Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State on Saturday described a report that the Federal Government in conjunction with the National Assembly plans to bring back National Water Resources Bill as a guise to grab land for herders.
By John Austin Unachukwu
The governor, who noted that the bill was rejected in 2018 by the 8th National Assembly, urged the lawmakers to reject the bill in the country’s interest.
The bill seeks to bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as river banks under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the governor described the bill as anti-federalism adding that it “negates the right of Nigerians to their God-given resources.”
Ortom noted that Section 13 of the Bill, states thus: “In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.”
He described as curious, the reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill, which was rejected in 2018 by the 8th Assembly, stating that those pushing for the passage of the bill at all costs have a surreptitious motive which is not yet clear to other Nigerians.
“The bill, in addition to its provisions which are at variance with the Land Use Act, is disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country.
“The governor maintains that the bill is another version of RUGA (Rural Grazing Area) which objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock.”
He commended socio-cultural organisations such as Afenifere, Ohaneze and Middle Belt Forum for speaking against the reintroduction of the bill at the National Assembly.
Ortom urged federal lawmakers “to act as true representatives of the people for the sake of posterity and to remember that the destiny of the country lies in their hands.”
He also advised Senators and Members of the House of Representatives to “toe the path of honour by rejecting the National Water Resources Bill like the 8th Assembly did,” the statement read in parts.Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka condemned the Federal Government and the National Assembly (NASS) for bringing rejected Water Bill through the back door.
The Nobel Laureate frowned at the attempts by the Federal Government with the connivance of the National Assembly to return the National Water Resources Bill rejected by the public in 2018.
Soyinka, in a statement titled, ‘MLK’s mighty stream of righteousness,’ kicked against the return of the bill and the killing of some members of the Indigenous People of Biafra ( IPOB) by officials of the Department of State Services in Enugu.
He said: “A roundly condemned project blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions. This bill, the Bill on National Water resources 2020 is designed to hand Aso Rock absolute control over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground.
“The basic facilitator of human existence, water, forget for now all about streams of righteousness! is to become exclusive to one centralised authority. It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitised rockery that cannot even boast of the water divining wand of the Prophet Moses. If the current presiding genius–and this applies equally to all his predecessors without exception – had a structured vision of Nigerian basic entitlements, Nigerians would by now, be able to boast the means of fulfilling even that minimalist item of COVID-19 protocols that call for washing one’s hands under running water! As for potable water, for drinking and cooking, let us not even begin to address such extra-terrestrial undertaking.
“What next for the exclusive list? The rains? I declare myself in full agreement with virtually every pronouncement of alarm, outrage, opprobrium and repudiation that has been heaped upon this bill and its parentage, both at its first outing and since this recent re-emergence. It is time to move beyond denunciations however and embark on practical responses for its formal deactivation and permanent internment. Let all retain in their minds that, from the same source that preached the “streams of righteousness” is encountered the promise of “no more floods, the fire next time.”
Dwelling on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement provoked by the racial killing of a black man by a United States cop and Martin Luther King’s speech to discard racism, the elder statesman noted that in the past few days he mulled over the watershed episode and was compelled to rephrase: Do Nigerian lives matter? Do farmers’ lives matter? Do IPOB lives matter? Do innocent lives matter? And most disturbingly: Do future lives matter?
He added, “One passage in Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” has leapt to the forefront as a warning that relates to that final interrogatory – do future lives matter? And it does so in a most literal manner, one that MLK could never have envisioned! It persists in echoing through the mind, reinforced by the recent killings of innocent humanity – mostly youths — in Enugu, by state forces, under the pretext – shall we presume? – of preventing secessionist agitations?
The Nobel laureate further said the promulgators of the obscenity, high and low, should understand that the placid waters they think to control unjustly and grotesquely, would turn to be Martin Luther King’s “mighty stream of righteousness” that would overwhelm and sweep them off their complacent, and increasingly loathsome sectarian and conspiratorial heights.
