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Reps withdraw controversial Water Resources Bill

Following the controversy trailing the National Water Resources Bill, 2020, the House of Representatives has voted for the withdrawal and regazetting of the proposed legislation. The resolution of the House was consequent upon the approval of a matter of privilege raised by Hon. Benjamin Bem Mzondu (PDP, Benue) at yesterday’s plenary. While raising the matter of privilege, Mzondu complained that his privilege as a lawmaker was breached as he was denied the opportunity to make inputs to the bill because the legislation was not re-gazetted and copies distributed to legislators.

He said: “I don’t know what’s contained in the bill and my constituents have been asking to know what is contained in the bill, but Mr. Speaker, as I am speaking now, I haven’t seen a copy of the bill and don’t know what it contains. “That bill has no life and was rejected by the Senate and, as such, should start a new journey de novo.

“My rights as a member have been breached and, as such, the bill should be expunged,” the lawmaker demanded. Continuing, he said: “I wish to refer to Order 6, Rule 1(1), 2 and 3 and Order 12, Rule 18 to state that I was deprived of my legislative privilege of sighting gazette 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 me of my rights and privilege of representation to my people.

“Mr. Speaker, colleagues, 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 gazette or clean copies circulated. It is important to note that emphasis here is gazette, which means appearing in the Bill’s journal of the House.

The words used are clear and unambiguous; they ought to be given their ordinary meaning as stated. “So, having not met this condition, I wish to move; relying on Order 8 Rule 8 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 Mzondu, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Abia) raised a constitutional point of order, asserting that the House had no basis to consider the bill, as it cannot amend the constitution through a bill. Also supporting the motion, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) said: “What I believe my colleague is saying is that his right as a parliamentarian has been infringed upon as a result of wrong procedure. And, Mr. Speaker, a lot of us align with that position.

Simply we ought to re-gazette this bill and the simple truth is if we fail to address the procedure.” Ruling on the issue, Speaker Gbajabiamila stated that: “Matters of privilege are not meant to be debated, but because of sensitivity of the matter. I want you to recall that I had a bill on the floor of this House (the infectious diseases bill), being sensitive to the rule, I stepped my bill down and sent it for public hearing.

“On the issue raised by Hon. Mzondu, he has backed it up by clear language of provisions of our rules, which states that any such bill must be regazetted. The chairman, rules and business, Hon. Hassan Fulata sought to rely on rule 16, which says you either re-gazzette or clean copy.

“Unfortunately, it appears some people have done their homework. I think the bill should be sent back to be re-gazzetted and brought back to the floor so we reconsider it and the right thing would have been done. “Chairman, rules and business should send it for re-gazzetting and bring it back.” The bill was consequently withdrawn to be re-gazetted and represented for reconsideration.

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