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Nigeria: Afenifere, PANDEF, Ohanaeze Reject New Water Resources Bill

The bill seeks to compel Nigerians to pay tax to the federal government – like oil and gas operators – before they drill boreholes.

The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) have kicked against the recent reintroduction of the widely-rejected Water Resources Bill in the House of Representatives.
The Minister of Water Resources, Mr Suleiman Adamu and a clique of lawmakers at the National Assembly have been desperately pushing for the passage of the bill which was rejected by the eighth National Assembly following public outcry.
Their relentless campaign to ensure the passage of the bill has fuelled speculations that they have ulterior motives.

One of the offensive provisions in the bill is that while there is popular agitation for resource control and devolution of powers to the states and local governments, the bill seeks to compel Nigerians to pay tax to the federal government like oil and gas operators before they drill boreholes in the backyards.
The bill also seeks to cede ownership of waterways, Benue Valley and river banks to the federal government apparently for the resettlement of foreign herdsmen.
After the bill was rejected by the eighth National Assembly, it was recently reintroduced in the ninth House of Representatives.

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom had described its “reintroduction as “evil” and part of the agenda of the federal government to seize land from the 36 states of the federation.
“I want to urge Benue indigenes to rise and reject the bill because it is targeted at our ancestral heritage. In their attempt to take over our inheritance they came with Ruga and a cattle colony among others. But the people behind this plot can rest assured that Benue will resist any attempt to take over our land and water resources through any guise.”

According to him, the bill is an evil bill by the federal government to take over the river banks and allow herdsmen from other parts of Africa to take over the Benue Valley.
Also reacting, the PANDEF, through its spokesman, Hon. Ken Robinson, told THISDAY at the weekend that it would continue to reject the bill, which it described as an obnoxious, draconian, imperialistic and unnecessary evil.
“The people of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-south geopolitical zone had rejected the Water Resources Bill from the beginning, and our position has not changed; it remains rejected.
“That bill is not only obnoxious but draconic and imperialistic. It is an unnecessary evil. That was why it attracted wild condemnation when it was first introduced. The eighth National Assembly heeded the voice of the people, by throwing it out. It was likewise stepped down when it was reintroduced in this ninth National Assembly in 2020, following similar denunciation by citizens.

“It is, therefore, troubling that the Bill has again been introduced in the House of Representatives, more so, with less than a year to the end of the session of this National Assembly. The questions we would want the sponsors of the Bill to answer are; why the insistence on this Bill? Whose interest are they trying to satisfy?” PANDEF queried.
It said it was most absurd and callous that in the face of increased clamour for the devolution of powers to the federating units, the federal government was plotting to accrue further powers to itself through this abhorrent bill.
“Do we need to further apprise that our oil and gas resources have been plundered, over the years, by the federal government and its agents; our hitherto luxurious ecosystem has been decimated and basic means of livelihood destroyed, with little or nothing to show, in terms of the development of our communities and improvements in the living conditions of the people? Yet, they now want to control our water resources; the people of the Niger Delta Region say a big no to it,” PANDEF added.

The Niger Delta leaders urged the members of the House of Representatives and Senators not to allow themselves to be used by self-seeking officials and groups to secure legislation that would exacerbate the tension and crisis in the country.
“We caution, in particular, the federal lawmakers of South-south extraction, and indeed, of the entire Southern and Middle Belt regions not to support a bill that is anti-peace, dangerous and that could destroy the fragile unity of this country,” PANDEF said.

PANDEF also described the claim by the sponsors of the bill that southern governors are now in support of the bill as illusory and preposterous, adding that such a claim should be discarded.
On its part, Afenifere has also kicked against the reintroduction of the bill at the National Assembly.
The National Publicity Secretary of the organisation, Comrade Jare Ajayi, told THISDAY in Ibadan, Oyo State capital that the bill was another way of bringing RUGA through the back door, describing it as unacceptable.
According to him, the reintroduction of the bill was to deprive the indigenous people of their land, insisting that this is not in the best interest of the ethnic nationalities.

He said, “The reintroduction of the Water Resources Bill is unacceptable to Afenifere; this is because it is another way of depriving the indigenous people of their land and this is not in the best interest of the various ethnic nationalities given the experience with the federal government.”
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also condemned the bill, describing it as completely obnoxious.
The organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, Dr Alex Chiedozie Ogbonnia told THISDAY that the bill is completely at variance with present national realities.
“At a time we are canvassing for devolution of powers to states and local government areas, some people are still toying with the idea of controlling river banks and all that. It’s so sad.
“This is nothing but another RUGA. The same way we resisted the bill the last time, we are even more resolute now. It is unacceptable and totally out of tune with realities,” he added.

He further asked the governors and members of the National Assembly from the South-east to completely resist and reject the said bill.
“Our position is clear and has not changed. We say no to the bill and we are urging our governors and federal lawmakers to also reject it. Apart from the South-east, political leaders from the South-west, South-south and North-central should also reject this obnoxious bill,” the organisation insisted.

Deji Elumoye in Abuja, Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan

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