He said, “One polluted stream of human existence compounds the next. A violation here joins forces with its tributary of resentment there yonder, all seemingly unconnected. Martin Luther King’s streams of righteousness turn into a mighty torrent of repulse that overwhelms the perpetrators but, alas, takes down much else as collateral, irreparable damage. That is the only cause for regret and – restraint. Hence our duty to position that anguished question frontally, and call the world to witness our open propagation of that challenge: Do future lives matter?
“Let Buhari and his myrmidons ponder that question in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds. They should not bequeath to future generations the harvest of the grapes of wrath!”
Besides Soyinka, groups including the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), rejected the water bill and advised communities to demand explanations from their representatives in the National Assembly.
It called on all the communities opposed to the bill which it said was meant to “grab land around waterways for cattle herders to use,” to organise community special sittings for their representatives to explain the meaning of the latest move and their roles in it.
On its part, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation said the bill would not only be rejected again but would also be challenged for its legality.
The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, said: “It is a tinder box that must certainly explode if they choose to embark on such a precipitous peregrination”.
Achi-Okpaga said: “There is no gain saying that the implication is as envisaged that the Federal Government will acquire the water ways from the people and keep same at the disposal of unwelcome visitors or aliens; a clear, unfair and natural case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“When Nigerians fail to resist such ungodly act the next would be an Act to take our compounds from us so that we begin to operate in oblivion.”
Also reacting to the bill, the Senator representing Benue North East Senatorial District, Dr. Gabriel Suswam has said that the proposed National Water Resources Bill is highly ‘unacceptable’ and must be vehemently rejected by the people.
Suswam warned that the Bill which is being proposed by the Federal Government has a potential to create a big problem for the country.
The former governor stated this in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area during the commissioning of newly constructed primary school by the Benue State Government in collaboration with the Universal Basic Education Commission, (UBEC).
Sen. Suswam assured that the bill which seeks to take over land and River to the Federal Government is highly is already dead before arrival at the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
“Though the bill is yet to come before the red chamber of the National Assembly, it will die on arrival in whatever form it comes because it is anti-people. For me, I cannot sit down as a representative of the people and allow the Federal Government take over the water of the people.
“The Land Use Act of 1978 clearly states that all land in a state belongs to the state government and it will require a constitutional review for this to happen,” Suswam said.
He lauded the milestone achievements of Governor Samuel Ortom in education, maintaining that he had continued to create a conducive atmosphere for the education sector in spite of distraction and in the face of lean resources.
Suswam appealed to the people to remain steadfast in supporting Governor Samuel Ortom and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), and avoid the fundamental mistake of 2015.
“I have been through this and I know what it means to embark on project of this nature at this time. What the governor has done is a no mean feat. In spite of distractions, he is forging ahead. I will stand with him till the end of his tenure because he is doing what is right,” Suswam stated.
Also the Middle Belt Forum warned the National Assembly against conniving with the Federal Government to return the bill, warning that if passed, it “would set Nigeria on fire”
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has rejected the Water Resources Bill which is presently before the National Assembly, adding that it has also instituted a legal action against the government with the aim of challenging the government’s excesses.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF); Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum (MBF) said the lands across the country should be under the control of the state governors in line with the Land Use Act.
According to a press statement jointly signed by PANDEF Leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Afenifere Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Ohanaeze Leader; Chief John Nwodo and MBF President, Dr Pogu Bitrus, SMBLF backed Governor Samuel Ortom who said the attempt to ‘secretly’ pass the bill was anti-federalism, adding that it negates the right of all Nigerians.
“The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum is once again impressed with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue for showing how a governor should be responsive to the plight of his people under repression with his latest statement on the obnoxious, vexatious and divisive overwork the Buhari government is doing for herdsmen through its devious plan on water resources bill.
“The governor insisted that the bill which sought to bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as river banks under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies was anti-federalism and also negated the right of Nigerians to their God-given resources.
“He further observed that Section 13 of the Bill, states thus: ‘In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.’
“He described as curious, the reintroduction of the Bill, which was rejected in 2018 by the 8th Assembly adding ‘those pushing for the passage of the bill at all cost have a surreptitious motive which is not yet clear to other Nigerians.
“We agree totally with the governor….This country has lived in peace for several years with its lands vested in the governors through the Land Use Act which is part of the constitution.”