There was disquiet in the senate yesterday as lawmakers divided along regional lines fought over plans by the Federal Government to take over the management and control of water resources across the country.
Trouble started when lawmakers were at the verge of passing into law an executive bill from President Muhammadu Buhari.
Tagged, “A Bill for an Act to establish a regulatory framework for the water resources sector in Nigeria, provide for the equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and ground water resources and for related matters,” it was the first executive Bill from Buhari, according to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.
Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio said the Bill is an attempt by the Federal Government to take over the management and control of resources domiciled in different rivers across the country.
He said if passed into law, it will further reduce the powers of state governments and vest more powers on the Federal Government.
Akpabio wondered why the Federal Government would want to take over the control of more resources at a time Nigerians were calling for devolution of power.
Akpabio who put up a spirited argument, said plans by the Federal Government to take over rivers that flow from one state to another would spell more doom for the country.
He also opposed Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill. Clause 4 states: “As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a manner, for the benefit of all persons and all in accordance with its constitutional mandate.”
According to Clause 5, “States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the State, but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Resources Management, and this Act.”
The Bill seeks to repeal the Water Resources Act, River Basin Development Act, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency Act and National Water Resources Institute Act.
“In their place, the Bill will establish the National Water Resources Regulatory Commission, River Basin Development Authorities, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency and National Water Resources Institute.
“It will provide for the regulation, equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of
Nigeria’s surface water and ground water resources.”
But the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan described Akpabio’s argument as “lame” and insisted that states would still be able to make laws and regulate matters related to control of water resources.
Muhammad Ubali Shitu, who heads the committee on Water Resources, responsible for the drafting of the Bill, joined forces with Lawan, as he said the interest of every Nigerian would be protected if the Federal Government is allowed to take control of water resources.
Shitu hails from Jigawa State.
A senator from Sokoto State, Ibrahim Gobir, aligned with h Lawan and Shitu and urged the Senate to pass the Bill into law.
But two senators from Lagos State, Gbenga Ashafa and Solomon Adeola Olamilekan, endorsed Akpabio’s position. While Ashafa argued that the Bill should be stepped down to allow senators study its contents, Olamilekan suggested that an Ad hoc committee be constituted to review the grey areas.
Saraki constituted an Ad hoc committee to be headed by Senator Shitu who chairs Water Resources. Senate committee chairman on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, David Umaru, was named as member. Vice chairmen of the two committees, were included as members.
The committee has one week to turn in its report.