There was confusion on Tuesday over the Water Resources Bill as two leaders of the House of Representatives sharply disagreed over public hearings on it.
The Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason in an interview with The PUNCH, said public hearings would be held on the controversial bill, which was abandoned by the eighth National Assembly.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, who reintroduced the bill on July 23, 2020, said there would be no more public hearings on it.
He said a public hearing on the bill was held in the eighth National Assembly, adding that there was no need for another in the current ninth assembly.
But some National Assembly members from the Middle Belt and southern parts of the country vowed to resist any attempt to pass the bill.
The executive had in 2017 presented the controversial bill to both chambers of the National Assembly. The bill seeks to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government.
The Senate on May 24, 2018, considered the executive bill for second reading, during which senators were divided across regional lines.
While northern senators supported the proposal and its objectives, their southern counterparts opposed it.
The controversy the bill generated frustrated its passage by both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The proposed law is titled, ‘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.’
When passed, it will concentrate the control of water resources around rivers Niger and Benue as well as other water ways which cut across 20 states in the hands of the Federal Government.
The affected states are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi states.
Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; and organisations such as Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum; the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Middle Belt Forum, had last week warned the Federal Government and the National Assembly against bringing back the bill.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, the lawmaker representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Constituency of Rivers State in the House, Awaji-Inombek Abiante, said he was surprised when the bill was brought back to the floor of the House.
Abiante said, “I was in the chamber one morning and I saw someone (Fulata) move a motion, bringing something (the bill) back. I can’t find it in any gazette. If there is, they should let me know because nobody knows it all. The attempt was made; they said second reading and Committee of the Whole. It is not procedural as far as I know in this National Assembly. It is against the procedure.”
When told that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), sent the bill to the last Assembly but it failed to pass and that such bills could be revisited by the current Assembly, the lawmaker argued that the process through which the legislation was reintroduced was flawed.
He stated, “Bills that were not passed, you cannot bring them back in the manner in which they have attempted to bring this back. It cannot come back that way. It is only bills that have been passed, which have become an Act of Parliament and which are not assented to (by the President) that can come back in this manner, through a motion.
“That bill, as it was killed in the eighth Assembly, can never come back this way. So, we should be able to respect our own rules. At least, let us know exactly what we are doing so that we can stand and defend the institution wherever we are.”
The lawmaker warned that the proposed law would adversely affect Lagos State and states along the rivers Niger and Benue and their tributaries.