The SUN: The controversial Water Resources Bill

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The reintroduction of the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020 to the National Assembly has attracted condemnations from notable Nigerians and civil society groups. The critics of the bill have also expressed anger that the bill, which was introduced in the 8th National Assembly two years ago and was later dropped due to strident opposition and its unpopularity, is now being resurrected by the 9th National Assembly.

Unfortunately, the bill has surreptitiously passed through the first and second readings, and was almost sailing through the House of Representatives when it drew enough attention of its opponents in the National Assembly and beyond.The bill is designed to establish a regulatory framework for the control of Nigeria’s water resources, surface and underground, by the Federal Government.  In other words, the bill will give the Federal Government the power to control all water resources in the country.

The absolute nature of the bill is being criticised by some Nigerians. The Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State are among notable Nigerians who have condemned the reintroduction of the bill.  Similarly, the President of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum have condemned and rejected the obnoxious bill.

Without doubt, the bill will not be acceptable to millions of Nigerians who have, for years, advocated a return to true federalism, the only manifest agreement among our founding fathers on how Nigeria should live together in peace.  Sadly, instead of putting measures in place to return the country to a federal system, the government is bringing measures that make ours look like a unitary system. Therefore, the reintroduction of this bill, at this point in time, is insensitive and can also arouse suspicion of an underhand plot to bring the abandoned RUGA policy through the backdoor.

We believe that there are, indeed, many reasons Nigerians are opposed to the contentious bill. Apart from its obvious contradictions, parts of the bill are so outlandish it beggars belief what their authors were thinking, like Section 98 which states: “the use of water shall be subject to licensing.”  It sounds like adding an insult to an injury that after 60 years of independence, less than 10 per cent of Nigerians have access to potable water.

And now, those who wish to sink a well to source their own water by themselves would now be required to seek a licence from a government which failed to provide them with water.  Nor does the absurdity end there.  Under the government’s emergency powers, it can “direct a person who has a supply of water in excess of his needs to reduce the amount he is permitted to abstract under the terms of any licence or general authoridation.”

Under Section 107, the “licence may be cancelled if the licencee fails to make beneficial use of the water.” And under Section 120 Nigerians must get a permit before drilling.  It is compulsory to obtain a driller’s permit.  Besides, Section 12 empowers government officials with an identity card to enter into a property with necessary equipment for routine inspection of the use of water or disposal of wastewater under any authorisation.”  Section 131 states, “no person shall use water otherwise than as permitted under this act.”

This bill which apparently cannot be redeemed should be withdrawn forthwith before it strains the good relations between the executive and the legislature, and before it further divides the country.  The National Assembly has enough in its plate that would be beneficial to the country than this strange bill.  For years, Nigerians have hoped for a bill that would promote the devolution of powers and not one that will centralise them as this bill is designed to do.

With 168 items already on the exclusive legislative list, there is no need to add the water resources bill to it. The Federal Government and the lawmakers should listen to Nigerians and halt further deliberations on the inimical bill.

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