….Proposed law will trigger militancy, Reps warned
By Emma Amaize& Peter Duru, Makurdi
Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, has kicked against the reintroduction of Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly, describing it as evil.
The controversial proposed legislation, which had generated outrage across the country in the past, was reintroduced a few days ago by the Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli.
Reacting to the development in Makurdi while flagging off the distribution of improved seeds and seedlings to farmers in the 23 Local Government Areas, LGAs, of the state, Ortom described the bill as another form of Ruga.
The governor said the bill would not be unacceptable to the people of Benue State.
His words: “We will resist the reintroduction of the Water Resources Bill.
The Federal Government should concentrate and manage the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, because even if other states accept it, Benue State would not support it.
“It is an evil bill by the federal government to take over the river banks and allow herdsmen from other parts of Africa to take over the Benue Valley.
“I want to urge Benue indigenes to rise and reject the bill because it is targeted at our ancestral heritage. In their attempt to take over our inheritance they came with Ruga and cattle colony among others. But the people behind this plot can be rest assured that Benue will resist any attempt to take over our land and water resources through any guise.”
Similarly, a Niger-Delta-based group, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, cautioned that the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020, recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives, would trigger militancy in the Niger Delta.
CHURAC, in a statement by its Chairman, Board of Directors, Alaowei Cleric, said: “The nation was awakened with consternation that the National Water Resources Bill 2020 has been reintroduced at the lower house of the National Assembly by Hon. Sada Soli.
“We are quite aware that the National Water Resources Bill was first introduced into the National Assembly in 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari and passed by the lower House but the Senate failed to concur.
“The bill was again reintroduced in the 9th House of Representatives by the same Sada Soli in July 2020. However, the proposed inimical legislation again suffered a setback.
“Just the way we have been opposing the passage of the obnoxious and draconian bill from inception, there is no doubt that if passed into law, communities and people living along waterfronts in the country, particularly in the Niger Delta region, Lagos state and other aquatic areas in the country, will be deprived of their major source of livelihood which is fishing.
“Besides, the 13 percent oil derivation fund from offshore fields accruing to littoral states may also be forfeited to the Federal Government. The truism is that over 80 percent of riverine communities play host to offshore acreages in the Niger Delta region’’.
“The bill aims to confer ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the Federal Government like what they did in the petroleum resources.
“Implicitly, all waters in streams, lakes, sea, rivers, underground (boreholes), river beds and banks found in and around any community in Nigeria become the exclusive preserve and property of the Federal Government, bringing water under the exclusive legislative list.
“Even if Sada Soli said he has removed the controversial clauses in the Bill, in our holistic overview of the entire law at face value, we are quite sure that it will prohibit people living in the coastal areas to carry out fishing or use the river for any other purposes in the exercise of riparian rights without authorisation and permission of the Federal Government, the new owner of all water bodies in the country.
“Again, no person(s) or companies will be allowed to discharge wastewater in the river without the authorisation of the Federal Government. The process is to be managed by Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission.
“On critical analysis of the bill, we learned that the proposed Water Resources Regulatory Commission’s responsibility amongst others is to grant permission or licence to water users for a particular period upon payment of a fee. The commission has the power to renew, suspend or cancel any licence it has issued. Again, it also has the obligation to determine the cost.
“The danger therein is that the Niger Delta people will once again be colonized by the Nigerian Government through legislative intervention.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that the poor riverine community dwellers must apply for a licence, pay the required cost and obtain approval before they can carry out commercial fishing activities or any other businesses in their ancestral territorial waters. Any community that fails to meet these criteria will be penalized for illegal encroachment.
“The riverine communities, particularly those without land mass like the coastal Niger Delta communities who use the bank of the river for domestic activities like washing and occasionally for other purposes, will pay for discharging waste into the river.
“There is no doubt that the bill, if passed into law, will be inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It will also run contrary to the Supreme Court cases affirming the powers of state governments over inland waterways and physical planning. The same also applied to the Land Use Act which vests ownership of land on state governors.
‘The bill, therefore, is an interloper designed to arrogate state governments’ powers.
“We once again alert Nigerians to reject this evil bill whose intention is to colonize and impoverish the riverine dwellers. People of good conscience with fear of God must rally around to ensure that it is rejected once again, otherwise, history will record them as an accomplice to this wicked plan to deprive communities in the coastal areas of their territories, fishing business and means of livelihood. ‘’