Nigeria’s House of Representatives has said the country loses an estimated N700billion in water value-chain to some unscrupulous water business owners annually.
The lawmakers also said the mounting opposition against the National Water Resources Bill 2020 was not only borne out of ignorance, but championed by some giant water companies who would want to continue extorting Nigerians.
Among others, the bill, which is a consolidation of all water-related Acts, seeks to regulate the activities of borehole drillers as well as companies believed to be immensely profiting from the national resource.
Some of the critics, including Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and Benue state Governor Samuel Ortom, accused the federal government of hiding under the bill to corner some land resource for the herders.
Also opposed to the bill are the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), and Afenifere.
“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.
But the executive, through the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said those opposed to the bill were not aware of what it contains.
Sharing similar position in an interview with Blueprint, Chairman House Committee on Water Resources, Hon Sada Soli, said the bill is a consolidation of all water-related Acts.
He said: “It is because people are ignorant. Water Bill has always been there for Nigerians. We have the Water Resources Act of 1986; we have the River Basins Development Authority Act of 1985. We have the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency Act of 2010, and we have the National Water Resources Institute Act of 1986.”
“These are all water-related legislations. Because there are pieces of water legislations, the executive decided to bring all these pieces of legislations together, consolidate them, so that under the water sector, you have one legislation as the Water Resources Act.
“Tell me which state is sufficient in water, sufficient in even supplying the citizens’ water. We’ve not settled down to see the value chain of water in this country, which is about N700 billion annually. This is in clear terms what the nation loses and this is one of the things that bill seeks to achieve.
“Give and take, Nigerians will be the better for it. I am sure you didn’t drink water from your tap today. You must have bought it from a shop, or on the street in bottle. It is because the state failed to provide you water, so you resorted to individuals or companies. They (table water producers) tap from the resources of the states and the federal government but how much do they pay?” he quipped.
One of the aims of the bill, the committee said, is “to achieve easy implementation of policies, it is counterproductive to have several pieces of legislations under one sector. Just like in the aviation sector, we have several laws governing the sector, so what the National Assembly is doing now, is to bring all those legislations under one law as Nigerian aviation legislation.
“So, as you open it, you will see the piece of legislation regarding different areas. Instead of saying get me the legislation of the Mando Water Resources Institute, or get me the legislation that deals with water basins, here you have one booklet and one legislation. That is an innovation in terms of legislation, and this is the best practice around the world. Go around the states, they have brought all their legislations on health under one roof. Otherwise, the donor agencies that donate monies in different areas of health or education would find it difficult if they don’t have one legislation. So, this is an innovation.”
Alleging some level of extortion by water producing companies, Soli said: “Let me tell you the intrigues, and that is what most Nigerians don’t want to know. There are certain individuals and companies that are fighting the Bill; why, because they are going to be regulated, and I can tell you. How much is Coca-Cola paying in Nigeria? How much is SWAN paying? How much is Ragolis paying? How much is Eva paying? How much is Nestle paying? They are all using our resources.”
“We know big individuals that have table water companies in this country. How much do they pay? Is it their resource? No. So these are some of the issues. The sector must be regulated. Why must state government send you a water bill, including the FCT? Look at the way our water sector is abused.
“Do you know the bulk water users in this country pay N100 per one cubic metre of water? One cubic metre is 1,000 litres. One cubic metre and they pay a hundred naira. Now, ask yourself, how much do you pay for a bottle of water? Somebody is there producing just one litre for you, he pays a hundred naira and takes 1,000 litres and you would go on the street and pay a hundred naira for 0.75 litres.”
Asked the suspicion that greeted the initiative, the committee said: “People realised that this Bill is going to regulate them, that this Bill is going to take part of their businesses through which they extort Nigerians. Nigerians are not aware of what they do. Look at the proliferation of boreholes; they are not regulated.
“Government is not saying that if you sink a borehole in your house, you’ll pay, no. Domestic use of water is free. If I cannot provide you with water and you sank a borehole in your house, government can’t charge you money. But the person, the company you are giving money to come and sink the borehole must be regulated because the government must ensure he is going to sink that borehole according to the geophysics and the hydrology of the area.”