They knew they had no time to waste. Wisely enough, they did not waste any. They were desperately eager to put the Edo State gubernatorial election experience behind us. That is their wishful thinking.
We won’t succumb to that. It will forever be their nightmare. They attempted it all the same. So soon? Yes! Attention needed to be shifted urgently far away from that misery called Edo. No better time than now.
And they substantially achieved that, at least to a reasonable extent. Now, the vexed Water Resources Bill, aka ruga, is back on the front burner. Since Tuesday, it has dominated our public sphere, remaining as controversial as ever.
This time around, it was not difficult to identify the duo to do the hatchet job. The lot naturally fell on the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and his Water Resources counterpart, Suleiman Adamu. They are no strangers to controversy. It is quite a familiar terrain. In fact, that is their area of core competence.
Immediately, they swung into action, and there’s no stopping them. You dare not. They were resolute to drive their arguments into our stubborn skulls. To have lasting effect, they elected to address a press conference. It was in Abuja that Tuesday. They made maximum use of that space.
They poured out like never before. They went straight for the jugulars of those labelled critics of the bill. In their own wild, weird and wired imagination, they have taken them to the cleaners.
Mohammed took the lead: “Many of those criticising the bill have not even bothered to read its provisions, thus depending on second-hand information to reach their conclusions. Those who have read it have perhaps done so perfunctorily. It is not the intention of government to take over licensing and commercialising the use of water.”
He was unrepentant. He insisted there is no going back because: “The bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons.”
He then changed tactics and pleaded passionately. He worked on our sentiments: “Water flows from the North to the South and it’s in the best interest of all Nigerians.” That cannot be wholly true. He got that wrong and he needs to be told so in clear terms.
How many of our rivers have their sources in the North? And where in the North, in the desert? The rivers I know in the South do not take their sources from the North. That lie is punctured. It cannot stand the test of time.
All the same, Mohammed rambled on: “This bill is not anti-people and when people have a mindset against the bill, it’s wrong. Let’s have a free mind about this country. You can drill a borehole in your house to use without a licence. This bill only relates to the management of water resources that cross state boundaries. It does not apply to land.
“It provides, in Section 2 (3) for the Federal Government’s right to the use and management control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state.”
That is the crux of the matter. How many rivers do not transverse more than one state? Virtually all rivers in Nigeria do. Perhaps, only streams do not. So, the Federal Government is practically taking over our rivers from us. That is where our genuine fear of ruga comes in. It is valid.
We are scared of this bill. May be, that is Mohammed told us our rivers flow from the desert down South. We can’t comprehend this; we can’t come to terms with it either.
Ruga couldn’t have been RUGA, an acronym. No, not at all. Ruga or rugga is a Fulani word (Fulfulde) for human settlement. But they chose to mischievously interpret it as “rural grazing area.” That perfectly suits their ulterior motives.
Mohammed was forced to rest his case unable to convince us. Sensing danger, Adamu stepped in. He too dwelt largely on sentiments, not so impressive though:
“As a professional, I felt that this bill is good for the country. There is no subterfuge and nothing subterranean about it. This is not a Buhari bill. It is a water bill for Nigeria. Buhari has nothing to do with it.” We hear you.
The bill first reared its ugly head in 2006, so they claimed. It hit the rocks and got stuck in 2018, 12 years after. Why did they exhume it and bring it back in 2020? It’s nothing but ruga!
Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, saw between their horrible and awful handwriting. He cried out loud and clear: “The National Water Resources Bill is a deliberate, flanking move towards ruga colonisation.
“It must be resisted across board. No compromising or this nation is doomed since it will be resisted by any and all means.”
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State was even more forthcoming. Obviously, he understands them too well. He knows their antics and intrigues. He has tragic experiences to draw from right in his state.
He gave it back to them in the very language they understand: “I told them it is wickedness, as you want to control the waterways and extend it to about three kilometres radius. This means that even the Benue Government House that is close to River Benue will be removed or taken over.”
He was at home with his analysis: “What they are doing is against the Constitution, the Land Use Act is in the Constitution. The only way to amend it is through constitutional review, which two thirds of the states will endorse before it comes into effect.”
His threat: “So, if the National Assembly continues hearing on the bill, I will take them to court. It is very wrong and we will not continue to keep quiet on things that affect our land and our people. We cannot allow this injustice to continue in our country and we keep quiet.”
He meant every word he spoke: “That law will not be accepted in Benue State. We have rivers Katsina/Ala and Benue, which we will not allow anybody take away from us for the purpose of grazing cattle.
“It is a disgrace to this country that even in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, cattle have been allowed to take over our major roads, hindering free traffic flow. It is what we experience anytime you get to Abuja. It is shameful and my question is, why are we not ranching our cattle?”
It is heart-warming the new ruga bill is receiving such a groundswell of opposition. It is healthy for our home-grown and struggling democracy. See the legion of resistance: senators, Middle Belt Forum, Ohanaeze, Afenifere and elder statesmen. And still counting and growing even in strength. The line-up is limitless.
It is a struggle of our life. It must not be inconclusive. The Edo gubernatorial election has put paid to that.
We are being encouraged.