By Justine John Dyikuk
Nigeria seems to be caught in the web of policy misdirection. Policy analysts are increasingly pointing to banana peels ahead as government appears to be seduced by error and is driving the nation towards policy somersault. There is no time in the history of Nigeria that policy statements have generated as much debates and controversies like now. The National Water Resources Bill is a case in point. Some parts of the controversial bill transfers ownership of water bodies to the Federal Government. It also requires citizens to seek permission from government before they can drill boreholes in their homes or business premises. This is despite government’s inability to provide potable water for the citizenry.
Many social critics have described the bill as sinister and unpopular. They argue that it is in defiance of the Land Use Act of 1978, which places ownership of land and water in the hands of state governments. Recall that the National Water Resources Bill failed to secure concurrent passage by both Chambers in the Eighth National Assembly. However, in the Ninth Assembly, it passed second reading in the House of Representatives and was referred to a House Committee.
There are fears that in the future, lands could be allocated to herders. Besides, all those who reside on riverbanks could also lose their lands and mainstay. Apparently, the framers of that law are blind to its implications. Citing that the bill was rejected in 2018 for “very good reasons,” president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba warned the National Assembly not to resurrect or pass the bill, warning that it portends great danger to national unity. He maintained that: “Given the strong sentiments expressed against this bill from practically all sections of the country – we […] strongly advise that this bill should not be resurrected.” Wabba added: “We state unambiguously that the National Assembly should listen to the voice of reason by resting this bill.”
On his part, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka warned that Nigeria would be doomed if the National Assembly passes the National Water Resources Bill, while urging Nigerians to resist the law. Civil society organisations (CSOs) across the country have also criticised the bill emphasising that it would breach the citizens’ right to water. Meanwhile, on September 1, Vanguard newspaper reported that Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State threatened to sue the Federal Government if the National Assembly goes ahead with the passage of the water bill, which was jettisoned by the Assembly in 2018, into law.
Perhaps this a sister bill to the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) policy, which suffered hemorrhage sometimes back. The Buhari-led presidency gave the aim of the policy, which came on the heels of the National Livestock Transformation Plan under the Nigeria Economy Council, as resolving the herder/farmer conflicts across the country. Although the policy was initiated by the former General Olusegun Obasanjo, the attempt to reenact it failed because it appeared to favour Muslim Fulanis to the detriment of southerners, who are mostly Christians and animists.
As a result, on July 3, 2019, PUNCH newspaper reported that the project had been suspended. Incidentally, it was the same day that some Arewa youths, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), gave southern leaders 30 days to accept the policy in peace and a 30-day ultimatum to the president to implement it. It appears that the project points to the theory of Fulanisation that has saturated the air, which is akin to the two patterns of ethnic integration which sociologists name as dominant conformity and paternalism.
From the supposed control of water for a special breed of Nigerians to Ruganising the nation, the visa on transit rule came begging. Otherwise, how would a country battling with Boko Haram insurgency, armed banditry and agitations for secession like that of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) open its borders to nationals of every country? In an opinion entitled “A Bleeding Nation: Whence Cometh Our Peace?”, I had decried that: “The current move to allow African passport holders into Africa’s largest economy with visa on arrival portends great danger for peace and security in a country that is battling to survive” various kinds of insecurity challenges.
In another overkill, last year, the government made a move to legislate on marriages. In a story titled “Nigeria govt releases lengthy conditions for new marriage certificates” published by PREMIUM TIMES on July 31, 2019, Oge Udegbunam reported that the Nigerian government debuted a new federal marriage certificate. According to the story, the director of Citizenship and Business, Federal Ministry of Interior, Steve Okon disclosed that places of worship will be licensed individually and not as a group. The government urged existing couples who do not have their certificate issued by the Ministry of Interior to visit the Ministry’s website to re-certify their marriage certificates. Mr. Okon stated that after licensing a place of worship, 25 copies of the marriage certificate will be issued at N2,500, while certificates cost N21,000 each. This too suffered harsh criticism.
Concerned pundits should ask: Is Nigeria contending with the right policy framework or are we heading towards a policy free-fall? In a study titled “Causes of Nigeria’s Recession: Uneclipsing the Blame on the Previous Administration”, Wakawa (2018) maintained that: “President Buhari’s history of draconian rule, body language [and], poor polices …landed the country into recession.” To every onlooker, unpopular policies are a recipe for disaster. To manage the nation’s fragile peace, our legislators ought to demonstrate that they have been sent to represent the masses and not the Federal Government. We must work for justice, if we want peace. It is our collective responsibility to throw anti-people bills to the Mausoleum of Caesar, where bullfighting is replaced with the garden of critical reasoning and consensus building.
Justine John Dyikuk is a Lecturer in Mass Communication, University of Jos, editor of Caritas newspaper and Convener of the Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.