Nothing Sinister about Water Resources Bill, FG Insists

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Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja

The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, yesterday said that efforts were being made to douse the tension generated by the representation of the National Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly by engaging with all stakeholders across the country, insisting that there is nothing sinister about the proposed legislation.

The minister has also advised critics of the bill, particularly from the southern states, to note that most of the major water sources in the country, except those in the South-west, were from rivers Niger and Benue or from Jos-plateau or the Mambilla highlands, which are all in the northern parts of the country.

“If there is no national law to regulate them, Kebbi State can decide to build dams on river Niger; Adamawa can decide to build dams on the Benue and cut everyone else off. Then, what happens to the Niger Delta?,’’ the minister queried.

Prominent leaders from Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, including Benue State Governor, Mr. Ortom and Nobe Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had kicked against the bill.

Also, socio-political organisations, including PANDEF, Afenifere, Ijaw groups and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, have condemned the bill, saying it was an attempt by the federal government to secure the lands around the rivers in southern Nigeria to resettle the herdsmen after the failed Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative.

Ortom had said the provisions of the bill were at variance with the Land Use Act, and that the bill was a “disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country.”

The bill, in the past few weeks has generated ethnic, religious and political emotions – leading to recent clash among members of the House of Representatives during plenary.

The development, forced the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to direct its withdrawal and reintroduction, advising that the controversial bill should be properly gazetted in line with the rules of the House.

Expressing the concern of the federal government, the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, told journalists in Abuja weekend that the government was baffled by the controversy and hot air the bill has created.

The minister feared that the controversy has the capacity to impair a once-in-a-life-time huge chance to provide a broad framework to harness the nation’s natural resources for the benefit of the greater majority of the population.

He argued that contrary to political and ethnic sentiments that have been expressed by some commentators, the proposed law is ‘’not Buhari’s bill; it is not Fulani’s Bill and it is not RUGA’s bill’’, saying the Water Resources Bill has been turned upside down.

“I am so shocked about what people are saying. If I show you that the Water Resources Act 2004 and the new Water Resource Bill, 90 per cent of what is in this Act is what is in the bill.

‘’The only reason why we are bringing this law is that we have four laws under the water sector, which we want to consolidate into one statute”, the minister explained.

Giving history of the presentation of the bill before the National Assembly, the minister explained that based on the recommendation of different experts set up to work on bill, the House of Representatives passed for second reading “A Bill for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria” in July 10, 2017.

He said that the legislation, which originated from the Executive, was up for debate in November 2017 during plenary when the then Majority leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila led the debate on the general principles of the Water Resources Bill.

Adamu stated that the Bill sought, among other things, to provide for the equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matters.

He explained that passing the bill would effectively unbundle the Water Resources sector to be better positioned to create economic gains to the nation.

He traced the bill from many legal authorities, notably the Water Resources Act 2004, the River Basin Development Authorities Act and the Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency Act.

“The process for the enactment of the controversial bill started in 2006, with support from the EU. Its final draft was finished in 2008; whereupon it has been presented to stakeholders at meeting in all the six political zones.

“When I came into office, we brought together all the experts in the sector, and the people that have set up the vision of the water resource ministry, and every one of them was saying we cannot make progress in the sector if we do not pass the bill.

“So, the Ministry of Water Resources took the bill to the Federal Executive Council and it was approved in September 2016. Then we took it to the Federal Ministry of Justice, which vetted everything and gave it back to the ministry, which then submitted it to the National Assembly’’, the minister further explained.

Speaking about the concept of integrated water resources management, Adamu explained that whatever water resource development that is being working on, it must take account of issues of land degradation and must ensure there is harmony between land use and water use to protect the land for future generations.

According to him, “People must also appreciate the accountability elements in the Act. While previously Minister of Water Resources could issue water license to anybody, this will be impossible under the proposed law.

“The regulators at the integrated water resources management commission will have those powers. And the commission will have different catchment committees to carry out its regulatory functions.

‘’For example, if you want to build a dam in an area, the catchment committee will set up a town hall meeting, the people will sit down and debate; the person bringing the development must defend it and, of course, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report must be there, and if there will be any adverse effect, the proposed developers provide remediating measures and agree with members of the catchment areas before the project can be allowed to commence.’’

He advised critics of the Act, particularly from the Southern states, to step back and understand that most of the major water sources in the country, except from the South-west, are from rivers Niger and Benue or from Jos-plateau or the Mambilla highlands, which are all in the northern parts of the country.

The minister further argued, “in the South-south most of the rivers in the Obudu, Calabar and Akwa-Ibom areas are from the extension of Mambilla highlands. River Niger flows to the other parts of the country from Kebbi state, while River Benue is from Cameroon mountains”.