The controversial water resources bill was recently reintroduced to the House of Representatives after the first attempt couple of years back that was roundly rejected by Nigerians. What is so important about the bill that President Muhammed Buhari’s government wants to foster in Nigerians? ROLAND OGBONNAYA writes
There was an outcry recently when The Water Resources Bill sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), was quietly reintroduced to the National Assembly after it was roundly rejected during the 8th assembly. This time the bill was read for the first time.
When it was introduced in the 8th Assembly, there was outrage as some Nigerians interpreted the proposed law as a power grab by the federal government. Some prominent Nigerians who spoke openly against it were Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana (SAN) and politicians like Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State vehemently opposed the bill.
The bill was again reintroduced as an executive bill and passed in 2022, a decision that was rescinded by the House two months after a motion was moved by Ben Mzondu (PDP, Benue). Mzondu had faulted the process of reconsidering the bill, noting that it was not properly passed, just as Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue), expressed concern about the bill, stating that most Nigerians rejected the bill the last time. He said, “Some of us are not comfortable with this bill”.
But the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, tried the convince the legislators by saying that governors contributed to the drafting of the new bill. “Apparently it is a new bill that all the governors of the federation both south and north participated in this bill and I want to take him by his word,” he said. Gbajabiamila urged lawmakers to talk to their respective governors on the bill, a position Gbillah rejected stating that lawmakers are constitutionally empowered to decide on legislation, not governors.
During the week, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, an engineer said that the non-passage of the National Water Resources Bill ridicules Nigeria. He said that the non-passage of the bill has made Nigeria a laughing stock before foreign investors and the international community, explaining that foreign investors are interested to invest in the Nigerian water resources sector, but there is no legal framework for them to work with.
Adamu, further explained that the proposed bill was designed to address the water needs of the country both present and future, adding that the deliberate falsehood being peddled by some persons who have not acquainted themselves with the bill, was borne out of a lack of patriotism. He said, “There is nowhere in the bill that says that the Federal Government will take over land from any community, or State, not even an inch. The bill further reduces the powers of the minister and delegates them to the various commissions to manage national water resources.”
“I am convinced beyond any doubt that the National Water Resources Bill is relevant and appropriate for Nigeria given the fact that more than 80 percent of the nations around the world have subscribed to the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), which seeks to promote citizens’ rights, eliminate hindrances to the management of water as an economic resource and help to empower the people.”
He emphasised that the National Water Resources Bill has not introduced significantly new items to the already existing and operational Water Laws in Nigeria. “The Bill before the National Assembly is simply an amalgamation of already existing Water Resources laws that are presently being used to develop and manage Nigeria’s Water Resources as contained in the Water Resources Act, Cap W2LFN 2004; The River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9LFN 2004; The Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004 and National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83LFN 2004.
“These laws are being re-enacted with necessary modifications to bring them in line with current global trends and best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
“The purpose of the National Water Resources Bill is to establish a regulatory framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria through the provision of equitable and sustainable development, management, use, and conservation of Nigeria’s surface and groundwater. The overall objective of this amalgamation is for efficient management of the Water Resources Sector for the Economic Development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens to ensure that the nation’s interstate water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, and managed in ways which take into account amongst other factors citizens’ right of access to safe water and basic sanitation; meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations and promoting equitable and affordable access to water and reducing poverty.”
Mr. Francis Uzoma, President of the Drillers Association of Nigeria, has lent the support of the association to the passage of the Bill. Uzoma said the enactment of the Bill into law would sanitise the operations in the water sector, create jobs, and standardise the sector, pointing out that the indiscriminate drilling of boreholes would be checked as an Independent Regulatory Commission would be established to check infractions.
Benson Ajisegiri, an engineer and retired Director of Water Supply, Ministry of Water Resources added that the passage of the Bill into law would bring peace and development to the people. He, therefore, urged all well-meaning Nigerians to support the National Assembly in the passage of the Bill into law.
Their position however has not swayed some Nigerians, According to some Nigerians who are opposed to the bill, its reintroduction is coming into focus a third time after two earlier failures have necessitated so many questions of the President Buhari Administration’s sense of justice, fairness and equity, especially as regards the question of Nigeria’s indigenous people and resources redistribution, and in context with their water rights.
According to the Director of Communications ECOWAS Countries of State Of The African Diaspora (SOAD), Ebube George Ebiske, the crux of the matter is how the nation can redistribute lands from land-rich states to land-poor states as the same goes for water, since the Water Resources Bill if passed as it is without critical amendment, could conceivably make inter-basin transfers of water to be undertaken by the Federal Government and its agencies, without consent from or even consultation from indigenous communities; exactly like crude oil and associated problems which have disenfranchised the common man and the indigenous communities rather becoming a curse to them.
“The other challenge, going by the content of the bill, is its untruth and tendency to disenfranchise and separate Nigerians from ancestral ownership of their water rights, handing it over to a league of federal technocrats by confusing Nigerians with the fallacy that ‘ownership rights to water is the same as water use rights.
“The Buhari Government has through time proven not to be equitable and trustable and is perceived right to be hell-bent on getting the water resources bill passed to entrench a hidden Fulani agenda and advantage as is palpably evident in the headship of the security architecture of the country that has rather enabled terrorists’ proliferations than it has quelled them.
“Today ISWAP and Boko Haram terrorists have made billions of naira Kidnapping and taking more territories in Northern Nigeria and become more daring with over 14 jailbreaks conducted and more violent attacks carried out with high body counts since 2015. The Water Resources Bill was originally introduced by the executive and into the 8th NASS and since then has met scrutiny from Nigerians on every reintroduction,” Ebisike told Saturday INDEPENDENT.
The most contentious aspect of the water bill is Section 2(1), which states, “all surface water and groundwater, wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.” With the reintroduction of the bill in the House of Representatives, there are fears that the Federal Government wants to, through the bill, annex the land in littoral states for the benefit of a certain ethnic group. The desperation to pass the water bill cannot be rationalised. According to a newspaper editorial, since the water bill had earlier been rejected by Nigerians, the members of the Lower House have been enjoined to throw out the bill without any further delay.
Apart from not serving any useful purpose, the bill has been seen to further give more powers to the central government at a time there is a strident clamour for the devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units. “Already, there are 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List. We believe that adding the water bill to the list will be unnecessary. Instead of bringing back the obnoxious water bill, the lawmakers should think of making laws that will unify the country,” it said.
- Source: Saturday INDEPENDENT