The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, on Friday, described President Muhammadu Buhari’s bill seeking Federal Government’s exclusive control of water resources as a careful plot to deprive states of the little benefits they get from oil and other natural resources.
The forum, in a statement signed by Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South) and Professor Chigozie Ogbu (South-East), asked the Senate to reject the bill.
The statement reads: “The attention of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has been drawn to the division in the Senate on a presidential bill seeking to concentrate the control of water resources in the hands of the Federal Government.
“The controversial parts of the bill are contained in Clauses 1 to 5. The clauses read, ‘All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control.
“‘There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“‘The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“‘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 sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.
“‘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 this Act.’
“We consider this bill to be provocative, obnoxious and a crude assault on the spirit of federalism at a time when the calls for devolution of power have reached the crescendo. Why anyone will choose a time like this to further strengthen unitary holds on our polity is quite unfathomable.
“The Court of Appeal has settled this matter and the presidency should have been guided if institutional memory is guiding. The Appeal Court, on July 18, 2017 ruled thus:
“‘No doubt, the common radical denominator is the scope of waterways cutting across international and state boundaries coupled with a declaration by the National Assembly that such waterways are international or interstate respectively. The more obvious areas of coverage under the Exclusive List are the sea tidal waters and marine ports declared by the National Assembly to be federal ports. But one finds nothing on the Exclusive List dealing with intra-state waterways either in Lagos or any other state in the federation.
“‘The burden is on the respondents to show that any of the lagoons, creeks or waterways used for intra-state navigation has run across the parameters of Lagos State into international or interstate boundaries and is so declared in a law promulgated by the National Assembly.
“‘Item 64 is couched in no narrower scope as it deals with water from such sources declared by the National Assembly to be sources affecting more than one state. The inland waterways within Lagos State are not and cannot by any stretch of interpretation be covered by any item on the Exclusive Legislative List under part one to the second schedule of the constitution.’
“At a time we are grappling with mass killings across the country partly because of the quest by herders to use the force of arms to continue enforcing grazing routes in this age and time, the presidency that has failed to stop the wanton destruction of lives and property is only interested in opening another frontier of unrest.
“We want to ask the President why he is interested in all rivers and their banks. If the Federal Government controls all rivers and their undefined banks, what happens to oil wells in the creeks that are onshore and other economic activities in other states at the banks? Has the President forgotten his statement in the US recently that the states cannot afford to fund their own police because they are currently receiving bailouts from the Federal Government? We want to know how the Federal Government further denying them access to economic activities in the river banks in their states will improve their lot.
“It is quite obvious that the goal of this is not water that the Federal Government can get in abundance by drilling boreholes. The goal is to use water to take over resources from the states instead of devolving more powers to them.
“We advise the Senate to urgently throw away this bill because it is anti-federalism and capable of further heating up the polity at a time we need peace to reign in the country.”