The controversial National Water Resource Bill on Tuesday caused a row in the House of Representatives as members vehemently opposed the procedure adopted in passing the bill at the last sitting before it went on its annual vacation.
The House had at its sitting of July 23, 2020 considered and passed the bill, which some members arguing the passage did not follow the normal procedure stipulated in the House rules while others insisted that the rules were followed.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who presided over plenary, however ruled after an intense debate the bill, which has already been passed be withdrawn and re-gazetted before being represented to the House for consideration.
The fireworks started when Ben Mzondu (PDP, Benue) moved a motion under privilege complaining the procedure for passage of the bill was faulty.
Mzondu argued order 18 of the House Rules stipulates that any bill passing from one Assembly to another must be re-gazetted before being committed to the Committee of the Whole for consideration, failure which the bill has to go through the whole process of legislation, starting from first reading.
He argued since the bill was not regazetted, it should have started de novo (from the beginning) as it is deemed to be dead from the preceding assembly, adding “If Nigerians say they do not want a bill, it should be put aside. It should be started expunged until it begins it journey de novo.”
Nkem Abonta (PDP, Abia) said the issue was constitutional, adding since the issue of water is covered in the Land Use act, the House lacked the jurisdiction to pass such a bill as it will go against the provisions of the constitution.
But Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila was of the opinion that the issue at stake was procedural and it was imperative to dispense with it, adding usually, issues of privilege would not have been debated but for the sensitivity of the bill.
He said even though the issue raised by the lawmaker was fundamental, it would appear that it was gazetted in the 8th Assembly but Mzondu said the main issue was about regazetting since it was coming from the previous Assembly.
But Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), who is Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, said members complaining about the bill were in the Chambers when it was passed by the Committee of the Whole.
He added that even though it was not re-gazetted, clean copies were given to members.
His assertion drew wide protest of No, no, no from members
Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, said the bill was first passed for third reading by the 8th Assembly on 19th December 2017, adding when it was introduced to the 9th Assembly, “we subjected it to Order 8, rule 16 which states that when such a bill is reintroduced, it is sent to the committee of the whole for consideration, saying “the issue of commencing the bill de novo is out of place”
This led to another row by members.
Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase warned against abandoning the House rules, saying “when this bill was first presented for consideration, it was stepped down because of complaints from members that they have no copies, before it was later considered after copies have been made available to members.”
However, Kingsley Chinda enjoined members not to make a procedural mistake, adding that “a colleague is saying his rights have been breached and many of us aligned with that position.
“Even if we go ahead to pass the bill and it signed into law, the courts may set it aside because of our error.
“We ought to re-gazette the bill. If we fail to adhere to procedure, even if Mr. President assents to it, the court may set it aside.
“The bill as consolidated was considered for passage the same day it was presented to the House. This is contained in the same order paper of that day. We should re-gazette and re-list the bill for comsideration”.
In his ruling, Speaker Gbajabiamila said the issue in contention was fundamental, adding the member who raised the issue succeeded in backing his argument with the relevant provisions of the House rules.
He reminded members of his bill on Infectious Diseases Bill which he had to step down because of complaints that the House was moving too fast in trying to pass the bill and subject it to a public hearing, adding it is better to err on the side of caution.
He asked the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata to withdraw the bill and re-gazett it before presenting to the House for consideration since the argument about the bill has nothing to do with the content but procedures.