Critics of Water Bill Ill-informed, FG Insists

4
Lai Mohammed

•It’s provocative, says Ijaw group

By Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja and Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt

The federal government has described those opposed to the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020 as ill-informed, insisting that the bill, which is already before the National Assembly is an amalgamation of water resources laws that had been in existence for a long time.

But the Ijaw Nations Development Group (INDG) has said the re-introduction of the bill to the National Assembly is provocative and distortion of Nigeria’s federalism.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the clarification yesterday at a joint press conference, which he addressed with the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu.

He said the water resources laws that had existed for a long time comprised the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; the River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004 and the National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.

He emphasised that the laws were being re-enacted with the necessary modifications to bring them in line with current global trends as well as best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The minister said the overall objective of the amalgamation is the efficient management of the water resources sector for the economic development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.

”The bill provides for professional and efficient management of all surface and ground water for the use of the people (for domestic and non-domestic use, irrigation, agricultural purposes, generation of hydro-electric energy, navigation, fisheries and recreation). The bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons,” he explained.

Mohammed accused many of the critics of not reading its provisions, relying on second-hand information to reach their conclusions.

The minister also added that those who have read it have done so without much attention to its details.

He doused the concern that the federal government plans to take over the nation’s water resources by licensing and commercialising the use of water, saying the current Water Resources Act, 2004 (made pursuant to the Constitution) has already made provision for this while the bill is only trying to provide a framework for implementing that provision.

”The Regulatory provisions of the bill require that commercial borehole drillers obtain a licence. The Code of Practice for Water Well Drillers issued by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the NWRI in 2010 already requires this. The code provides technical requirements that a driller must possess to undertake drilling as well as information on each such borehole to be provided to the national database. That code, however, requires the license to be issued by the NWRI in Kaduna. This bill provides for such licenses to now be issued by the states, under the delegation of the National regulator, the Water Resources Regulatory Commission.

”Please note that borehole regulation is an international standard for the abstraction of large volumes of water. Most countries in Africa, and almost every developed country, regulates commercial abstraction. It is also important to note that there is no requirement for licensing of domestic abstraction. Regulating abstraction of large volumes of water is necessary because groundwater abstraction is an activity that has an environmental and ecological impact,” he explained.

He also allayed the fear that the bill will deny Nigerians access to potable water as provided by Section 75, saying that any technically-competent driller should not be afraid of obtaining a licence to practice.

He also conceded that it is the responsibility of the state governments to ensure the provision of potable water and the treatment in the allocation of water use.
While responding to another contention that the Bill is illegal, Mohammed noted that the Constitution already grants the Federal Legislature the responsibility (item 64, Exclusive Legislative List, CFRN 1999) while the Water Resources Act, 2004 listed the water bodies to which the Act applies.

”This is maintained in the bill. The interaction of the federal government with the state is only as it concerns the management of the inter-state water that passes through the state. The bill does not apply to water that is wholly within the boundaries of a state. The bill also does not apply to land. It clearly states that land required by any of the institutions established in the bill will be obtained in accordance with the Land Use Act (i.e. with governor’s consent).
He also said that when the Bill is passed into law, it will guarantee communities on River Banks undisturbed use of water as stated in Section 3 of the bill, while all occupier of land will be guaranteed the right of abstraction for domestic and sustenance, whether by borehole or rivers.

He also rejected the notion that the bill is aimed at taking the resources of a certain part of the country for the use of herders, saying it is not possible as the bill reiterates the fact that land can only be acquired by any of the institutions established in accordance with the Land Use Act.

The minister also assured that the bill will not lead to ‘water wars,’ saying the framework for managing and regulating inter-state waters that is represented in the Water Resources Policy, 2016 which is similar to most international conventions and studies like in jurisdiction including South Africa, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and most developed federal constitutions.

Mohammed accused the people condemning the bill and portraying it as a new source of conflict of mischief, while appealing to Nigerians to avail themselves of the provisions of the bill to avoid being misled by those who have chosen to politicise it.

Also speaking, the Minister of Water Resources, Adamu, said the bill was never rejected by the 8th Senate as being said in some quarters.

He said the upper chamber of the National Assembly only set up a committee to look at the issues raised by stakeholders on the bill.

He said: “The House of Representatives passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for concurrence.

“Senators asked questions. This was within their rights to do so.

“The Senate did not throw out the bill in 2018. What it did was that it constituted a committee to look into the issues raised and report back.

“Before the committee could report back, the 2019 election came.

“When I was returned as minister after the election, I felt I should return the bill to the National Assembly.

“There was no subterfuge. We followed due process. It is not a Buhari bill. It is a water bill for Nigeria.”

It’s Provocative, Says Ijaw Group

But in a swift response, INDG has described the re-introduction of the bill to the National Assembly as provocative and distortion of Nigeria’s federalism.

At a virtual meeting attended by over 100 participants in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the INDG expressed disappointment that the federal government sent the bill to the National Assembly without engaging the states and peoples that are the direct stakeholders.

They condemned the bill and vowed to resist it vehemently.

The keynote speaker at the meeting, Mr. Anthony George-Ikoli, (SAN) said, “Taking a critical look into the much-heralded National Water Resources Bill, 2020, that is currently making its way across our national legislature and national consciousness, I am at once compelled to align myself with more eminent speakers who in recent times have come to the difficult conclusion that such a bill can only be the product of a yet-undisclosed, I fear ultimately deleterious agenda,” he said.

He noted that federalism serves to recognize the rights of the constituent units to ownership and protection of same, but said the bill by its vesting sections, statutes, agrees, confesses, professes, and confirms itself to being an egregious distortion of federalism.

He said the bill is an incursion into the power of the states in relation to property within the territorial area of their jurisdiction which the Land Use Act has vested in them, and it is an infringement of their distinct will and apparatus for the conduct of their respective affairs.

He cautioned the ninth National Assembly against working on and passing the bill as the eight National Assembly had to throw out the bill because of the wild condemnation that trailed it when it was introduced.

He stated: “It is absurd that while citizens are clamouring for the restructuring of the country, to divest more powers to the federating units, the federal government wants more powers to control waterways and resources in an already over-centralised, unitary system. Instead of initiating constructive dialogue processes to address the yearnings of Nigerians for true federalism.

“The people of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-south geopolitical zone, are against the bill in its totality. We consider it an attempt by the federal government to divest Niger Delta communities of their exclusive control of the waterways; seas, rivers, and creeks, in the region.

“They have plundered our oil and gas, our hitherto luxurious ecosystem has been devastated, without any meaningful development; they tried to take our lands through the so-called RUGA scheme. Now they want our waterways, Niger Delta Region people will resist it.”

He said time was past when the Ijaw nation would watch while decisions were taken against its people but that it was now time to set an agenda for its legislators at all levels.

“Our senators and representatives from Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Edo, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ondo, and any other littoral states that have inadvertently been thrust into the front lines occasioned by this new challenge must stand to be counted.”

Another Niger Delta activist, Ann Kio-Briggs, also accused the federal government of tampering with the rights of Ijaw people and the Niger Delta region.

She said, “Water represents live and belongs to my people, we live in and by the water. For the first time, Ijaws have to wake up – they have taken our land, our oil, our air through pollution and now they want to take our water.

“The water which they are all struggling for is where we are. We need the water.

It is our responsibility to protect our rights. Now is the time to begin to defend the fate of our children and our future children.”