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Akwa Ibom stakeholders reject Water Resources Bill

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A group of Akwa Ibom stakeholders comprising of traditional rulers politicians, academic dons, entrepreneurs, clerics, students and persons from other fields of endeavours have rejected the controversial Water Resources Bill.

Converging at the auditorium of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council in Uyo, over the weekend the stakeholders, in a communique issued at the end of extensive deliberations featuring clause-by-clause analysis of the Bill, dismissed the Bill, describing it as oppressive and exploitative.

The bill which was initially introduced and later rejected by the lawmakers during the 8th Assembly following public outcry, was reintroduced in the current 9th National Assembly in 2020. Again, it is facing much backlash from Nigerians.

The stakeholders who convened under the aegis of ‘Open Forum’, an advocacy platform hosted by Citizen Matthew Koffi Okono, particularly condemned Section 98 of the Bill which states that, “the use of water shall be subject to licensing provisions”, Section 120 which made it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes, and Section 107 which says, a license might be cancelled if the licensee fails to make “beneficial” use of the water.

According to them, the reintroduction of the Bill is an insult to Nigerians from all the geopolitical divide, including socio-political groups that have kicked against it from the beginning because of its many anti-people provisions and the ulterior motive of its promoters.

Signatories of the communique include 25 Socio-cultural, non-governmental and civil society organizations, Distinguished Senator Emmanuel lbok Essien,

National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF); His Eminence Ntenyin (Dr.) Solomon D. Etuk, Oku lbom Ibibio, President General Ifim Ibom Ibibio & President General Akwa lbom State Traditional Rulers Council; HRM Edidem (Dr.) Edet Akpan Inyang, Paramount Ruler of Itu LGA; HRM Edidem E. C. D. Abia, FCA, Attah of Ekid & Paramount Ruler, Eket LGA; HRM Dr Ime Udousoro Inyang, Paramount Ruler of Ibiono Ibom; HRM Edidem (Eld) Akpan A. Ekpene, Paramount Ruler of Mkpat Enin LGA; HRM Odidem Bassey Etim Edet, Paramount Ruler, Udung Uko LGA; HRM Edi dem Raymond Timothy Inyang.

Paramount Ruler, Onna LGA;  HRM Rt. Hon. (Elder) Harry Etetor, Paramount Ruler, Eastern Obolo LGA;  HRM Edidem Clement Francis Ekpenyong ll, Paramount Ruler, Ibesikpo Asutan LGA; HRM Edidem Peter Okon Effiong, Paramount Ruler, Nsit Atai LGA and HRM Edidem Sylvanus Effiong Okon, Paramount Ruler, Uyo LGA.

Others are: Ntisong Pius J. Okon, Ntisong Akwa Esop Imaisong Ibibio IV; Hon. Dr. Emmanuel Akpanobong, Chairman, Adaha Ibibio (Ibibio Elders Forum); Obong Bassey Inuaeyen, Chancellor Ibom Patriots; Arc. Ekong Etuk, President, Advocacy for Good Followership; Elder Daniel King Ebong, Founder/President, Odudu Ibibio Organisation; Mr James Iniama, Chairman, Stakeholder Akwa Ibom State; Bishop Prof Ahaziah Umanah, cleric and veteran journalist; Amb Enwongoabasi Francis, student activist and National Vice Chairman, National Association of University Students (NAUS) and 58 other notable signatories.

The stakeholders among other positions, resolved that “the serial attempts by the Federal Government and some visible and invisible individuals and interest groups within and outside the National Assembly to reintroduce the twice rejected National Water Resources Bill was an attempt to further expand the Exclusive Legislative List of the Federal Government whereas, the dominant issue on how to reposition Nigeria is the practice of true federalism through devolution of powers to states as federating units.”

They also noted that the Bill is a complete misplacement of priorities and a deliberate attempt to deprive the people of the Niger-Delta region and other coastal States resources freely given to them by God, as well as an indirect attempt to abrogate the on-shore/off-shore oil dichotomy that had been abrogated by the National Assembly leading to payment of 13 percent oil derivation to oil producing states.

The stakeholders also observed that the bill contravenes the provisions of Sections 17 and 20 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), and expressed worry that it will force many Niger Delta people whose main occupation is fishing, into joblessness, deny the people access to their natural resources and eventually turn them into slaves in their land.

Furthermore, the stakeholders lamented the non-chalant attitude of many state actors in Akwa lbom, Niger Delta and Nigeria by failing to take a definite stand against the oppressive Bill.

Other issue condemned by the stakeholders was Akwa Ibom’s inclusion in the proposed Biafran map. They unequivocally stated that the state should be exempted from the Biafran agitation.

The stakeholders suggested that Paramount Rulers in their respective domains should summon to their palaces all members of the National Assembly representing their areas to take a position to forestall the passage of the Bill.

It was unanimously agreed that a high-powered delegation of Paramount Rulers, the leadership of ‘Open Forum’, heads of collaborating organizations should as a matter of urgency seek audience and meet with Governor Udom Emmanuel to officially present the communique for his adoption and immediate action in the interest of the people and land of Akwa lbom State.

“That His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel be encouraged to summon a meeting with all Akwa lbom National Assembly Members to convey the position of the people of the state for the outright rejection of any attempt to pass into law the highly provocative and vexatious National Water Resources Bill,” the communique also reads.

To sum up the mood, Paramount Ruler of Eket LGA, HRM Edidem Dr E. C. D. Abia, in his personal submission, warned that his subjects will not obey the law if it comes to fruition: “it’s time we rose up against this injustice. They want to control not just the water but the land around the water.

At a point, we are going to be seeking approval from the centre (federal government) before we can drill a common borehole in our homes. They’ve taken our oil, now they want to take our water, they want to take our land, they also want to enslave us.

The water resources must not be passed but if it is passed, we will not obey the law. In fact the Water Resources Ministry should pack up, we don’t need it here. This Bill must not fly but if it flies, we are gonna discard it.”

Addressing newsmen after the town hall meeting, its convener, Citizen Matthew Koffi Okono, expressed delight over its success and thanked participants for sacrificing their time to journey down to the NUJ Press Centre to lend their voice to the contentious issue.

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