The Ijaw Nation Development Group (INDG), on 20th September 2020, in collaboration with the other Ijaw organizations including, Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA), The Ijaw Elders Forum (IEF), The Ijaw Nation forum (INF), The Ezon Ladies Association (ELA), Ijaw Monitorin g Group (IMG), Embasara Foundation, as well as individuals and representatives of Izon Organizations globally, via a virtual conference critically examined the National Water Resources Bill (2020) currently before the National Assembly and notes the following.
- The re-emergence and pursuance of a National Water Resources Bill, which had hitherto, been rested by the 8th National Assembly, due to widespread national opposition to its assent, but brought through the backdoor into the 9th National Assembly, leaves us to wonder why in the face of more pressing and critical national issues, including the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic, widespread economic dislocation, rising energy costs, rampant and pervasive insecurity, the presidency still chose to resurrect this bill. The bill is suspicious in context and content, and its reemergence lacks transparency, as there was no consultation with various stakeholders across the country.
That the Bill is a product of yet another undisclosed and ill-timed agenda. It is a further attempt to whittle down the powers of various federating ethnic groups in the country, and so is an assault to the identity and existence of Ijaw people. The bill which attempts to repeal four (4) other Water Resources Laws including the River Basin Development Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004, Hydrological Services Agency Act, Cap N110 A of 2004, National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83LFN 2004, and consolidate them into a single legislation, is inimical to the survival and aquatic livelihoods of the Ijaw people, as it takes without our consent, our right of ownership of water resources found in Ijaw land and gives it to a Federal Commission which now delegates licensing powers for commercial exploitation to states.
We note that Ijaw life is intertwined with water, and water is the very essence of our livelihood and survival. Therefore this bill is another backdoor attempt to own our resources. It is also an obvious intent to usurp the rights of autonomous federating units which should by the constitution, hold the power to regulate the affairs of its people and property within its territory. This bill is an obvious impunity and an outright disregard of basic principles of federalism and fundamental human rights. It is a further show of a hidden agenda, especially for land grab as it fails to address the manifest deficiency in strategy for development of ground water that over 80% of Nigerians depend on. The Ijaw people will lose their land and water rights to the presidency, if this bill is passed in its present form.
The conference notes the double standards of the presidency, witnessed in recognizing the rights of indigenous communities in the North to mine gold and other minerals, while denying same for oil and gas in the Niger Delta region. The conference recognizes that, despite the deprivation of the Niger Delta States of their minerals and mineral oils within their territories, the bill plots to take the only resource left for the states to administer for the benefit of their people. In addition, section 64 of the bill arrogates exclusive powers to the Federal Government, to decide what constitutes “interstate waters”, while in contradiction acknowledges that management and control of water resources within the boundaries of a State, reside in that State Government.
That whilst we consider the science (hydrological and geological) as well as the law aspects of this bill, we note that it will greatly impact/distort our socio-economic wellbeing and livelihood patterns. We wonder why the Federal Government is bordered about legislating the use and control of water, rather than creating laws that will allow Ijaw people to effectively organize, control, manage and use their resources for the commercial benefit and social good of all Nigerians. Clearly this bill does not reflect the fact that rivers unify Ijaw people, whom the Nigerian state has balkanized into seven states, thus weakening their political and cultural hegemony.
That the Ijaw nation has suffered marginalization and deprivation in various forms, despite being the “cash cow” of the nation, via its oil reserves. In the face of all these, they have remained a calm and peaceful people. However, it must be noted that peace does not mean acquiescence; and there are limits to peace.
The conference as well observes that the National Assembly members of Ijaw and Niger Delta descent, are in a knowledgeable position to speak up, in resistance to the promotion of this bill that is a perpetration of an altruistic and systematic invasion against Southern Nigeria by the Presidency.
- IJAW-NATION rejects the passage of the bill in its present form, without it being open to public hearing, wide consultation and the fundamental concerns of ownership, control, management and use in favour of federalism, human and peoples’ environmental rights.
IJAW-NATION is open and willing to engage, consult and negotiate a water resources bill that protects her strategic interests, for the greater good of all Nigerians. We call on the Nigerian State and the presidency, to emulate the practice of true federalism, as exemplified in India, Australia, Germany, Canada and the USA.
We resolve to work with other Niger Deltans and Nigerian nationalities, to ensure that we protect our nationalities and restore federalism from unitary intrusion and control, by hegemony and vested business and political interests.
We share the concerns of many Nigerian ethnic nationalities who believe that the bill is part of a grand plot to take over their land for Ruga settlements. We stand for justice, equity, and fairness, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Africa Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. We express our solidarity with the people of good conscience from other ethnic nationalities that believe in true Federalism. We urge them to stand firm in joint effort to stop enemies of the Nigerian State and its indigenous peoples, by unanimously consigning this bill and its contents, to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs.
*Ijaw communities and other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region, have been in control of the water resources of the region, as well as all other natural resources (oil and gas, and agricultural farmlands), before the amalgamation of the entity called Nigeria. So the rights and legal access to our water bodies and riparian lands, is an obvious impunity and an outright disregard for basic principles of democracy, federalism, and human rights.
*It has without question, applied these resources uninhibited, to the greater good of the Nigerian economy, before the progressive distortion of our federal structure. This recent attempt to control its water and waterways, is yet another assault on our people. The bill is one of the several discriminating and fraudulent legislative polices that continue to serve a few local and global business interest groups.
*That we considered in particular section 1 (1e,f,g,h,j,k and m), and doubt the sincerity of the drafters and its sponsors, as we continue to suffer the unmitigated environmental degradation caused by oil and gas exploration activities vide the Petroleum Act of 1969.
- Furthermore, we note Section 2 (1, 2 & 3) and its corollary section 72, which appropriates arbitrary powers to the minister to grant licenses to “strange individuals” irrespective of where they might be migrating from. Also, going by section 4 of the first Schedule of the bill, the whole of Bayelsa State and other riparian Ijaw communities would become properties of the Federal Government. This is clearly provocative and signals a plot for a total takeover of the entire Ijaw land.
• We therefore REAFFIRM OUR REJECT OF THIS BILL IN ITS ENTIRETY. The bill is fraudulent, odious and provocative, just like the Petroleum Act and Land Use Decree, which continue to deny indigenous people their fundamental rights. Given that the present Nigerian Constitution continues to be brazenly diluted and distorted to serve the interests of a particular ethnic group, the bill poses yet another threat to the current security problems in the country. It is anti-people, insensitive, and a complete distortion of the basic tenets and principles of true federalism.
Arc Denzil Amagbe Kentebe (INDG)
Comrade Joseph Eva (IMG)
Mr. Elaye Otrofanowei (IPA)
Mrs. Ebiere Fumudor (ELA)
Barr. Efiye Bribena (IEF)
Mrs. Rosemary Oduone (IWC)
Barr. Iniruo Will (EMBASARA Foundation)
Dennis Banigo (Convener INDG.