September 30, 2020

Reps in shouting match as Speaker drops Water Bill

Igbo group rejects Deputy Speaker zoning to South-East

…Speaker orders bill withdrawn, says it lacked due process

…Disaster averted — Ohanaeze

…Gbajabiamila must remain firm — Afenifere

…M-Belt Forum lauds speaker, urges House to permanently rest Bill

…Water Resources bill needless, destined to fail – PANDEF

Arguments and counter-arguments yesterday trailed the transmission of the controversial Water Resources Bill 2020 passed into law in the House of Representatives to the Senate for concurrence, as the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, withdrew it for lack of due process.

The bill had earlier been passed into law in the lower chamber of the National Assembly before the 8th Assembly lapsed.

This is even as the  Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its counterpart in the South-East, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Middle Belt Forum hailed the speaker for withdrawing the bill.

These regional groups have been at the forefront of criticisms against contentious portions of the bill which seek to transfer control of lands from states to the Federal Government.

Withdrawal motion

A  member of the House, Benjamin Mzondu (PDP, Benue) had  raised a motion seeking withdrawal of the bill, following what he described as public outcry against it and its breach of House Rules.

But hardly had he concluded his presentation than some of his colleagues, led by the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, cut it short, arguing that the presentation followed due process. This threw the chamber into a commotion of sorts.

However, continuing with his presentation, under Matter of Privilege, Mzondu cited Order 6, Rule 1(1), 2 and 3, arguing forcefully against transmission of the bill to the Senate for it to finally become law.

He said: “I wish to refer to Order 6, Rule 1(1), 2 and 3 and Order 12, Rule 18 to state that I was deprived of my legislative privilege of sighting gazetted copy of the National Water Resources Bill HB 921, and as such could not participate in the consideration of the report by the Committee of the Whole, which also deprived me of my rights and privilege of representation to my people.

“Mr. Speaker, honourable colleagues, it is in the effort to eliminate the “Element of Surprise”, that the House in its wisdom, included in its Standing Rules, states that every Bill must be gazetted or clean copies circulated. “It is important to note that the word emphasized here, is “gazette,” which means appearing in the Bills Journal of the House.

“The words used are clear and unambiguous, they ought to be given their ordinary meaning, as stated.  Mr. Speaker, Hon. Colleagues, I was misled by the use of Order 12, Rule 18 of our Standing Orders.  It is an issue of law and procedure and Hon. Speaker, the onus of interpretation lies with you.

“The laws lay on your shoulder to interpret these rules as stated in Order 7 Rule 1(7). It is important to emphasize that I have painstakingly searched through all the journals of the House and cannot find where the bill is gazetted and I stand to be challenged or corrected.

“The next question for your consideration, Hon. Speaker, deals with jurisdiction, whether the House has such powers to entertain a bill. Such proceedings become a nullity ab initio, no matter how they are conducted and decided.

“So having not met this condition, I wish to move, relying on Order 8, Rule 8 and the above stated rules, that ‘the House do rescind/expunge its decision of 23rd July, 2020, which adopted the National Water Resources Bill, 2020 HB921 to have been read the Third time.”

Speaker orders bill withdrawn

His latter prayers were granted, after a prolonged debate from both sides of the legislative divide, the speaker ordered withdrawal of  the Bill.

Giving the order, Gbajabiamila said: “Fundamental issues have been raised by Mzondu, he has backed them up with a clear language, that such bills must be re-gazetted.’”

At this point, Deputy Speaker of the House, Idris Wase, cut in, saying the bill followed due process.

Wase’s argument was buttressed by sponsor of the Bill, Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) and chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Hassan Fulata (APC, Jigawa).

Lawmakers, led by Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), however, put up a strong defence for Mzondu’s submission, leading the speaker to order withdrawal of the Bill for fresh gazetting.

It will be recalled that the same Bill which was earlier introduced as Executive Bill was killed in the Senate, but passed in the House.

The instrument, however couldn’t be re-transmitted to the Senate for Senate’s concurrence before the 8th Assembly lapsed.

