ELECTRICITY BILL: WAITING FOR PRESIDENT'S ASSENT
At last, communities within whose territories the nation's hydro-electricity is generated may soon heave a sigh of relief as attention is being shifted to their plights. Indeed, the much needed development they are yearning for is around the corner following the successful harmonization by both chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the bill seeking the establishment of a commission to see the development of the areas from where electricity is generated for the nation and commercial export to neighbouring countries. It is waiting for the assent of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Referred to Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPPADEC) bill, 2010, the passage is a feat commendable given the intrigues that have dogged the bill from day one when it was initiated. It took series of lobbies from one group of lawmakers to another to get it harmonized and eventually passed.
Besides, it is interesting to note that the HYPPADEC bill, was actually initiated and passed by the last National Assembly but was not assented to by former President Olusegun Obasanjo before he left office.
Thus, the present Senate resuscitated it, deliberated on it and passed it after which it was referred to the House of Representatives for legislative concurrence. It took more than six months before the agreement was carried out. A six-man conference committee headed by Senator Nicholas Ugbane set up by the Senate to see to the harmonization submitted its report last week with a call on the leadership of both houses to push for presidential assent with despatch.
The beauty of the bill, observers believe, is in certain amendments done by the Senate especially areas of coverage of the Commission. For instance, the Bill proposed that States like Niger, Kogi, Kwara and Kebbi are supposed to be the immediate beneficiaries of the commission's activities, but the Senate amended it by extending such benefits to all other areas in the country where environmental and developmental problems had arisen as a result of the electricity generation.
Some of the lawmakers, it would be recalled, were initially skeptical over the desirability of the Commission, especially those from the South-South who saw the bill as an attempt to rival the Niger-Delta region whose development need led to the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Sound reasoning prevailed eventually, and all saw the need to have the HYPPADEC, hence the push the bill got on the two floors. 'Of course, there are arguments for and against the commission, but the bottom line is that no one would oppose the development of any part of the country, therefore, if there are areas which suffer development on account of what they are contributing to the nation's economy, they need special attention', one of the Senators had told Sunday Sun in Abuja.
In the build up to the debates on the bill, Senators and Representatives from the Northern region were resolved to do any lobby with their colleagues to ensure timely passage of the bill so that the commission could take off just like the NDDC.
Justifying their position for the establishment of HYPPADEC, the lawmakers said the demand for the establishment of the Commission to handle development projects in hydro-power producing areas stemmed from the belief that the areas are suffering some environmental hazards as a result of the production of hydro-electric power generated in the areas. Voicing the position of the people from his area, the chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF), which had been in the forefront of the efforts to get the Bill passed, Senator Umar Dahiru, said that the forum would leave no stone unturned in the efforts to get all those capable of turning the dream of the commission's establishment into reality.
'There is no doubting the fact the commission if established would enthrone a regime of aggressive infrastructural development in the areas affected by the hazards of production of hydro-electric power in the country. So, the bid to persuade stakeholders in the Bill to get it passed is borne out of the desire to remove our people from the poverty of underdevelopment', another Senator argued.
Highlighting the plights of the people of the hydro-electricity producing areas, Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta, who represents Niger East Senatorial District maintained that there was urgent need to save the people from some environmental hazards they face on daily basis. Said he: 'Since the return to democratic rule 11 years ago, there has emerged, a general awareness among various groups concerning their rights and privileges in our federation. So many areas have been suffering a lot of deprivations both economic and social. We in this part of the country, specifically Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara and Niger States, have been subjected to such deprivations arising from the exploitation of our natural resources (water) by the Federal Government. We are patiently bearing our burden believing that dialogue will solve our problems.'
'The devastating impacts of these hydro-electric dams on our environment require no emphasis. The effects are social, physical and chemical and are felt upstream and downstream, particularly the hundreds of villages living along the flood plains of Rivers Kaduna and Niger ', Kuta added. According to him, it is ironical that most of the communities where the hydro-electric power projects were located still suffered from lack of electricity supply. 'These communities find it difficult to bear the painful fact that, the dams on their land can provide the nation with hydro-electric power without extending such benefits to them.
'How do these people tell the world that the high-tension electric cables that supply power to neighboring cities, pass through their villages without supplying them electricity? Even Shiroro village from which, Shiroro Dam derived its name is not supplied with electricity. And yet it is just about 500 metres away from the dam site'. However, those who are opposed to the establishment of the commission had argued that it would amount to a mere duplication of the responsibilities of the Ministries of Environment and Works. But the Northern Senators Forum would argue that the communities situated close to the points where hydro-electric power had been generated for decades were still suffering from the shackles of under development and environmental degradation despite the existence of the ministries.