The House of Representatives on the resumption of a plenary session on Tuesday backed down further legislative action on the passage of the controversial Water Resources Bill and unanimously resolved that the Bill should be re-gazetted for fresh consideration in line with the House Rules.
This House followed the matter of privilege raised by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu (Benue/PDP), who complained that his privilege as contained in the House rules was breached as he was denied the opportunity to make inputs to the bill because the legislation wasn’t re-gazetted and copies distributed to House members in line with normal House Rules and procedures.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila in his ruling on Rep. Mzondu’s point of an order directed that the Bill be re-gazetted and reintroduced for consideration and passage or otherwise of the bill since it failed normal House legislative procedures.
The speaker stated that fundamental issues have been raised regarding the manner in which the Bill was passed, declaring that ordinarily “a matter of privilege is not debated, but l allowed contributions by members because of the importance of the matter.”
According to him, “the House will not be a party to offending its own rules and procedures, therefore the bill would’ve to be re-gazetted and reintroduced for consideration in accordance with House rules.”
Earlier, Mzondu, in his point of order, alleged that the House rules were breached in the consideration and passage of the bill which was recommitted and reconsidered by the House on 23 July.
He submitted that when the Bill was considered by the House, he was denied the opportunity of contributing to its debate because the bill wasn’t gazetted and distributed to House members as required by Orders 12, 16, 17, and 18 of the House rules.
According to him, “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 a gazetted copy of the National Water Resources BillHB 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, Honourable 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 gazetted or clean copies circulated. It is important to note that the word emphasized 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, Honourable colleagues, I was misled by the use of order 12, Rule 18 of our Standing Orders. Mr Speaker, Honourable colleagues, it is an issue of law and procedure and Honourable Speaker, the onus of interpretation, lies with you. Where the Bill was labeled as Bill 2020, it was not considered as such.
“The laws lay, on your shoulder to interpret these rules as stated in Order 7 Rule 1(7). It is important to emphasize 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 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 Order8 Rule 8 and the above-stated rules, that ‘the House do rescind/expunge its decision of 23 July 2020, which adopted the National Water Resources Bill, 2020 HB921 to have been read the third time from our records.’”
His latter prayers were granted, after a prolonged debate from both sides of the legislative divide, as the Speaker ordered for the withdrawal of Bill.
According to him, “fundamental issues have been raised by Mzondu. He has backed them up, with a clear language, that such bills, must be re-gazetted.”
While the deputy speaker of the House, Rep. Idris Wase who argued against Mzondu’s position, stressed that the Bill followed due process in its passage.
Wase’s argument was buttressed by the sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Sada Soli (APC-Katsina), and the chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Rep. Hassan Fulata (APC – Jigawa).
Lawmakers led by Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers), however, put up a strong defence for Mzondu’s submission.
Another PDP House member, Rep. Nkem Agbonta raised a constitutional point of order, asserting that the House had no basis to consider the Bill, as the House can’t amend the constitution through a Bill.
The strong opposition put against further legislative action against the Bill led to the decision of the Speaker to order for the withdrawal of the Bill, for a fresh gazetting.
Recall that the same Bill which was earlier introduced as Executive Bill was killed in the Senate, but passed in the House. The instrument, however, couldn’t be retransmitted to the Senate for Senate’s concurrence before the 8th Assembly lapsed.