Fishing resources

Designed with the best intentions, threatened by politics

From Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja

The National Water Resources Bill, currently before the National Assembly, is a potentially historic bill in the making. In terms of legal drafting, comprehensiveness, quality of content and potential to provide the most reliable legal compass for the water resources sub-sector of the Nigerian economy, it has been crafted with the best of intentions.

Yet his birth is threatened by a deadly political virus. He enters a political environment heavily infested with mutual hatred and suspicion over region, religion, ethnicity, selfishness, greed, and excessive love and pursuit of money. The passion with which some politicians pursue these vain goals is such that they lose sight of the national interest and the common good. The passion is such that every issue brought to the discussion table is examined from the perspective of region, religion, ethnicity and other goals that serve us.

Nothing is spared by this version of Nigerian politics. Even something as innocent and remote from politics as the water resources sector, the management of which was designed by the Water Resources Bill, is not immune.

Since the introduction of the first version of the bill in 2016, its main antagonists have been politicians.

When introduced in 2016, the Water Resources Bill faced strong opposition and a lot of controversy and suspicion. Following complaints, the bill was later withdrawn after the public hearing.

The main concerns raised were that it has the potential to undermine the powers of the respective state houses of assembly in Nigeria and deprive the original owners of the lands of the right to their lands.

The antagonists also suspected that the bill was a grand ploy to favor a certain ethnic group, thus depriving the original owners of the land.

Hard-core leftists opposed it on the grounds that the federal structure of governance in Nigeria concentrated too much power at the top, leaving the states with minimal responsibilities.

Subsequently, some of these concerns were, according to the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, addressed in 2018 and the bill returned to the 9th Assembly in 2021. It was again resubmitted to the National Council .

Assembly after some administrative issues were settled by the committee in 2022.

This time, the reintroduction of the bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Transboundary Water Resources in Nigeria”, provided for the equitable and sustainable development, use and conservation of waters. Nigeria’s interstate surface and groundwater resources; and for Related Matters 2022”, but it was still not well received by sub-national stakeholders. They feared and even suspected that repeated representation might go beyond the national interest.

Among the Nigerians who have opposed it are Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana (SAN) and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.

The position of the Nigerian Governors Forum at the time was comprehensive on the issues. The Governors’ Forum was concerned that the bill would seek to grant unlimited powers to the federal government by completely centralizing rights and control over all of the country’s water resources on the federal government.

The Forum was concerned that the passage of the bill would be the deepening and unconstitutional entrenchment of the powers of the federal government over water resources and, indirectly, land use in Nigeria.

Some of the latest scathing attacks on the bill have come from Benue State where Governor Samuel Ortom in a statement described the bill as part of a scheme to cede land from coastal areas nomadic herders. Such action, he said, would lead to a further deterioration of security in areas already prone to attacks by herders on local communities.

Mark Gbillah, Member of the House of Representatives representing Benue State’s Gwer/Gwer West Federal Constituency, also spoke along the same lines as the governor of his state.

Gbillah’s grouse, like most others in the past, is that the bill is a federal government ploy to secure land for dominance and control. He postulated that the aspect which is controversial and completely unacceptable to the people of Benue State, and by extension, the riverside communities across the country, is the fact that the original draft of the Bill was to cede land lands along the states and waterways across the country. about three kilometers inland, to the federal government.

“Agreed that the federal government would be involved in the monitoring and development of rivers through the waterways that pass through several states, especially the littoral states, to cede land in their territories, in any way, is to cut each other off the nose despite their face.

“Perhaps we need to reflect on the upsurge of Fulani invasions of these communities, bearing in mind recent events in this regard in Ondo State and other states in the country including Borno, Zamfara, Plateau, Kaduna, etc. invasion is like courting trouble and kindling the flames of insecurity, arson and bloodshed in previously peaceful and safe environments.

