For the umpteenth time, the federal government has said the mounting opposition against the National Water Resources Bill 2020 is unfounded and shocking.
It also said the proposed law is neither targeted at land control nor meant to cede land to herders as being speculated in some quarters.
Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Hussain Adamu made the clarifications weekend during an interaction with journalists in Abuja.
The minister, who said he had engaged with the governors on what the bill was all about, also noted that 95 percent of the bill is made up of existing laws.
He said putting all these together as a statue was in line with the international best practices.
Adamu said: “The opposition to this bill is still shocking to us. It really took us by surprise because we did everything that needed to be done before getting to this level. I went to the media for advocacy. About three professors were involved, including our consultant. In fact, one of them is an Emeritus Professor Oyebade from UNILAG.”
The minister listed the existing water laws as Water Resources Act, 2004; River Basin Development Authority Act 2004; the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act 2004 and National Water Resources Institute Act 2004.
Making of the bill
He said: “Late in the 90s, Nigeria subscribed to the international convention on integrated water resource, which, among others, stipulates that water users should have a say in how water is being undertaken, proper regulation must be ensured as well as protecting the land.”
The minister recalled that the process of drafting the bill in 2006 ahead of the setting up of the Nigeria Integrated Water Management Commission Agency, which had since then been regulating the commercial use of water.
“The underlying philosophy behind the bill is that it is just an aggregation of the 4 existing laws, no more no less. When the draft was ready in 2008, there were road shows in the six geo-political zones. And upon coming on board as minister, I had a 2-day retreat with major stakeholders, including experts from the academia, at the end of which a development plan (2018-2030) was drawn. The retreat also produced the bill.
“I perused the bill myself and sent to all the 36 states of the federation and invited them for their comments. Those who could not come sent their comments and observations.
“Further to this, in May 2016, the National Water Resources Council which I also chair, met and made necessary inputs. By September 2016, the Federal executive Council (FEC) met and endorsed, and in May 2017, the House of Representatives considered the bill after a 2-day hearing. In 2018, it was in the Senate for concurrence and senators asked questions after which a technical committee was set up by then Senate President Bukola Saraki. In fact, the Senate also took it to the Law Reform Commission for further legal scrutiny.”
Adamu said the 2019 election ‘frenzy’ caught up with everyone, including the lawmakers, and slowed down the process as the nation was facing an election year.
“So, it is not true to say the bill was thrown out. That’s misinformation from whatever quarters that may have come from. What happened was a question of procedure. It was only withdrawn by the lawmakers for re-presentation after the procedures must have been effected.
“The truth is that 95% of the bill is a product of existing laws. The bill is in consonance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is nothing like power graph. There has to be an umpire in the control of the nation’s water resources,” the minister explained.
Painting a scenario of what could happen if the sector was left unregulated, the minister said: “Take for instance, River Niger flows to the other parts of the country from Kebbi state, while River Benue is from Cameroon mountains. 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 off. Then, what happens to the Niger Delta?
“Why do we have the airspace controlled in the aviation sector? If federal highways are not controlled by the states but the federal government, why should it not be the same principle with rivers? Unknown to many of those opposed to this bill, they are going to be the greatest beneficiaries of the bill when finally passed.
“I must add here that people’s rights to water is non-negotiable. What we are regulating is large scale commercial use of water. Those drilling in millions of liters will have to pay for it. If we don’t know and monitor drilling of boreholes, we are in trouble.
“This is how sensible countries do their things and we cannot be an exception. What we are saying is that there should be national guidelines. The borehole drilling has become an all-comers affairs and this has to stop so we don’t endanger our lives. This is not a Buhari Bill, this is not a Fulani herdsmen Bill, not a RUGA Bill. It is a bill for the betterment of Nigerians, we are not creating anything new, we are not taking any land. How would that have been possible when one cannot define a water course which changes by the year?
“I don’t know when Nigeria will become one nation! Hogwash! That bill is not about the control of land. Anywhere there is land in the bill; it will require the consent of the state.”
On the new additions in the bill, the minister said with the integrated water resources management commission in place, willing investors in hydro electricity and large scale irrigation farming, would have to come through the commission.
“This brings about citizen-participation. The downstream stream users are being protected. My message to people at the downstream end of Rivers Niger and Benue is that they will benefit more as their rights are protected under the bill. Again, by this arrangement, farmers will now be empowered in managing the irrigation”, the minister said.
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