BY Samuel Akpan
The national water resources bill has passed first reading at the house of representatives.
The bill is sponsored by Sada Soli, an All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker from Katsina state.
The proposed law seeks to establish an act that would provide a regulatory framework for Nigeria’s water resources sector.
The bill dates back to the eighth national assembly when it was first sent to the parliament by the executive.
TheCable had reported how the bill was passed in 2020 by the green chamber but was later withdrawn following criticism that trailed the decision of the lower parliament.
At the time when the bill was passed by the house of representatives, it failed in the senate. Godswill Akpabio, the then senate minority leader, led opposition lawmakers to kick against the bill.
The bill had sought to bring water resources — both surface and underground — and the banks of the water sources “affecting more than one state”, under the control of the federal government.
FRESH OPPOSITION TO THE BILL
After the bill was read for the first time during plenary on Wednesday, Mark Gbillah and John Dyegh — both Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers — kicked against the proposed legislation.
Gbillah, a lawmaker from Benue, raised a point of order questioning why the bill is being reintroduced.
“I am aware that the matter listed for first reading — the national water resources bill — generated a lot of controversy within this honourable house and even across the country and some of us wonder why this issue is still being re-presented on the floor of the house, because some of us are not comfortably in support of this bill in the first instance,” he said.
In response, Gbajabiamila said he raised the same question with Soli, chairman of the committee on water resources.
The speaker said he was informed that governors made input and that the concerns raised may have been addressed.
“I asked the chairman the same thing this morning and he told me that the issues of controversy that were raised then have been addressed by all the governors,” Gbajabiamila said.
“Apparently, it is a new bill that all the governors of the federation, both south and north, participated in this bill and I want to take him by his word.
“I believe that you raised a very cogent point. We live in a very diverse country and everybody’s sensitivity must be taken into consideration. It is subject to the participation of all the governors, because they govern their states they know what affects them and what doesn’t affect them.”
The speaker added that members of the house should be “extremely vigilant” on the debate regarding the bill when it comes up for second reading.
Visibly dissatisfied, Gbillah said the responsibility of lawmaking rests on lawmakers and not governors.
According to him, whatever the governors might have agreed upon may not be acceptable to lawmakers.
“It is we that have those powers, as enshrined in the constitution, to enact legislation that will be binding on this country,” he said.
Gbajabiamila said although he didn’t infer that governors should “dictate to us”, legislators work in a “symbiotic relationship with the CEOs of the states” who are, sometimes, in a better position to know what is best for the states.
On his part, Dyegh from Benue said the contributions of the governors are “irrelevant”.
“Governors are not legislators. They are not members of this parliament. Their contributions, as far as this matter is concerned, are irrelevant,” he said.
But he was interrupted by Gbajabiamila who said he has already addressed the issue.
The speaker subsequently ruled that copies of the bill should be made available to lawmakers before the proposed legislation is presented for second reading.
In his remarks, Soli said governors, and state attorneys-general have contributed to the bill, adding that he will withdraw the proposed legislation if it is opposed by Nigerians.
“Let me assure my colleagues that the comments of the governors’ forum are attached to the bill and the comments of the attorney-general, which was requested by the federal ministry of water resources, are attached to the bill,” he said.
“All attorneys-general of different states and of the federation commented on the bill before they could address some of the issues that were raised on the floor.
“Let me assure my colleagues on my honour. I will not stand here to see a particular section of this country is shortchanged by the legislation of this country. If that happens, Mr Speaker, I will withdraw the bill in the interest of this country.”