The National Water Resources Control Bill, 2020 is to be represented to the floor of the House of Representatives following its withdrawal on Tuesday.
There was serious opposition to the bill by some members over alleged breach of House Standing Rules while working towards passing the bill into law.
During plenary, some members of the House drew the attention of the leadership to various rules of the House, which had been allegedly flouted.
They said that the bill should be thrown away or at best withdrawn, reworked and then represented for consideration.
The bill was passed two months ago before the legislators went on recess.
The water bill had faced serious opposition from within the National Assembly and from outside, with some people opposed to it, saying it was meant to take away their “God-given resource”, while those supporting the bill said its merits were deliberately discredited using politics and other divisive tendencies.
Had the bill sailed through on Tuesday, it would have been sent to the Senate for concurrence and thereafter to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
However, following the adoption of a matter of privilege raised by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu (PDP-Benue), the members of the House of Representatives unanimously resolved to gazette the bill for reconsideration.
Advancing his argument, Mzondu said that the bill was not gazetted in line with House rules and that clear copies of the bill were not circulated to all members to peruse and raise objections if the need arose.
According to him, “My privilege has been breached because I was denied the opportunity of seeing the bill before it passed.
“The House Rules is clear and unambiguous, Order 12 Rule 16, 17 and 18 is expressly clear on the gazetting bills.
“Mr Speaker, Hon. colleagues, it is in the effort to eliminate the ‘Element of Surprise’ that the House in its wisdom, included in its Standing Rule, that every bill must be gazetted and 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.
“I, therefore, move that the bill be completely expunged or be gazetted and subjected to the public hearing.
“Mr Speaker, 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.
“Where the bill was labelled as Bill 2020, it was not considered at such.
“The laws lay, on your shoulder to interpret these rules as stated in Order 7 Rule 1(7).
“It is important to emphasise 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.
“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 from our records.'”
His call was applauded by some members.
In his contribution, Rep. Nkem Abonta (PDP-Abia) said that the procedure followed with a view to making the bill law was faulty because it contradicted the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to him, the bill needed to have been gazetted first, clean copies shared to members ahead of taking further decision; arguing that the rule of the House was also breached in the way and the manner it passed.
He said the bill should be withdrawn completely.
- ‘We followed due process’
Leading support for the bill, the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase (APC- Plateau), who argued against Mzondu’s position, said that the bill followed due process in its passage.
According to him, the bill was stepped down when members complained that they had not seen it, saying that the bill was returned and members were all given clean copies before it was considered at the Committee of the Whole.
On his part, the sponsor of the bill, Sada Soli (APC-Katsina), said that the right process was followed before the bill was passed.
He also insisted that clean copies of the bill were distributed to members who were at the plenary the day it was passed, saying nothing untoward.
According to him, the bill is a consolidation of four laws, which had existed for 35, 34, 27 and 10 years.
Also, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata (APC-Jigawa), said that the bill was first read on Dec. 19, 2018, in the 8th Assembly.
He said that the bill was introduced by the Executives in the 9th Assembly and was subjected to the House rules.
But some members shouted on top of their voice in disagreement on the grounds that they were not privy to the clean copy of the bill.
Our correspondents report that the heated debate somehow degenerated to the extent that everything about the bill was reduced to an argument between legislators from the so-called “far north” and those from the South who have the support of those from the much-touted “middle-belt”.
This prompted the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) to speak so as to get the attention of members.
He said that the bill be withdrawn and gazetted for fresh consideration.
Speaking with Journalists in an interview on the Bill earlier on Monday, Soli described the stiff opposition to it as “a gang up by vested interests opposed to regulations in the sector.”
He said there were powerful interests using the nation’s water resources for decades without paying anything to the government.
Soli noted that those interests were now instigating others with frivolous personal, regional, or ethnic interests to oppose the bill, which he said will be the best for the country.
According to him, with lack of a streamlined regulatory legislation, the Nigerian water resources were being bastardised at will at the expense of the people.
He also dispelled the rumours being bandied around that a certain portion of land will be taken along the river banks and be given to herdsmen, saying it was clear mischief by people bent on creating divisions in the country.
- Water bill will not die – House leader
Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), on Tuesday, said the Water Resources Bill is not dead, saying it would soon be represented.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust, the lawmaker said they would start the consideration of the bill afresh.
Insisting that there was nothing new, the lawmaker said his colleagues only complained that legislative due process was not followed in the consideration of the bill.
“Nigerian citizens are unnecessarily becoming suspicious about the bill.
“This kind of sentiment has now come through the floor of the House and so many members picked it, especially that they have to see the nitty-gritty of this law.
“What we are going to do now is to re-gazette the bill and let it pass through all the due processes, right from the committee.
“It would be laid on the table, and it would be referred back to the relevant committee on water resources for a memo to now be raised for a fresh public hearing and bring back the bill for a clause by clause consideration,” he said.
Asked if the bill could be seen dead, he said, “No, no the bill is not dead.
“It was not as if it was killed.
“The agitation from members was that they want to be part of the process of the consideration of the bill.
“Members believe that you are giving them something in a close manner, something they are not aware of.
“And you can agree with me that already, there are a lot of sentiments…
“So much sentiment and mischief, some of which are unnecessary as far as I am concerned.
“For the speaker, in order for him to allow peace to reign, he now said ‘okay, since members are interested, and they don’t want us to do the other way round, let this bill be re-gazetted’.
“So, the ruling was that the bill would be re-gazetted, represented to the House and be referred back to the committee,” he said.
Doguwa said anytime from now, the bill would be represented at the House.
- The water bill
Daily Trust reports that the Executive Bill is tagged ‘An Act to establish a regulatory framework for the water resources sector in Nigeria.”
Those who drafted it said it was meant to, among other interventions provide for equitable and sustainable development, management, use, and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources; improve citizens’ right of access to safe water and basic sanitation; meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations; promoting equitable and affordable access to water and reducing poverty; protecting the water environment for sustainability of the resources and protection of aquatic ecosystems, and recognising the polluter pays principle; promoting the efficient, sustainable and beneficial use of water in the public interest.
The bill sought to provide a legal framework for the management and use of water resources in the country with the view to generate revenue for the government at all levels.
- ‘No comment’
Although, none of the senior officials of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources was willing to speak on the withdrawal of the bill when Daily Trust contacted them on Tuesday, one of the directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bill should not be politicised.
The director said the bill was for the interest of Nigerians and should be supported.
Daily Trust reports that on Sunday, a water resources expert and National President of the Association of Waterwell Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners, Mr Michael Ale, blamed the rejection of the Water Resource Bill 2020 on the federal government for poor and effective communication.
Ale observed in a statement that the federal government should have sensitised the public before bringing up the bill.
He said had it been the bill scaled through, it would go a long way in regulating water resources and the usage for commercial purposes in the country.
“If passed, this particular bill will definitely save us from oppression from big companies who are into water production.
“They are using this resource, which belongs to every one of us without any payment.
“The bill is a perfect bill meant to operate on the economic scale.
“It will stop the oppression of water resources as it is,” he said.
He stated that when regulation is introduced into water resources, it would protect other users of water in different states.
“The government lacks development communication strategy.
“They don’t know how to bring things to Nigerians.