February 28, 2021

Nigerians Kick as FG Exhumes Water Resources Bill 2Years after

The re-introduction of the Water Resources Bill by the Federal Government of Nigeria in the National Assembly is generating heated arguments as the Bill is being reintroduced barely two years after it was thrown out by the 8th Assembly.

The Bill tagged “National Water Resources Bill 2020” seeks to allocate total power to the Federal Government to control water both on the surface and underground as according to section 2 (1) of the Bill which states that, “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs is a resources common to all people”.

Going by section 2 (1) of the Bill, citizens will no longer have the right to sink a borehole or dig a well in their houses until they obtain a License from the Federal Government to do so. Also, using stream water for whatever purposes must be approved by the Federal Government or it will be regarded as illegal usage.

Section 13 of the Bill, states that “In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institution established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of Land and Water resource, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interest.”

The Bill if passed into law will negate the Land Use Act of the Federal Government of Nigeria which states in part 1 that, “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”

Section 2 (a) of the Act, says “all land in urban areas shall be under the control and management of the Governor of each State, and (b) says “all other land shall, subject to this Act, be under the control and management of the Local Government, within the area of jurisdiction of which the land is situated”.

The contradiction is that, the Federal government Land Use Act has not been repealed then how can another Law be enforced on the States and Local Governments without due consultation with the Governors and Local Government Chairmen over lands within their jurisdiction as outlined in the Land Use Act?

According to analysts, the referral of the Bill to the “Committee of the Whole” has  breached Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House as the Order states that such a Bill from a proceeding Assembly be gazetted and clean copies circulated, but reports says none of such has been observed.

Some have argued that the process which the Bill was committed to the Committee of the Whole for third and final passage shows that despite the rejection of the Bill by the Nigeria citizens, the National Assembly is determined to ensure passage of the Bill. This implies that the National Assembly values the interest of the President as an individual above the will of the masses who voted them into office.

This may not come as a shocker though as the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal had earlier said they are ready to pass whatever Bill that comes from the President as according to him, anything that comes from President Buhari is for the interest of the nation.

It could be recalled that during the screening of the current Ministers, the Senate President Ahmed Lawal had told the former Senator from Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio that now that he is on this side, he should liaise with the Minister of Water Resources to ensure that the Water Resources Bill is passed into law, insisting that the Bill must be passed.

Also, when the reappointed Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu appeared before the National Assembly for the same screening, he said his greatest regret in his first tenure was the non-passage of the Water Resources bill.  This poses the question, what is so special about the Water Resources Bill? What is government interest in the Bill that surpasses the citizen’s interest? Why the desperation? Some believed there is a sinister motive that the federal government is yet to reveal to the citizens.

Recent comments by the House of Representative Committee Chairman on Water Resources, Sada Soli when he said “opposing the Bill will not change the determination of the legislature to pass it into law because it is a done deal” is also raising serious concerns.

Similarly, the manner in which the Federal Government had in recent times handled similar Bills such as, the Grazing Reserve Bill, Cattle Colony and the RUGA initiative which kept metamorphosing and resurfacing in different forms has in a way eroded the trust of the Nigeria citizens in the President Buhari led administration.

The Bill which seeks to give the Federal Government control over surface and ground water resources come at a time when there are growing agitations from restructuring which will reduce the power and control at the center to the region and states for faster growth and development. Others also view the resurrection of the Bill as an ulterior motive aimed at not only depriving affected communities use of their natural resources which has over the years been their major source of livelihood and commercial activities, but another way of grabbing land for the Fulani herders.

Also opposing the Water Resources Bill, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum, SMLF have called on all communities along the waterways to oppose the Bill which they suspect as land grab of waterways for cattle herders.

The SMLF said the Bill if passed into law, will clip the wings of state, local government and individuals from making use of the water at their backyard without permit from the Federal Government. “This development will engender serious contentions across Nigeria; the result would be water wars than the contentions over grazing land and even oilfields”, they opined.

Others who kicked against the Bill include the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wale Soyinka and some socio-political organizations like PANDEF, Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo who condemned the Bill, describing it as an attempt by the Federal Government to secure the lands around the rivers in Southern and Middle Belt to resettle the herdsmen after the failed Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative.

These stakeholders suggested that the move by the Federal Government is a disguise to allocate the waterways to herdsmen and defend the move that government had done same to poultry, maize, Cassava and fish farmers in the country.

“The Federal Government has seized the oil resources and they want to also seize the water resources, even when the clamour for resource control is becoming increasingly popular. We understand that one of their major targets is the bank of River Benue.

“The suspicion is that they want to relocate herdsmen to the bank of the River Benue and other rivers in the south in the name of supporting livestock farming.  They want to move herdsmen southwards because of the dry up of Lake Chad. They are using the revenue to be generated by the federal government as a disguise to hoodwink us” they said.

Many Nigerians along these waterways depend on surface or underground water as their only source of livelihood as sustenance as most of them have not felt the impact of government presence in such communities. When passed into law and the Bill comes into effect, this means the people will have no other means of livelihood.

It is argued that instead pulling more resources and power to the center, the Federal Government needs to decentralize power and control to the regions and states to give room for the growth and development of the states and local governments. Allowing the states to control some of their resources will create a thriving ground for local businesses and industries which will lessen the dependency of states or local governments on the Federal allocations.

On their part, the legislators need to create Bills and laws that have direct positive bearing on the lives of their constituents instead of doing the bidding of the Executive at the detriment of the citizens.

Nigerians need to rise up against every form of bad governance and insist that the right thing should be done in order to ensure good governance and development of the country.