The controversial National Water Resources Bill, 2020, re-emerged on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday amidst suspicions from members.
The leadership, however, assured the lawmakers that the new version of the legislation would capture all the interests of the states.
It would be recalled that the bill had previously stirred up a string of controversies, following opposition from many people who saw it as an attempt b y the present government to impose Rural Grazing Area, RUGA, on the country.
However, the bill, which failed to fly in the 7th and 8th Assemblies, was re-introduced in the current 9th House by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata (APC/Jigawa), who on July 23, 2020, moved a motion that 11 bills, including the Water Bill, be reintroduced.
Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli, said the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), as well as commissioners for justice and attorneys-general of the 36 states of the federation had been consulted and the opinions received would be attached to the bill and distributed to all members.
A member of the House from Benue State, Mark Gbillah, had raised the alarm when the bill was to be taken for the first reading.
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Only the short title of a bill is written on the Order Paper for first reading, while a long title, which has more details, is written when listed for second reading.
Gbillah said, “I am aware that the matter listed for first reading, the National Water Resources Bill, generated a lot of controversy within this 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.”
The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his response, said, “I asked the Chairman (of the Committee on Water Resources) 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. Apparently it is a new bill, that all the governors of the federation – both South and North – participated on this bill and I want to take him by his word.”
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In his ruling, Gbajabiamila said, “I think in all honesty, Honourable Sada (Soli) has spoken on his honour as a legislator. He will not stand here and say the governors, attorneys-general of states have made input when they didn’t; they will be screaming now because this is being televised and before we leave, they will be rebutting what he (Soli) has said.”
There were fireworks in the House on September 29, 2020, with some members, mostly from the southern part of the country, raising various legal and procedural issues against the bill.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had in 2017 presented the controversial bill to both chambers of the National Assembly, which seek to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government.