Feature: Time To Re-consider National Water Resources Bill Before The Senate

BY CHIBUZOR EMEJOR,
ABUJA.

Recently, the need for the passage of National Water Resources Bill before the Senate resonated. Dr. Musa Ibrahim, Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, who brought this to the court of public discourse at the just concluded Nigeria Media Week in Abuja, said that the bill was for the overall benefit of Nigerians and should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics and ethnicity.

Ibrahim, appealed to the Senate to pass the bill into law as it is consistent with Nigeria’s Constitution and the Land Use Act. He added that the House of Representatives had passed the bill early 2018, adding that the Senate was being awaited to toe the same line. Ibrahim urged Nigerians to disregard the falsehood and misleading reports being peddled on mainstream and social media from those who oppose the passage of the bill by the National Assembly.

It would be recalled that the Senate at its plenary session of Thursday, 24 May 2018, suspended consideration of the National Water Resources Bill, 2018, for passage till its next legislative sitting on Wednesday, 30 May, 2018. The Bill seeks to establish a regulatory framework as well as provide for equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of water resources in Nigeria.

Presenting the report on the Bill, Sen. Ubali Shittu (APC: Jigawa), Chairman, Committee on Water Resources said that the objectives of the Bill include, “Providing a regulatory framework for the water resources sector in Nigeria; ensuring that the nation’s water resources are properly protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled; and enhancing citizens’ rights of access to clean water and sanitation.”

Other objectives of the proposed bill are “Reducing and preventing the degradation and pollution of aquatic environment; and promoting public-private partnerships in the development and management of infrastructure on water resources.

The bill introduced as an executive bill by the Presidency is entitled, “An Act to Establish a Reg¬ulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria; Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Manage¬ment; Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Sur¬face Water and Ground Water Resources and for Related Matter.”
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, in a letter dated April 11, 2017, had requested that the Senate considers the Bill after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2016 approved a draft National Water Resources Bill, the National Water Policy and National Irrigation Policy as part of its measures to enhance the quality of water resources in the country.

It provides that “The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclu¬sive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”

However, the bill has raised tension among Nigerians and aroused deep suspicion. The Senate is split into two groups of supporters and opponents. Many have described it as obnoxious bill that should not be allowed to exist. Apart from the Senate discontent, other groups, organisations and states have promptly rejected the bill in its entirety and have asked the presidency to withdraw it.

For instance, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the umbrella body of the people of South-South geo-political zone, completely rejected the bill describing it as portending danger to the zone and national unity.
The group alleged that a close look at the bill shows that its overriding objective is to vest in the Federal Government the total control of all the fresh water resources across Nigeria. It asserted that the bill is detrimental to Niger Delta region and negates national unity.

PANDEF, in a statement by the national secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, denouncing the bill said: “It is obnoxious and could trigger an unimaginable crisis. It must be rejected.”
The statement read: “The recent bill submitted to the Nigerian Senate to wit: ‘A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria; Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management; Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Ground Water Resources and for Related Matter’  is not only provocative, but most insensitive to the national mood and an assault on the collective aspirations of Nigerians of good will to take the country out of the woods. The Bill is a step towards the destructive slope of internal neo-colonialism and it must be resisted.”

Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum is another sectional body that joined the fray. The body while calling the bill an assault on true federalism, also pointed out that some clauses of the bill are contentious.
The contentious parts of the bill according to the Forum, are contained in Clauses 1 to 5.The clauses read, “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control.

“There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.

“The implications are numerous. If this bill is passed into law, the rights of citizens over fresh water resources – ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, springs, etc, will be eroded. It will be illegal, under the circumstance, for any person, anywhere, including in the remote villages, to sink a borehole, for instance, without permit from the Federal Government.

“Borehole permit would have to be obtained from Abuja and getting it would be most difficult. Moreover, at a time when state governments are being urged to embark on massive agricultural production that would require water for irrigation in some cases, it would not be possible for state governments to irrigate farmlands from streams, lakes, ponds or earth dams without first getting permission from Abuja.

“The bill will clip the wings of state and local government authorities as well as individuals from making use of the water at their backyard without permit from Abuja. This development will engender serious contentions across Nigeria. The result would be water wars, which would be more devastating than the contentions over grazing land and even oil,” according to Mr. Luke Onyekakeyah, a public affairs analyst.

Mixed reactions have continued to trail the content and motive of the bill. Ekiti, Rivers and Cross River states have also come out to strongly reject the bill, while the South-South Governors’ Forum, led by Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state, asked the President to immediately withdraw it. Ayodele Fayose former Governor of Ekiti State; the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; and Ben Ayade of Cross River State, were categorical in their opposition to the controversial bill.