Contentious portions

The contentious aspect of the bill states: “Section 13 of the Bill provides that “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.”

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“Section 2(1) of the Bill caps it all, saying, “all surface water and ground water, wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people,” which means that the affected states will become no man’s land.”

Disaster averted — Ohanaeze

Reacting to the action of the speaker yesterday, Ohanaeze Ndigbo hailed the action, saying disaster was averted.

“Sanity has prevailed. The withdrawal of the bill is disaster averted. Passing that bill would have boiled over the country that is already heated up. The bill was thrown out by the 8th Assembly because Nigerians rejected it. Implementing it now would have sparked off an uncontrollable spiraling conflict throughout the country.

“He (speaker) is a Nigerian who feels the purse of the relegated. At this critical and turbulent time in the course to keep Nigeria one, it is only apt that the National Assembly should heed the wise counsel and admonitions of informed Nigerians.

“The NASS represents the respective political constituencies of Nigeria and could not afford to stand against the wishes of the people.  We thank the speaker and members of the House for identifying with their people who have continuously rejected the envisaged in all ramifications,” Ohanaeze spokesman said.

Gbajabiamila must remain firm – Afenifere

Also reacting, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political Organisation, Afenifere, yesterday, commended the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, for withdrawing the controversial National Waterways Bill, saying it was the proper step to take.

In a brief response to the shouting match that erupted in the House of Representatives, following Gbajabiamila’s withdrawal of the bill, Afenifere National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, urged the speaker to remain firm.

He said: “Gbajabiamila expressed surprise openly the day they smuggled it in. He has done a great thing by withdrawing it. He should be firm.”

MBF lauds speaker, urges House to permanently rest water bill

Similarly, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, commended the speaker for withdrawing the controversial National Water Resources Bill after a heated argument in the House.

The forum urged the lawmakers to ensure that the bill was permanently rested in the interest of peace and unity of the country since it had been rejected by majority of Nigerians.

National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, who yesterday was reacting to disagreements among lawmakers over the bill, said it was wrong for those he described as implementers of government policies to attempt o smuggle in the bill after it was rejected by the last Assembly.

Dr. Pogu said: “It is a good development that the bill was withdrawn by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It clearly tells us that Nigerians ought to determine what is good for them not some parochially selfish individuals. “Unfortunately from what we saw today it obviously seem that the House is divided, which also means that Nigerians are divided.

“But majority of the people do not like the bill. It is one of unpopular Fulani kind of bill, just like we had cattle colony, Ruga and the like.

“We all recall that that same Water Bill was thrown out by the last House, and the question being asked by Nigerians is why did they bring it back without even following due process?

“It clearly indicates that the government and its implementers are desperate and Nigerians have to be protected by their representatives.

“So for withdrawing the bill, the Speaker did well, his people will also tell him that he has done well. And we expect that this should be the end of the bill because it is not a popular bill and it has been rejected by majority of Nigerians.’’

Water Resources bill needless, destined to fail– PANDEF

In his reaction, National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, said the Water Resources Bill was unnecessary, adding that even when re-gazetted, it would still fail.

His words: “The people of South-South have rejected the bill from the beginning and we still reject it because we do not think it is necessary. We think it is beyond just being water bill, we do not know what the issues are, for example.  Is it that the herdsmen do not have water to give to their cows?

“What is the issue?   We believe that it is because of the land around that water area, so we expect that the National Assembly should not approve or pass a bill that will continuously be a source of conflict among people.

“You can pass a bill but you cannot implement it, why should we bring a bill that will be a source of conflict for future generation?

“It is the state governor that signs the certificate of occupancy, Cof O, holds the land in trust for the people, if they now say the land and water belong to the federal government, where will the people be living?  So they are just trying to create conflict where there is none.

“I am happy that the thing was withdrawn, let them re-gazette it.  In the final analysis, even if they pass it, our people in the National Assembly know that they would have no house, no home to come back to.”