The proposed Water Resources Bill is causing expected national hoopla and ruckus. It is not for nothing. There is the fear of a clear and present danger that, with the desertification, terrorism and violence currently ravaging parts of the North and other geopolitical zones, the bill is nothing but a ploy by the federal government to deprive certain indigenous Nigerians of their natural patrimony for the benefit of stranger elements, without the voluntary consent of the resource owners. Today, we shall continue with more contentious provisions in the Water Resources Bill that valiantly attempts to defeat reason, logic, common sense, true (or fiscal) federalism and even the concept of republicanism.
More contentious provisions of the water bill
Section 107 of the bill provides that:
“A licence may be cancelled if the licensee fails to make beneficial use of the water.”
The above provision continues with the bill’s streak of opaqueness and vagueness. It fails to define what “beneficial use of water” means. It fails to answer the all-important question of who determines the “beneficial use of water”. Is it the concerned agency, the community or the licensee? Just who?
See this unfolding scary scenario: if the designated Federal Government agency whimsically,capriciously and arbitrarily believes, for example, that the beneficial use of water in your compound should be geared towards feeding cows that do not belong to you or your family and community, your failure to use it for that particular purpose will naturally get your licence revoked or cancelled. It does not matter that you preferred drinking the water, or using it to mould blocks, or utilising it to water your plants and grass.
Section 125 of the bill contains one of the most dangerous provisions in the bill: “An authorized person may, at any reasonable time and on production of their identity card or other instrument or certificate of designation if so required, enter a property with the necessary persons, vehicles, equipment and material in order to carry out routine inspections of the use of water or disposal of wastewater under any authorization.”
Jesus Christ, help us! In simple terms, this provision simply means that people are no longer free to use the water produced in their houses as they may deem fit, without undue interruption and meddlesome interference by government. It entails that the privacy of people’s homes and properties, which is specifically guaranteed by Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution, is of no consequence. It is no longer sacred. It can be violated at will by the “authorized person” who has no recognizable public interest.
Irregular manner of re-introduction of the bill
Beyond the substantive derogations and absurdities already highlighted in the bill, the procedure that was followed in the representation of the bill is also fraught with suspicion, curiosity and irregularities.
For instance, the current chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Abubakar Fulata, who reintroduced the bill, immediately foreclosed the possibility of the bill ever going through a public hearing, in line with standard legislative practice and convention. His flimsy excuse or ground is that a public hearing, having already been conducted on its ancestral predecessor bill during the 8th NASS, there would be no need for another public hearing in the 9th NASS! Can you hear that? This is incredibly illogical and most pathetically unparliamentary.
The bill must pass first through all the stages of a legislative process afresh before it can become law. No shortcuts. Fresh. This is because the 8th NASS is quite different from the 9th NASS. It is peopled by different legislators, some new and some old. They have different backgrounds, experiences, visions and missions for their constituents. Those who heard the old bill may not be present now at the new session to hear the reintroduced bill.
By parliamentary conventions and procedures, the end of a session of the NASS automatically marks the end of the bills considered by that session, such bills had not become laws or acts. An old bill being reintroduced must be ready to go through the furnace of fire, through a fresh legislative process. Even if such bills had passed all stages of hearing during the previous Assembly, they remain nothing but mere bills, having not been assented to by the President. They are inchoate. They remain akin to clay that waits to be moulded into any shape by the potter.
Such bills must be represented to allow for fresh plurality of views, debates, agreements, and, thereafter, conclusions. It is like a a matter being heard de novo by a fresh judge upon the transfer, retirement or death of the former judge hearing the same case.
This luciferous bill cannot be smuggled into our corpus juris by stealth and through the back door, without public hearing. WE MUST HEAR IT PUBLICLY AND ABORT THE EVIL FOETUS IN ITS EMBRYONIC STAGE.
This bill also dangerously and audaciously dares to encroach into the hallowed precincts and territory of the Land Use Act (LUA), without first seeking an amendment of the Constitution. This is because, by virtue of section 315(5) of the 1999 Constitution, aided by several appellate decisions of the intermediate and Supreme courts, the LUA is clothed with constitutional flavour. It is not an ordinary act of Parliament. So, to amend the LUA, you must first amend the Constitution itself, under Section 9 thereof. The kernel of the said decision is that provisions of any Act that are contrary to those of the LUA are null and void, by virtue of Section 1(1) of the same Constitution. The proposed Water Resources Bill that seeks to seize state lands and give them to the Federal Government under the thin guise of controlling water resources is ominously repugnant to the letter, spirit and tenor of the LUA.
As the Court of Appeal succinctly put it in NIGERIA INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH v. NURTW (2012) LPELR-4612 (CA) :
“The Land Use Act is a special Federal enactment which has been accorded extraordinary status by the aforementioned section of the Constitution. Though it is not an integral part of the Constitution, but claims special protection under Section 9(2) of the Constitution in terms of its amendment. See Adisa v. Oyinwola (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt. 674) 116, Nkwocha v. Govt. Ananmbra State (984) 1 SC NLR 634” Per JAURO, J.C.A.(P. 16, paras. D-F)”.
Why is the NASS afraid of public hearing, which affords the Nigerian people the opportunity to interrogate the fairness, utilitarianism and equity in the bill? Just why? Tell me.
The looming mischief behind the proposed water bill is quite clear. It further ridicules and circumscribes Nigeria’s federalism, making it unitary. Nigerians have been clamoring for proper federalism that entails devolution of powers from a behemoth, elephantine and gargantuan Federal centre to the cringing subservient states and local authorities. Yet, this satanic bill further closes the democratic space in a most hemorrhaging and asphyxiating manner.
All over the world, water resources are owned and their exploitation and utilisation controlled by states and local authorities. Water is God-given. It is life. Life and water are siamese twins; Hamlet and the Prince of Denmark; Romeo and Juliet; six and half a dozen. That was why irrepressible Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (Abami Eda) lyrically sang, “Water, e no get enemy”. Truly, water no get enemy.
I am quite saddened that most Nigerians don’t even see or consider the greater danger that lies ahead, if such a bill were to be finally passed into law. The bill will literally consume states like Lagos, Rivers, Benue, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Kogi, most of the South-West, Middle Belt, South-South, etc. These states have large water areas in their domains. Such states will be literally striped of decision-making powers over their water resources. Thus, the bill is out to rob indigenous peoples and states, in broad daylight, of their means of existence and livelihood. It is a case of brazenly robbing Akpan to pay Abdullahi.