Six governors, under the auspices of the South-South Governors Forum had at an emergency meeting convened at the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt by the Governor of Bayelsa State and Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, Seriake Dickson, vowed fight the bill.
The governors after a meeting held in May said in a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Francis Agbo, that they rejected in totality the Waterways Bill being proposed by the Federal Government.

Dickson was quoted as saying, “We also agreed that the bill currently making the rounds in the national assembly which we understand is an executive bill on management of water resources. We are of the view that the provisions of the bill are offensive and obnoxious, we disagree with the centralised control of water resources as we are already dealing with the problem associated with over centralisation of our country and we have agreed that the bill should be immediately withdrawn by the Federal Government and further consultations be made on that.

Also, the President of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Pereotubo Oweilaemi, said the bill is targeted at the people of the Niger Delta, and aimed at finally stripping them of whatever they are left with as means of livelihood, as their lives are basically dependent on their aquatic environment.

According to him, previously enshrined laws of Nigeria, including the 1999 Constitution (as amended), have done enough damage to the Niger Delta man’s ability to economically sustain himself, adding that this new bill, if allowed to be passed into law, will reduce all the generations of Niger Delta people into slaves in their own homeland.
“The Water Resources Bill will not in any way benefit the Niger Delta people. We see it as another cattle colony. If it is allowed to be passed into law, we fear that our people will be strangulated economically.

“Already, the impacts of the previous draconian legislations, such as: Oil Pipeline Act, Petroleum Act, the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Associated Gas (Re-injection) Act, the Land Use Act and many others have grievously affected the economic development of the region. The crisis in the region is being caused by these inimical legislations. We are like colonised people in the hands of the Nigerian government. We have perused the Bill clause by clause. There is nothing in the proposed law that will benefit the Niger Delta people. The achievement we shall have if the Bill is passed into law is ethno-religious crisis, just like the case of the grazing routes in the middle belt.
“We shall be committing an unforgivable crime against humanity on our future generation. The Bill is designed to divest the Niger communities of their exclusive control of the rivers and the creeks in the region. There is no future for the Niger Delta people if our only means of survival are being commercialised for national use. They have taken away the lands and the crude oil deposits found in our terrains through the previous draconian legislations. Now another Bill is being introduced to empower the federal government to exercise the exclusive management of the water resources, including our rivers.

“This is the worst form of democratic attrition. Niger Delta people are part of Nigeria,therefore we should not be subjected to internal slavery. We do not live in a conquered territory and so we refuse to be emasculated by the repressive Nigerian government. It is either the National Assembly rejects this Bill for the overall interest of peace in Nigeria or let them see Niger Delta boiling again for the oppressive act of this government through this antithetical Bill”, Oweilaemi argued.

Political leaders from the southern parts of the country, under the aegis of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, insisted that the bill is a careful plot to deprive states of the little benefits they get from oil and other natural resources. The forum, in a statement signed by Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South) and Professor Chigozie Ogbu (South-East), asked the Senate to reject the bill.

“The attention of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has been drawn to the division in the Senate on a presidential bill seeking to concentrate the control of water resources in the hands of the Federal Government. The controversial parts of the bill are contained in Clauses 1 to 5. The clauses read, ‘All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control. There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

“The Court of Appeal has settled this matter and the presidency should have been guided if institutional memory is guiding. The Appeal Court, on July 18, 2017 ruled thus: No doubt, the common radical denominator is the scope of waterways cutting across international and state boundaries coupled with a declaration by the National Assembly that such waterways are international or interstate respectively. The more obvious areas of coverage under the Exclusive List are the sea tidal waters and marine ports declared by the National Assembly to be federal ports. But one finds nothing on the Exclusive List dealing with intra-state waterways either in Lagos or any other state in the federation.

“We want to ask the President why he is interested in all rivers and their banks. If the Federal Government controls all rivers and their undefined banks, what happens to oil wells in the creeks that are onshore and other economic activities in other states at the banks? Has the President forgotten his statement in the US recently that the states cannot afford to fund their own police because they are currently receiving bailouts from the Federal Government? We want to know how the Federal Government further denying them access to economic activities in the river banks in their states will improve their lot.

“It is quite obvious that the goal of this is not water that the Federal Government can get in abundance by drilling boreholes. The goal is to use water to take over resources from the states instead of devolving more powers to them. We advise the Senate to urgently throw away this bill because it is anti-federalism and capable of further heating up the polity at a time we need peace to reign in the country,” the group warned

However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, warned that the executive bill on water resources currently before the National Assembly may have been misinterpreted by the leaders as it was not intended to take over the ownership and control of the resource from the states of the federation as currently being alleged.

