The re-introduction of the National Water Resources Bill, which was earlier withdrawn following controversies and opposition that trailed it has continued to generate debate, Daily Trust reports.
The House had in September 2020 withdrawn the National Water Resources Bill it had already passed, following criticism that trailed the legislative decision.
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The proposed law then sought to establish an Act that would provide a regulatory framework for Nigeria’s water resources sector.
Among the objectives advanced by the proponents of the bill are to ensure that the nation’s interstate water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in ways that take into account, among other factors: citizens’ right to access to safe water and basic sanitation and meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations.
Other objectives of the Bill include providing for existing customary uses of water and avoidance of harm to other water users; promoting the efficient, sustainable and beneficial use of water; facilitating social development; improving public health and economic development.
It also seeks to support initiatives to reduce and prevent pollution and degradation of water resources and the aquatic environment; manage floods, desertification, droughts, erosion control and land drainage, and support other environmental measures aimed at promoting climate resilience and climate risk mitigation and adaptation, among many others.
The Bill also seeks to promote equitable and affordable access to water; promote public-private partnerships in the development and management of water resources infrastructure as well as promote dams’ safety and appropriate reservoir operation and management, among others.
Although it was rejected in the previous assembly, it was reintroduced in the House as an executive bill in July 2020 and passed under controversial circumstances.
Many Nigerians and interest groups kicked against it; arguing that it gives the federal government undue control over the water resources in states.
But the Bill was repackaged and brought before the House of Representatives where it was recently passed for first reading.
The Bill, which is sponsored by Rep Sada Soli, is titled ‘A Bill For an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Trans Boundary Water Resources In Nigeria, Provide For The Equitable And Sustainable Development, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Inter-State Surface Water and Groundwater Resources; and for Related Matters, 2022’.
When it came up for first reading, Mark Gbillah (Benue) raised a point of order, drawing the attention of the Speaker to the fact that the Bill was earlier rejected following the controversies that trailed it, questioning the rationale behind its re-introduction.
But Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said the contentious aspects had been removed from the reworked Bill and that the new version came up after wider consultations with stakeholders, including governors.
He, therefore, urged the House to allow the Bill to pass for the first reading.
He said all members would be given copies of the new Bill to scrutinise and that if there were issues, they could be brought up during the second reading.
The sponsor of the Bill, Sada Soli, told the House the Bill was drafted after wider consultations with stakeholders, saying he would not introduce any Bill that would be against the national interest.
He said he was ready to withdraw the Bill at any point if it was found not to be in the overall national interest.
Fresh opposition trail Bill
But soon after the passage of the Bill for first reading, more controversies and opposition trailed the legislative move.
Governors of the 36 states of the federation, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), unanimously declared their opposition to the Water Resources Bill, describing the proposed law as unconstitutional.
The governors, in a statement issued at the end of their 5th teleconference meeting, argued that “the bill does not adequately address the interests of the states and is inconsistent with provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
They sought a review of the bill to accommodate the concerns of all the states.
Also, a member representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State, Awaji Inombek Dagomie Abiante (PDP Rivers) said the Ijaw and other ethnic nationalities will continue to oppose the water resources bill in order to defend their interests.
He disclosed this when he received members of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) who paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja.
One aspect of the Bill that has raised concern is Section 2 (1) which states 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 Exclusive Legislative List in Part 1 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 Bill is vested in the government of the federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Bill.
Subsection (2) provides that, “States may make provisions for the use, management, and control of water resources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state in line with regulations and guidelines made pursuant to this Bill on policy and principles of integrated water resources management.”
The above provisions have been viewed as a move to cede the control of water resources from the state to the federal government.
Another provision in the bill that has raised concern is the aspect that makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driver’s permit before they can sink boreholes in their homes.
Licensing to use water
Part 5 and clause 61 of the Bill provide that, subject to the provisions of sections 3 and 72 of the Bill, the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions under this part and relevant regulations issued by the commission.
Clause 62 states: “Any person who undertakes the following activities (in this section referred to as “prescribed activities” in relation to national water sources described in Section 2(1) and listed in the First Schedule to this Bill, shall be licenced by the commission.”
However, Section 3 (1) said: “Subject to the provisions of S. 2 (1), a person may, without a license, take water from a water source to which the public has free access for the use of his household or for watering domestic livestock; use water for the purposes of subsistence fishing or for navigation to the extent that such use is not inconsistent with this Bill or any other existing law.”
It provides that where a statutory or customary right of occupancy to any land exists, a person “may take or use water without charge from the underground water source, or if abutting the bank of any watercourse, from that watercourse, for reasonable household use, watering livestock and for personal irrigation, but not for commercial purposes.”
Powers of the minister
Part three of the Bill provides the powers the Minister of Water Resources can exercise.
It provides that it shall be the duty of the minister to promote the protection, use, development, conservation and management of inter-state water resources throughout Nigeria and to ensure the effective exercise of powers and performance of duties by institutions and persons identified under this Bill and in the constitution.
The Bill provides that “the minister shall have and exercise reasonable powers as are necessary and required in furtherance of the duties and functions conferred pursuant to this Bill, the directives of the president, or any other law.”
Establishment of Water Resources Regulatory Commission
Part five of the Bill provides for the establishment of the Water Resources Regulatory Commission as an independent regulatory body which will, among others, be charged with the responsibility for the regulation of the national water resources of Nigeria as defined in S. 2 (1) and listed in the First Schedule to this Bill.
Among the objectives of the commission shall be to: “(a) regulate, protect, conserve and control water resources identified in this bill as water sources crossing state boundaries in accordance with Section 2 as well as the first schedule of this act for equitable and sustainable social and economic development and to maintain environmental integrity;
“The commission shall have the power to do anything which, in the opinion of the commission, is necessary to facilitate the carrying out of the functions and achievement of the objectives of the commission under this Bill.”
Penalty for offenders
Clause 51 provides that “Subject to Section 37, any person who contravenes any provision of this Bill, rules or regulations made under this Bill is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction, where no specific penalty is prescribed, to (a) a fine of N50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or, to both, such fine and imprisonment as a first offender; and (b), a fine of N1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, such fine and imprisonment for subsequent convictions and for a continuing contravention under Section 64 (1) of this Bill; and a fine of N100,000 for each day that the offence continues.
“The commission may make regulations generally to provide for the imposition of a fine and in any proper case, for the payment of compensation or for confiscation of the equipment or facilities as it may deem fit.
“Where an offence against this Bill or any rules or regulations made has been committed by a body corporate or a partnership, the body corporate or partnership shall on conviction, be liable to a fine, not less than N500,000.”
Bill misunderstood – Minister
The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, has said it was unfortunate that Nigerians misunderstood the ministry’s water resources bill, which would have addressed various issues in the water sector and provided sufficient food for the teeming populace.
Adamu, represented by Mrs. Esther Walson-Jack, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, while speaking at a workshop in Abuja, said it was clear that the Bill was not with any negative intention, but rather, to promote sustainable integrated water resources management nationwide.
He said the ministry had identified the irrigation sub-sector as one of the key policy thrusts to help the government lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by the year 2030.
To this effect, according to the minister, the Bill is being presented to address various issues in the water sector.
“We are aware that it has been misunderstood. However, it is clear that the Bill is not with any negative intention, but rather to promote sustainable integrated water resources management nationwide.
By Itodo Daniel Sule & Balarabe Alkassim