Like the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) that was recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, the reintroduced National Water Resources Bill 2020 is creating fresh and heated controversy across the country. Only on Monday, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, described the bill, which failed to secure approval of the 8th National Assembly, as another form of RUGA aimed at grabbing land for Fulani cattle rearers. Ortom has vowed to challenge the matter in court should the National Assembly give it an approval as being speculated.
He stated that “the bill, in addition to its provisions, which are at variance with the Land Use Act is a disguised land-grabbing legislation, designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country. The bill is another version of RUGA, which objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock.”
Ortom is not alone in condemning the bill. Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had stated that the bill was designed to hand the federal government control over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground.
He stated: “A roundly condemned project blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions. This bill – Bill on National Water Resources 2020 – is designed to hand Aso Rock ABSOLUTE CONTROL over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground”
While speaking on the evils of the proposed bill, he said, “The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness! – is to become exclusive to one centralized authority. It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitized rockery (Aso Rock) that cannot even boast of the water-divining wand of the prophet Moses. If the current presiding genius – and this applies equally to ALL his predecessors without exception – had a structured vision of Nigerian basic entitlements, Nigerians would by now, be able to boast the means of fulfilling even that minimalist item of Covid-19 protocols that call for washing one’s hands under running water! As for potable water, for drinking and cooking, let us not even begin to address such extra-terrestrial undertaking.”
Also, two senators on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Biodun Olujimi, said recently in response to waves of condemnations already trailing the water bill that although it was yet to be tabled on the floor of the senate, they would resist any time it did, so long it does not represent the interests of Nigerians.
Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, categorically said the bill would not be allowed to scale through. Olujimi also assured that senators would not support any bill that may be injurious to the people of the country, stressing that they were poised to maintaining the fragile peace the people were enjoying.
According to Senator Olujimi, “The truth is that I am not aware of that Bill at all. However, anything that will injure our people, some of us will never be part of it. We will speak up against it when the time comes, because nobody would be allowed to injure our people.”
The foremost Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which wondered why the federal government had continued to delve into areas that could further divide the country, urged the leadership of the country to conduct itself in a manner that could safeguard the future.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu said: “We hardly know why our rulers deliberately court controversy and trouble. It is either CAMA or Water bill. Why can’t they for once have their peace? Why the water bill? What for and for whose interest, Nigerians or a clique?”
He called on President Buhari to consider the sensibilities of Nigerians in his actions and conduct, stressing “There is life after power.”
Ohanaeze stated that it does not understand why the government could insist on doing what is wrong and aimed at giving undue advantage to a particular section of the country against others, saying the current development is not needed at this time in the country.
A socio-cultural body in the Southwest, World Yoruba Congress (WYC) has also stated that the Water Resource Bill was a reintroduction of RUGA that was shouted down in 2019 through the backdoor and asked Nigerians to be vehement in also shutting it down.
A development economist, Dr. Chiwuike Uba, sees the national water resources law as more of showmanship and a clear sign of misplaced priority on the part of the National Assembly. He stated that as a nation, “we need to ask the basic question of what we have done with the existing laws. What have we achieved with the multiplicity of water resources MDAs – Ministries of Water Resources, River-Basin Development Authorities, among others?”
He stressed that “Our problem is not about having enough laws and regulations, but more about having the political will to enforce the laws as well as make the right decisions.”
Uba stated that the proposed Water bill would worsen the shortages in supply and availability of water in Nigeria if passed into law, as it requires citizens to secure a license before drilling private boreholes.
While justifying his position with analytical data, Uba said: “According to the last National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report, about 67 per cent of Nigeria’s population has no basic water supply with only about 19 per cent of Nigeria’s population having access to safe drinking water. Evidently, the number with access to a basic water supply is mainly through private sources – digging of boreholes, collection and storage of rainwater and water from streams. Despite the costs (fiscal, loss due to premature death, productive time lost, and healthcare costs) occasioned by the lack of accessible, reliable, and safe drinking water on the citizens, the governments has not made any meaningful effort to provide enough water for the citizens.
“Unfortunately, the proposed national water resources law would worsen the situation if passed into law, as it requires citizens to secure a driller’s license before drilling private boreholes. The command and control approach as being proposed in the law is not the solution.”
Uba continued: “Apparently, there is an inherent confusion in the minds of the framers of the bill. Whereas they recognize that the constitution and the Land Use Act entrust the management and control of water resources within the boundaries of a state in the state government, the bill states that the federal government manages the water resource channels across two or more states. The question therefore is, do we have any land not owned by any state? The bill is at conflict with existing laws, as it seeks to remove the rights to water from the states and bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as riverbanks under the control of the federal government through its agencies. This, no doubt, undermines the principle of federalism as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“Instead of having a centralized agency that would end up worsening the water resources – access to water profile in Nigeria – what we need is vertical and horizontal coordination among the agencies of government at both the national and state levels (including the local governments and communities). The governments should also work with private sector organizations to improve clean water availability to the citizens.”Uba stated that subsidiary law of the National Assembly could not obliterate the state powers, as guaranteed by the constitution in section 133 (6).
Also speaking, former National Chairman of defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, called on the federal government to tread with caution in the way it dishes out policies, especially those that have direct impact on the people.
Okorie said: “My candid opinion and with all sense of patriotism and responsibility is to caution the government to tread very carefully on the issue of the water bill. It is very controversial and this country at this time is restive and there are many people, who would like to see Nigeria go under and they are not leaving any stone unturned in stoking the fire of instability.
“My advice to the government is to withdraw that bill. Whatever is the intention, which probably they considered as good intention, will be difficult to be understood by most Nigerians, who would be affected by that bill and there is so much suspicion in this country today. There is hardly any move that will not be subjected to serious scrutiny with regards to religious, ethnic and sectional implications and interests.
“The section of the water bill will give federal government control not only the water and resources underground, but some kilometres from the waterfronts to be under control of the federal government. This is one sure provision that will stoke trouble in this country. Look at Niger River, for instance: if you are taking four kilometres from the bank of the river, you will cover almost the whole of Onitsha and they say that will come under the control of the federal government.
“We still have as part of our constitution the Land Use Act, which gives state governments control of land. So, how will that type of provision be married with the Land Use Act? I see a clash in those two laws. There is so much to think of in terms of healing wounds in this country and this particular water bill, whoever has persuaded the government to reintroduce it, does not mean well for the government and Nigerians.
“I am a chieftain of APC, but I won’t like to see a situation where something that will not work in the interest of the people is foisted on them. This bill is not in the interest of the people. Since it was rejected by the 8th Assembly and now being reintroduced, I would have advised against it. The ball now is in the court of the National Assembly to consider the stability of the country and do the needful, so that we can concentrate on other aspects that will bring unity to this country.”