He said, “Upon submission of the National Water Resources Bill to the National Assembly by Mr. President on April 11, 2017, there have been several misrepresentations and indeed divisive comments by some persons on the content and intent of the bill, thus the need to offer these insights into the content, intent and policy direction of the executive bill. The bill is intent on consolidating some or all the laws on the water resources sector into one body of laws, whereby when you pick up the Water Resources Act (as it may come to be), you will find therein all the laws hitherto existing as different laws in different volumes of the laws of the federation in the one instrument.”

The laws to be harmonised, according to Enang, include the Waters Act, Nigeria Hydrological Agency Act, National Water Institute Act and the River Basin Development Authorities Act, among others. These laws, he said, were made at different times regulating different aspects of water resources sector and contained in different volumes and chapters of the laws of the federation. “This bill brings into one body of consolidated, harmonised and updated body of laws all these laws into one instrument,” he noted. Good or bad bill?

The Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, further appealed to stakeholders and Nigerians, in general, to have faith in the bill as it was for the good of the nation. “It is in the overall best interest of every citizen of the country that the process of its passage is not politicised. The general public is invited to note that this National Water Resources Bill when passed into law, will better serve and provide for the enhancement of the Nigeria Water Sector in line with global best practices,” he said.

Adamu said the attention of the ministry was drawn to the erroneous and distorted analysis of the National Water Resources Bill. He said, “These Laws are Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004, the River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A.LFN, 2004 and National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004. These Laws are being re-enacted with necessary modifications in the new bill to actualise current global trends and best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).”

He added that that the bill, drafted in 2006 had passed through series of consultations among stakeholders up to 2008, as it received no priority attention by successive administrations until now. The bill provides for professional and efficient management of all surface and groundwater for the use of all people.

“I have made a statement on this bill to the media some time ago. Also, other stakeholders in the water sector have been commenting in the media, trying to explain what this bill is all about. It appears that many people have not even read about the bill; they don’t understand it before coming out to comment publicly about it. We have said that there is nothing new about it, as we have existing water laws; there are four existing laws that we have been consolidated into the new document.

Adamu said that members of the Senate had asked all the relevant questions about the bill, while the key officials of the ministry had also responded to the enquiries. He added that the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, had already set up committees to look at all the issues presented by the ministry concerning the content of the bill. The minister commended the chairmen and members of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Water Resources for their interest and enthusiasm in the National Water Bill.

Also speaking, Mr. Reuben Habu, the Executive Director, NIWRMC, said that the regulation of the water resources sector derived its origin and power from Section 19 of the Water Resources Act. He added that there was nothing new in the National Water Resources Bill. He noted that the bill was already before the National Assembly, adding that it was an amalgamation of all the extant laws on water resources in the country.

In his submission, Dr. Musa Ibrahim, Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, said that reports in the media appeared to have neglected the provisions of the bill meant for the development, management and efficient use of the nation’s water resources in line with global best practices.
He said: “I want to let the media know that this bill did not just drop from heaven and it is not being pushed down the throats of Nigerians, it has gone through several stages, the water bill was not started by  President Buhari’s  administration.
We should not look at it from that narrow prism, and we should not pull political capital out of it.

“The House of Representatives has already passed this bill, the Senate is yet to pass it, and that is where the problem is. We are making every effort to make sure that the bill is passed by the Senate so that we will have just one body.
“Some of the Senators who we have been talking to are saying the Federal Government wants to control everything about water, that is not true. So, I challenge the media practitioners to read the bill so that they will understand it better.”

speaking in the same vein, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in an interview with newsmen, gave an indication that President Buhari would not withdraw the bill.
Shehu said lobbying the National Assembly members was one of the good things about democracy, asking those opposed to the bill to explore the option.

He said, “The governors know the right things to do. The matter is before the parliament and they know the parliamentary process.
“Why can’t they just go to the parliament and pass their views across? That is the good thing about democracy. Even executive and private bills are defeated in the parliament once they don’t represent the views of Nigerians.”
In all, stakeholders in the water resources sector have asked the Senate to re-consider its position in view of the deplorable state of water supply and sanitation in the country. According to Water Aid, the current national water coverage is 52 per cent while sanitation is 32per cent.

Recently, the Minister of Water Resources, has raised the alarm that Nigeria might soon overtake India as the leading country in open defecation in the world, unless concerted efforts were taken to reverse the negative trend.
Whatever needs to be done to salvage this ugly phenomenon in the water sector, including development of regulatory frame work, should be supported by everyone. As it said, water is life.
END.

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