From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Ijaw leaders under the aegis of Ijaw Nation Development Group (INDG), has kicked against the Water Resources Bill gaining attention at the National Assembly.
The group noted that the bill is aimed at a further distortion of existing Nigeria’s federalism, stressing that the region should be given right to manage their water, which they said is their heritage.
The Ijaw leaders gave their position on the bill, Sunday evening, during a virtual zoom conference, which include the participation of Ijaw leaders in Nigeria and Diaspora.
Participants at conference pointed out the potential existential threat to the Ijaw Nation inherent in the Water Resources Bill.
Prof Benjamin Okaba, guest speaker at the conference which lasted for about four hours, said the Water Resources Bill (2020) is a re-branded version of RUGA policy, designed to grasp people’s ancestral settlements and resources to set up grazing reserves or cattle colonies.
He described the Ijaws as the fourth largest ethnic nationality and the dominant group in the Niger Delta region, adding that they are the most ancient, aboriginal and autothonous indigenes of the Niger Delta.
He explained that the Ijaws occupy the most deltaic riverine and coastal belt of Nigeria. “They have large community-city original settlements in Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers States in Nigeria. Water (and its associated marine resources) means everything to the typical Ijaw man. Its major occupations – fishing, gin production, canoe building, seasonal coastal farming, etc., are all aqua-dependent.
“Water is synonymous to air, to the Ijaw man. Therefore, denying him/her free access, and rightful ownership, control and management of the water resources around her, can be likened to pulling a fish out of the river onto a dry land.”
Prof Okaba, who is Dean, School of Post-Graduate Studies, Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State, reminded Federal Government that its primary constitutional responsibility to the citizenry is to protect, safeguard and secure the fundamental human rights of the citizenry and promote their welfare and well-being.
He said “It is sad to note that under a democratic dispensation that should be people-centred, the State is instigating violence by treating a section of the country as sacred cows and others as insignificant.”
On his part, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Ijaw son, Anthony George-Ikoli, urged the Ijaw nations not to sit aloof and seemingly oblivious of the hole being dug all around it, adding that it must set an agenda for its legislators.
The SAN said “The time for sitting idly in Abuja whilst noxious legislation is passed is at an end. Rather than wait for these types of pernicious legislation to be thrust upon us and then begin to scramble for a reactionary response. Indeed, it is because of this long assumed state of lassitude that our rights and interests have been so pushed back, suppressed if you will.”
The legal luminary noted the unbelievable levels of rural poverty across the Niger Delta region and a crying lack of alternative livelihoods, a scenario foisted upon the long-suffering people of the region by wanton pollution of their natural farmlands and fishing grounds stemming from an unbridled legacy of oil exploration, said the Water Resources bill seeks to worsen the people situation.
Other participants at the conference called on Ijaw representatives at the NASS to fight hard to stop the bill from seeing the light of the day.
An Ijaw female activist, Annkio Briggs, said the federal government is tampering on the rights of Ijaw people, stressing that the government had takeaway all the natural resources of the land at the detriment of the people, now water.
She said: “What the federal government is doing is a well-planned act that is taking alot of time. For the first time, the Ijaws had to wake up, not just drainage of oil, water etc, but not be surprise that one day the federal government may present a bill to control the air.”
Joseph Evah, in his goodwill massage, said “Anybody that is talking about water is talking about our lives. We talk with water and others talk with desert,” urging the Ijaws to reject the resources bill.