The Presidency has advised state governors and others opposed to the bill on water resources, sent to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari, to express their opposition to the bill through the National Assembly.
The bill, seeking to concentrate the control of water resources in the hands of the Federal Government, had, on May 24, divided senators along regional lines.
Ekiti, Rivers and Cross River states have also rejected the bill, while the South-South Governors’ Forum, led by Seriake Dickson, asked the President to immediately withdraw it.
Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose; his Rivers State counterpart, Mr. Nyesom Wike; and Prof. Ben Ayade of Cross River State, were opposed to the bill.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in an interview on Saturday gave an indication that Buhari would not withdraw the bill.
Shehu said lobbying the National Assembly members was one of the good things about democracy, asking those opposed to the bill to explore the option.
He said, “The governors know the right thing to do. The matter is before the parliament and they know the parliamentary process.
“Law-making process is not new to them; they know it. So, why can’t they go and canvass their position in the parliament? They have members in the Senate and the House of Representatives. They can lobby.
“Why can’t they just go to the parliament and pass their views across? That is the good thing about democracy. Nobody will sit down and just make a law.
“The parliament is the custodian of the sovereignty of the Nigerian people. They should explore the parliamentary process and make their input.
“Even executive and private bills are defeated in the parliament once they don’t represent the views of Nigerians.”
Bill violates Land Use Act, say senators
But in separate interviews, some senators said the bill violated the Land Use Act.
Senator Adesoji Akanbi (APC, Oyo South) said his opposition to the bill was based on the fact that it would contradict the provisions of the Land Use Act.
He noted that should the Federal Government take control of interstate rivers, there would be crises between the states and the Federal Government on the ownership of the rivers.
“What does the Land Use Act say? Who has the vested interest in land? Is it not the states? Another contradiction is: who has the ownership of the mineral resources on and underneath the land?
“The same constitution that gives ownership of land to states gives ownership of the resources in it to the Federal Government. The question now is: on which side will the water fall? But sincerely, I think land and the resources therein should be left with the states,” Akanbi stated.
Also, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), who responded to a text message asking him if he supports the bill, tacitly replied with, “No.”
He did not reply the following message asking him to explain his opposition to it.
The Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba South), who had earlier expressed his support for the bill, disclosed that his constituents had raised issues against it.
He said, “I spoke for the bill to the extent of the importance of water to our communities and not on the aspect of the controversy generated over the ownership of land where such water is situated. These are two different things.
“Now, this controversy is also generating a lot of debate in my constituency. My constituents in particular feel the need to be told more about the essence of the ownership of the land where the water is situated. This essentially is the thorny aspect of the bill.”
Asked if he would suggest that the ownership of water resources be with the Federal Government or the states, Bwacha said, “The Land Use Act is clear about ownership of land and this is one contentious issue I never touched until it was pointed out by a colleague. It is a matter that is weighty enough. We need roundtable discussions on it; otherwise, there will be a lot of controversies.”
In his reaction, Senator Phillip Gyunka (PDP, Nasarawa North) stated that he was “strongly” against the bill.
“If you are to think about the water resources bill, they want to claim ownership of every water site. What about the people in the riverine areas?”
Senator Baba Kaka Garbai (APC, Borno Central) admitted that the bill had polarised the lawmakers across regional lines, although he declined to comment on where he stood on the bill.
He noted that the controversy led to the stepping down and referral of the legislation to a panel for a review.
But Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central) criticised those condemning the bill. According to him, their approach to the bill is not parliamentary.
He said, “I think the issues are overblown. When issues are given religious, tribal or regional sentiment, it is unpatriotic.
“The people who put the bill together must have their intention but that is not to say everybody will see it through that prism. Every other person will look at it from their own angle based on their interests. But I am not happy; I am disappointed with the way the bill is being treated and the sentiments around it. They are not parliamentary.
“If anybody has issues with the bill, there is a process with which to go about it that is parliamentary. But now, it has taken a sectional, regional and divisive form and I don’t think it is good for us.”
An executive bill sent to the Senate seeking to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government two weeks ago divided senators across regional lines. While northern senators support the bill and its objectives, their southern counterparts are opposed to it.
The division occurred at the plenary on May 24 when the lawmakers considered the report on the bill by the Senate Committee on Water Resources.
To douse the rising tension, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had cut the debate short, ruling that the bill be stepped down and be reviewed.
The committee was to report back last Wednesday but it did not. – Punch.