The federal government Tuesday dismissed the criticism trailing the National Water Resources Bill 2020 presently before the National Assembly, saying it has no hidden agenda to deny Nigerians their rights to water.
Specifically, it said contrary to positions held by some stakeholders, the government has no intention to take over the nation’s water resources by licensing and commercialising the use of water.
These were the highlights of a joint press conference addressed by Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed and his water resources counterpart, Engr. Suleiman Adamu in Abuja.
But in very strong criticisms, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and Benue state Governor Samuel Ortom, among others, accused the federal government of hiding under the bill to corner some land resource for the herders.
Similar opposition to the bill was raised by some groups, including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF).
“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.
“The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness! – is to become exclusive to one centralised authority. It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitised rockery that cannot even boast of the water divining wand of the prophet Moses,” Soyinka had said.
‘They’re not informed’
But replying the critics, Mohammed said: “The first thing to say is that many of those criticising the Bill have not even bothered to read its provisions, thus depending on second-hand information to reach their conclusions.
“Those who have read it have perhaps done so perfunctorily. We have therefore decided to look at the main arguments against the Bill by the critics and respond to them, with a view to
clearing any misgiving and also enlightening Nigerians.”
While saying there was nothing new about the bill, he said it’s “an amalgamation of Water
Resources Laws that have been in existence for a long time. These are: Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; The River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004; The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004; and National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.”
Reason for repackaging
On reason for the repackaging, Mohammed said “they are being re-enacted with necessary modifications to bring them in line with current global trends as well as best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
“The overall objective of this amalgamation is the efficient management of the Water Resources Sector for the economic development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.”
Also on the commercialisation claims, the Water Resources Minister, Engineer Adamu said: “This is not the intention, because the current Water Resources Act, 2004 (made pursuant to the Constitution) already makes provision for this. This Bill is only trying to provide a framework for implementing that provision.
“The Regulatory provisions of the Bill require that commercial borehole drillers obtain a Licence. The Code of Practice for Water Well Drillers issued by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the NWRI in 2010 already requires this. The Code provides Technical requirements that a driller must possess to undertake drilling as well as information on each such borehole to be provided to the national database.
“That Code however requires the License to be issued by the NWRI in Kaduna. This Bill
provides for such Licenses to now be issued by the States, under delegation of the National regulator, the Water Resources Regulatory Commission.
“Please note that borehole regulation is an international standard for abstraction of large volumes of water. Most countries in Africa, and almost every developed country, regulate commercial abstraction.
“It is also important to note that there is no requirement for licensing domestic abstraction. Regulating abstraction of large volumes of water is necessary, because groundwater abstraction is an activity that has environmental and ecological impact,” Adamu added.
Speaking on the benefits of the bill, the water resources minister said: “The Bill provides for professional and efficient management of all surface and ground water for the use of the people (i.e. for domestic and non-domestic use, irrigation, agricultural purposes, generation of hydro-electric energy, navigation, fisheries and recreation).
“The Bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons. “Among other benefits, the Bill: provides for the creation of an enabling environment for public and private sector investment; provides for capacity building processes to foster good governance; establishes water use and licensing framework to ensure sustainable financing for Water Sector Development from tariffs.”
He further said a technically-competent driller must not be afraid of obtaining a licence, adding licence allows the driller to practice, “just as a medical licence or any other licence to be obtained by people professing to have the technical competence to do something.
“Most collapsed boreholes are drilled by charlatans. It is therefore incumbent on the government to prevent this.”
The minister also clarified that the provision of potable is already domiciled with the state governments.
“On the provision of potable water, this is the responsibility of State governments. The National Policy for water resources prioritises abstraction for water treatment in the allocation of water use. This means that abstraction quantities required by state water Boards are given priority in water allocation and the financing of infrastructure by the Federal government for water development.
“Boreholes are the same. Sections 76-79 of the Bill clearly provide that the states will
undertake this regulation under a national framework provided by the regulator to ensure homogenous policy implementation.”
While saying there’s no Supreme Court ruling on borehole licensing, the government said critics were wrong to conclude that the bill, when passed into law, would clip the wings of state and local government authorities, as well as individuals, from making use of the water in their backyards without permission from Abuja.
“Communities on River banks are guaranteed undisturbed use of water as stated in Section 3 of the Bill. Also, all occupiers of Land are guaranteed the right of abstraction for domestic and sustenance, whether by borehole or rivers. Section 3 reiterates the right of persons to continue to access water without charge for subsistence and preserves existing customary rights to water. (See Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Bill).
“Section 2 of the Water Resources Act, 2004 is reproduced. This section protects the right of persons to use water for domestic purposes without charge and recognises the right of a holder of customary or statutory right of occupancy to access water for personal and household use but not for commercial purposes.”
The government also clarified that the bill was not targeted at implementing “RUGA by subterfuge,” saying, “the Bill reiterates the fact that Land can only be acquired by any of the institutions established in accordance with the Land Use Act.”
On the possibility of ‘water wars’ arising from the bill, they said: “The misrepresentation of the contents and intent of the Bill is a real cause for concern. The framework for managing and regulating inter-state waters that is represented in the Water Resources Policy, 2016 and this Bill are similar (in some cases verbatim) with most international conventions and studies. “It is the same as in South Africa, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and most developed federal constitutions. ‘Water Wars’ are more likely to happen between countries, while internal conflicts on water occur typically between states in a country. So it is not correct to say the Bill is capable of triggering ‘water wars’. Plus, the Bill contains provisions that will ensure that internal conflict on water is averted.”
Blaming the criticism on ignorance, the federal government said, “also, we cannot rule out deliberate mischief by some of those who have been portraying the Bill as a new source of conflict.
“We are therefore using this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to avail themselves of the provisions of the Bill to avoid being misled by those who have chosen to politicise it. We also want to state that the Bill is for the good of the nation, and has no hidden agenda whatsoever.
“Finally, when passed into law, the National Water Resources Bill 2020 will provide for the enhancement of the Nigeria Water Sector, in line with global best practices.”