accept this. This is beyond party politics, it is about the people and how government policies affect them. This plan by the federal government will adversely affect the people. Mind you, the state government has taken its position on Ruga, we are not ceding an inch of our land to anyone and cannot also cede our land to the federal government on the ground that it wants to control land and areas around River Niger and River Benue”
Delta, Bayelsa: Mum
Aides to Delta State governor, Sen Ifeanyi Okowa, declined to speak on the matter saying they lacked sufficient information.
Officials in Bayelsa also declined to speak on the new Water Resources Bill citing the same reasons.
RIVERS: We’ll not support the bill
In Rivers, there was no response to calls and text messages to the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Simeon Nwakaudu.
However, the state had earlier stated that it would not support any law that would remove the control of water resources from its hands.
Governor Nyesom Wike, who spoke in that regard, said: “The provisions of the bill are offensive and obnoxious. We disagree with the centralised control of water resources as we are already dealing with the problem associated with over-centralisation. We are not in support of such a bill. Our reason is very simple. States have conceded so much in Nigeria, particularly the ones in the Niger Delta.
“We do not want to give such rights of the control of water resources to the centre. The reason is that the principle of federalism supports the devolution of powers more to the federating units than the centre.
“At a point when states are clamouring for the control of their affairs, the federal government is trying to limit the control of their (states) resources and affairs. The Rivers State Government will not support that.”
Wike at the time called on the federal government to withdraw the bill and make further consultations.
We’ll resist .unpopular bill—PDP senators
However, senators elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, vowed to resist any move that would not be in the overall interest of Nigerians.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard, said as lawmakers, PDP senators would always strive to do things that would be in the overall interest of the country.
“Whatever we do in terms of legislation, will be in the interest of the components of the country. We will resist any move to smuggle that which will be injurious to the people of Nigeria,” he added.