The contentious National Water Resources Bill currently before House of Representatives has suffered a major setback as the House resolved to re-gazette it for fresh legislation.
The House took the position on Tuesday.
When re-gazetted, the Bill would become a public document and listed on the order paper for clause-by-clause consideration where lawmakers with opposing views could vote against it.
The decision to re-gazette the Bill followed the adoption of a matter of privilege raised by Benjamin Mzondu (PDP, Benue), who argued that the Bill having emanated from the 8th Assembly ought to have been re-gazetted before reconsideration by the 9th Assembly.
The National Water Resources Bill, which was reintroduced to the 9th Assembly by the Executive after it failed to pass in the 8th Assembly, has generated a lot of controversy due to certain provisions that are said to seek to usurp the powers of federating units on water resources and attempt to surreptitiously snatch land for herders.
Rising under Order 6, Rule 1 (1), 2 and 3, Matter of Privilege, Mzondu said he was deprived of his legislative Privilege of sighting gazetted copy of the National Water Resources Bill HB 921, and such could not participate in the consideration of the report by the Committee of the Whole, which also deprived him of the rights and privilege of representing his people.
He argued: “It is in the effort to eliminate the ‘Element of Surprise’ that the House in its wisdom included in its standing Rule that every Bill must be gazetted or clean copies circulated.
“It is important to note that the word emphasised here is: Gazette, which means appearing in the Bills Journal of the House.
“The words used are clear and unambiguous.
“They ought to be given their ordinary meaning as stated.
“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Colleagues, I was misled by the use of order (12) rule 18 of our standing orders.
“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Colleagues, it is an issue of law and procedure and Hon. Speaker, the onus of interpretation lies with you.
“Where the bill was labeled as bill 2020, it was not considered as such.
“It is important to emphasise that I have painstakingly searched through all the Journals of the House and cannot find where the Bill is gazetted and I stand to be challenged or corrected.
“The next question for your consideration, Hon. Speaker, deals with jurisdiction: whether the House has such powers to entertain a bill, such proceedings become a nullity, ab-initio no matter how conducted and decided.
“So having not met this condition, I wish to move, relying on order 8 rule 8 and the above stated rules that: The House do rescind/expunge its decision of 23rd July, 2020, which adopted the National Water Resources Bill 2020 HB921 to have been read the Third time from our records.”
Supporting the position of Mzondu, Kingsley Chinda ( PDP, Rivers) said: “We ought to re-gazette this Bill and the simple truth is if we fail to address the procedure even where it’s assented to by Mr, President, then it must be stepped aside.
“So what’s wrong in adopting in the normal procedure?
“Let us re-gazette it.
“There are members who were not in the previous Assembly, who didn’t have the opportunity of seeing that Bill gazetted.”
However, Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata (APC, Jigawa), said the Bill was passed in the 8th Assembly on December 19, 2017 and cannot be subjected to fresh deliberation.
Ruling, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The Bill should be sent back to be re-gazetted and brought back to the floor so we reconsider it and the right thing would have been done.
“On the issue raised by Hon. Mzondu, he has backed it up by clear language of provisions of our rules, which state that any such bill must be re-gazetted.
“The Chairman Business and Rules, Hon. Hassan Fulata, sought to rely on rule 16, which says you either re-gazette or clean copy.”