The House of Representatives has assured Nigerians, especially critics of the controversial National Water Resources Bill, 2020, which re-emerged on the floor of the chamber on Wednesday amidst suspicions from members, that it will be subjected to due process.
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, while doing a recap of activities in the chamber at a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday night, stated that the bill would be scrutinised to ascertain if it is a new version of the old.
Kalu also stated that the proposal would be subjected to a debate by the lawmakers at the second reading, where its popularity and acceptance would be tested.
Protests from some members of the House had greeted reintroduction of a bill which narrowly passed the first reading on Wednesday.
Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli, who sponsored legislation, had claimed that 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.
Addressing the issue, Kalu said, “By virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, members are allowed to bring bills to the House. Also, by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, members are allowed to debate bills. Even the House rules allow you to do so. And it is during that debate that the sponsor of the bill is allowed to showcase the pros of the bill, while those who have dissenting opinions would project the cons of the bill.
“As you know, what we saw last time was the first hearing. We don’t debate bills during the first hearing. It is during the second hearing that we debate bills. Somebody raised a point of order that bills that have been rejected by a particular Assembly are not allowed to come back in that assembly, until the next Assembly. I am yet to look at that. But if that is the position of the law guiding us, then it would stay. But that you would not know until during debate because there might be something different in this bill…from the one you used to have.”
He added, “There must be something that made the (Nigeria) Governors’ Forum to ask their representatives not to support the bill. If that has been cured and the title remains the same, the bill might pass if their concern has been cured. But if it is a replica of what was presented and rejected, I am sure that what happened before would happen again.
“But let us wait, in line with the rules of Mr Speaker, who says that the sponsor of the bill is allowed to circulate the lead debate and bill’s content to members before it is pencilled down for second reading, which means the presiding officer wants members to analyse the bill and now know whether it is the same like before or a differentiated bill, taking care of the issues but having the same title.
“I am sure that when we get to that bridge, the House has the capacity to analyse and take a position on it. So, there is nothing to worry about.”
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.
The legislation was titled, ‘A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matter.’
The summary of the bill reads, “This Act repeals the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; River Basin Development Act Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N110A, LFN,2004; NationaI Water Resources lnstitute Act Cap N83 LFN 2004; and establishes the National Council on Water Resources, Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission, River Basin Development Authorities, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, and the National Water Resources Institute.”
The proposed bodies, if established, will “provide for the regulation, equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources.”
Though the 8th House managed to pass the bill, the controversy had frustrated passage of the bill by the Senate.
The Senate had on May 24, 2018, considered the executive bill for second reading, during which senators were divided across regional lines.
While northern senators had supported the proposal and its objectives, their southern counterparts had opposed it.
Those opposed to the bill had pointed out that the bill, if passed into law, would further centralise power and resources of the country. This, they pointed out, would counter the current move towards devolution of power domiciled with the Federal Government.
When the bill was revisited in the 9th National Assembly, 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.