He said the repackaged National Water Bill is yet another avenue to introduce the Rural Grazing Area Policy (RUGA) the federal government’s widely rejected human settlement policy, rooted in mistrust and a call for armed conflict and a sure way to increase the number of refugees and the threat of internally displaced people in the country. It is therefore desirable that the APC government led by Muhammadu Buhari, together with the proponents of this ill-conceived water resources bill, withdraw it immediately to avoid the ill wind that is likely to blow over the country due to his persistence hearing and eventual passage to the House of Representatives.

Such sentiments and apprehensions have been expressed since the introduction of the first version of the bill. But a lot of work has been done since then to mitigate them. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources has assembled a team of independent experts to provide an assessment of the Bill’s provisions in the context of the implications for relevant constitutional provisions and state powers, contemporary developments and initiatives for the governance of water and the environment at national and global scales. , and impact on existing commitments to allay fears and address key concerns of different stakeholders.

With the collective efforts being made to make the revised copy of the Water Resources Bill 2022, the Ministry has insisted that those who oppose the Bill may do so due to their ignorance of the version. current revision of the bill. In a special memo titled “Misconceptions about the Revised Water Bill,” the ministry pointed out that those opposing the bill were relying on second-hand information to draw their conclusions. Otherwise, he said, the bill’s current letters would not attract the fear nurtured by subnational stakeholders.

Refuting any altruistic agenda of certain interests, the ministry said, “It is a sad comment that at a time when Nigerians are seeking better service delivery in the water sector, the very policies and reforms needed to to make progress are undermined by unpatriotic actions. people because of cheap politics.

According to Adamu, rather than the other way around, the bill aims to strengthen citizens’ right to water, promote citizen participation in the development of water resources, ensure the sustainable management of water resources, the protection ecosystem, attract investment and establish a financing mechanism for water supply. , sanitation and hygiene services to improve the lot of Nigerians.

Stressing the importance for stakeholders to read the updated text of the bill before objecting to it on the grounds that the federal government is expanding state water authority, Suleiman Adamu said, “The bill of current law has eliminated all ambiguities in connection with the relevant constitutional provisions and the alleged excess of state authority

Specifically, they pointed out that the power of the state as a stakeholder is clearly safeguarded. There are checks and balances to restrict absolute discretion. Safeguards put in place to avoid excessive political interference in the implementation of the provisions of the bill. The Bill was aligned with the National Gender and Climate Change Action Plan for Nigeria, and also created the opportunity to leverage the traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities relating to water resources and conservation.

Article 2(1) reads as follows: “The right to the use, management and control of all surface waters and ground waters affecting more than one State in accordance with Article 64 of the Exclusive Legislative List of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Government Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set forth 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.

Section (2) “States may make arrangements for the use, management and control of water resources found only within the boundaries of the State in accordance with the regulations and guidelines established under this draft Integrated Water Resources Management Policy and Principles Act.”

Section 3(1) provides that: “Subject to the provisions of section 2(1), a person may, without authorisation: (a) take water from a water source from which the public has free access for its household use or for watering domestic livestock; (b) use the water for subsistence fishing or for navigation to the extent that such use is not inconsistent with this Project law or any other applicable law.

Section 10(1) stated that: “It shall be the duty of the Minister to promote the protection, utilization, development, conservation and management of interstate water resources throughout Nigeria and to ensure the effective exercise of the powers and the fulfillment of duties. by the institutions and persons identified under this bill and in the constitution.

The minister is not relenting in his efforts to get the bill passed. He is firm in his determination to ensure that Nigeria does not lose out on the immense benefits of a well-regulated and managed water resources sector. It is aimed at the widest audience of stakeholders.

Speaking at a media conference in Abuja on July 20, to clarify some misconceptions about the Bill, the Minister implored Nigerians to read the Water Resources Bill carefully and dispassionately in order to appreciate its potential benefits.

He regretted that while Nigerians yearned for better water services in the country, some unpatriotic citizens are resisting the government’s efforts to improve the situation through the introduction of the Bill.
“There is no provision in the bill that allows the federal government to appropriate land from any community, not even an inch of land, as being peddled by a group,” he said. he declares.