Why the Water Resources Bill 2022 is generating controversies

The recently reintroduced national water resources bill, 2022 is generating controversies across stakeholders because like the previous one of 2020 because it contains the same obnoxious provisions, BusinessDay can report.

Just like the 2020 version, the 2022 draft of the bill still vested the control of ground and surface water in the hands of the federal government.

The proposed legislation also make it mandatory for one to obtain a license before using water that is considered public for domestic or commercial purposes.

Sponsored by Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), the bill is “for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Trans Boundary Water Resources in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Development, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Inter-state Surface Water and Groundwater Resources.”

When the reintroduced bill was read for first time at plenary on July 29 and some lawmaker raised objections to it Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives said it was a different from the old one.

According to Gbajabiamila, the sponsor, Soli assured him that contentious issues in the former bill which bothered many has been addressed in the new one.

He said: “I asked the chairman the same thing this morning and he told me that the issues that were raised then have been addressed by all the Governors. Apparently this new bill that all the governors of the federation both south and north participated. I will take him by his word.”

The speaker also directed, Abubakar Fulata, the chairman of committee on rules and business to ensure every lawmaker gets a copy of the bill to study ahead of the second reading debate.
At plenary on July 21, Soli asked Yahaya Danzaria, Clerk to the House to ensure every member to a copy of the water resources bill, 2022 for his colleagues to study during the two months annual recess.

He said: “I want to inform the members now that the bill has been re-gazetted. Now I’m calling on the clerk to please ensure that bill goes to every member because of the importance of the bill and I call on my colleagues to please kindly take time and read that bill, subject it to a third party. You have time now to subject that bill back home during our holidays.”

But a copy of the bill sighted by BusinessDay showed that there is no significant difference between the current draft and the earlier one.

Both bills have the objective which is to ensure that the nation’s inter-state water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed
and controlled in ways which take into account amongst other factors:

(a) citizens’ right of access to safe water and basic sanitation; (b) meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations; (c) promoting equitable and affordable access to water and reducing poverty; (d) adopting hydrological boundaries as the basic units for water resources management; (e) protecting the water environment for sustainability of the resources and protection of aquatic ecosystems, and recognising the polluter pays principle.

The two documents have the same provisions for public trusteeship of water contained in clause 2 equally.

Clause 2 (1) of both bills provides that the right to the use, management and control of all surface water and ground water affecting more than one State pursuant to item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative List in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this bill is vested in the Government of the Federation.

It however stated that:”(2) States may make provisions for the use, management and control of water resources occurring solely within the boundaries of the State in line with regulations and guidelines made pursuant to this bill on policy and principles of Integrated Water Resources management.”

The bills are also the on the entitlement to use of water contained in clause 3(1) which states that subject to the provisions of S. 2 (1), a person may, without a licence:

“(a) take water from a water source to which the public has free access for the use of his household or for watering domestic livestock; (b) use water for the purposes of subsistence fishing or for
navigation to the extent that such use is not inconsistent with this bill or any other existing law;

“(c) where a statutory or customary right of occupancy to any land exists, take or use water without charge from the underground water source, or if abutting the bank of any watercourse, from that water course, for reasonable household use, watering livestock and for personal irrigation not for commercial purposes; or (d) store and use runoff water from a roof.

“(2) a person may continue with an existing lawful water use, including a customary use, in accordance with Part V of this bill. (3) a person may use water in terms of a general authorisation as defined in section 72 or pursuant to a licence issued under this bill.

“(4) Any entitlement granted to a person by or under this bill supersedes any right to use water which that person might otherwise have been able to enjoy or enforce under any other law to: (a) take or use water; (b) obstruct or divert a flow of water; (c) affect the quality of any water; (d) receive any particular flow of water; (e) receive a flow of water of any particular quality; or (f) construct, operate or maintain any waterworks.”

Also, the said new bill retained the powers of the minister of water resource provided for in the former one.

Similarly, clause 10 (1) stipulates that, it shall be the duty of the minister to promote the protection, use, development, conservation, and management of inter-state water resources throughout Nigeria and to ensure the effective exercise of powers and performance of duties by institutions and persons identified under this bill and in the constitution.

It further states that: “(2) the minister shall have the power to make regulations, policies and strategies for the proper carrying out of the provisions of this bill and functioning of the Ministry in accordance with this Bill as well as in accordance with other directives he may receive from the President and any guidance from the Council.

“(3) the minister shall have and exercise reasonable powers as are necessary and required in furtherance of the duties and functions conferred pursuant to this bill, the directives of the President, or any other law.”

Read also: Nigeria commits to UN water treaty

With these, and many other similarity, the bill has been a subject of controversy, attracting opposition from different groups.

BusinessDay had reported that the 36 state governors have rejected the bill at their 5th teleconference meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, (NGF) held earlier in the week.

The NGF in a communiqué’ signed by Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State and chairman of the forum, said their decision is based on the fact that the proposed legislation is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Part of the communiqué’ reads: “On the Reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill, Governors argued that the Bill does not adequately address the interests of the states and is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Also, a group, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), described the so-called revised version of the bill as exactly the same bill that was roundly rejected by Nigerians and interest groups.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA executive director in a statement said the reintroduction of the bill is an insult to Nigerians from all the geopolitical divide, including socio-political groups that have kicked against it from the beginning because of its many anti-people provisions and the ulterior motive of its promoters.

He said: “it is distasteful that the promoters of the bill did not consider any of the objections by Nigerians about the draft Bill but only moved them to other sections with the intent to deceive Nigerians”.

Oluwafemi explained that a clause-by-clause analysis of the re-presented bill conducted by CAPPA showed that regardless of the “re-packaging” and re-arrangement of its sections and a few expungements, the bill still fails woefully to meet up with the obligation of integrating the tenets of Human Right to water and sanitation.

“For instance, although ‘promoting public private partnerships in delivery of water services’ has been expunged from the Objectives of the Bill under Part 1- Sec 1 (1)(i), the same provision is still retained in Section 13(1)(n) of the Bill.”

“The Bill according to the Forum should be reviewed with a view to accommodating the concerns of all states.”

The Niger-Delta-based group, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, cautioned that the controversial National Water Resources Bill reintroduced in the House of Representatives would trigger militancy in the Niger Delta.

CHURAC, in a statement by Alaowei Cleric, the chairman, board of directors, said: “The nation was awakened with consternation that the National Water Resources Bill 2020 has been reintroduced at the lower house of the National Assembly by Hon. Sada Soli.

“Just the way we have been opposing the passage of the obnoxious and draconian bill from inception, there is no doubt that if passed into law, communities and people living along waterfronts in the country, particularly in the Niger Delta region, Lagos state and other aquatic areas in the country, will be deprived of their major source of livelihood which is fishing.”

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