Monday, September 14, 2020 12:05 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
In our study of history and the rise and fall of empires, there are often remote and immediate causes to what ultimately befell those powerful kingdoms and empires of yore. Often, historians refer to both internal and external causes that finally brought a once-thriving kingdom to its knees. To be sure, power holders at the helm of affairs may not realize how debilitating their actions are or could be. In the case of dictators, they become their own undoing through acts of self-preservation at the expense of the state, the common good. Such men are dangerous to the corporate survival of the country. These thoughts came to my mind as I ruminated over the National Water Resources Bill which is on the verge of being rammed through a National Assembly that is severely compromised, sadly operating at the beck and call of the executive branch of government. By some strange irony, we now miss the 8th Assembly which at that time some Nigerians thought was unduly combative to protect their own interest!
The nation, or a regional block of the nation, has virtually been on edge over the Water Resources Bill that invests on the federal government control over water resources in the entire geographical landscape of the federation. Among other provisions, the 55-page document states: “the right to the use, management and control of all surface water and ground water affecting more than one State pursuant to item 64 of the Executive Legislative list in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and as set out in Schedule 1 to this Act, together with the beds and banks thereof, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act”. It further states that “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 Water Resources Management, and the Act”.
Now, what is the business of an insensitive and faraway federal government that sits in Abuja with the water in my hometown in Delta State? How efficient has the federal government been in managing resources of the country that it wants to arrogate more responsibilities to itself? How do the provisions of the bill cohere with federalist principles? In view of the widespread clamour for restructuring the country, how wise and sensible is it to introduce such an obnoxious bill now or at any other time? Do the sponsors of the bill recognise its contradictions with how we want to manage our political affairs? In the light of the failure of RUGA, is this not another attempt by a set of people in power to appropriate water as they have appropriate oil and gas? Why has the government allowed the mining of gold and other mineral resources without federal government control? Is the government bent on destroying whatever shred of national unity there is between the south and the north? What are the elected representatives of the southern States in the National Assembly doing to ensure that the bill is not passed? Are they playing the party loyalty game to the detriment of the lives and property of the people they represent? Why have they not followed the steps of the 8th National Assembly that threw out the bill as a piece of garbage from depraved land grabbers? Do they remember that someday they will return to their homeland now deprived of control over the power to sink a borehole without approval from Abuja?
This is a bill that must be shot down with the necessary mobilization. Indeed, all the Houses of Assembly in the States that object to the Water resource Bill should pass an objection to the unitary tendencies of a supposedly federal government. This is both political and economic. It is the style of a conquering power to strangulate the people of a conquered territory. Not even the British went this far to squeeze Nigerians in the days of colonialism. But we now have a federal government that cannot secure life and property, but it is more interested in seizing and grabbing natural resources in one section of the country. Governor Ortom of Benue State has been very vociferous in denouncing the bill, declaring loudly that he is prepared to go to court if by any means, fair or foul, the bill sails through the National Assembly for a presidential assent. Life in Nigeria is already difficult, made more difficult by the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the federal government. A government that has not been able to manage roads under its nose wants to manage water, above and underground! Who has cursed us with such warped thinking?
The National Assembly and the federal government, the voice of Jacob but the hand of Esau, should kill the bill immediately. Of course, they could resort to intimidation and bullying tactics on elected representatives, threatening them that they will not get a second term and ram the bill through. But ultimately, the will of the people shall triumph. Such practices and despotic behaviour are strengthening the case for returning to a weak centre and strong constituent parts. The impudence of this government and attempts to muzzle free expression are indications of desperation. This is not in consonance with the spirit and practice of democracy. The people should also realize their power. Public outcry will help our legislators in the National Assembly to reject the bill. As for that Majority Leader in the Senate who boasted that the bill must go through, we are not surprised. We know, understand the song which he is singing and who has paid for the tune. He must be seen to be loyal to the dark forces behind the bill.
Power is transient. Those who control the levers of power now and think that they can with a stroke of the pen alter the lives of Nigerians without their consent should remember what befell men of their ilk. What happens in the house of sheep, our elders say, happens in the house of goat!
-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or [email protected]