Art and Culture

Curious Obsession with Water Resources Bill

todayJuly 10, 2022

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Despite the rejection of the Water Resources Bill by most Nigerians, coupled with the popular clamour for resource control and power devolution to the states, the House of Representatives last week reintroduced the obnoxious bill for the federal government to seize control of Nigeria’s water resources, including the river banks for the resettlement of foreign herders, Ejiofor Alike reports

While most Nigerians are kicking against the concentration of powers in the hands of the federal government, some federal lawmakers have been pushing behind the scenes for the federal government to take over the control of Nigeria’s water resources, as it seized control of the oil and gas resources.

In a bill titled: ‘A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matter,’ these lawmakers seek to bring all water sources under the control of the federal government.

Apart from ceding ownership of water resources and river banks to the federal government, another offensive provision in the strange bill is that individuals who want to drill boreholes at their backyards for commercial purposes in any state of the federation must travel all the way to a northern part of the country to obtain permits from a federal government agency.

The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, on Thursday justified this offensive provision when he claimed that some Nigerians did not want to pay the necessary taxes to the government for mining water.

“This bill has nothing to do with issues of land grabbing or so, all grey areas have been addressed and we are confident that the National Assembly will address the issues.

“Although there are some people that have some vested interests, like regulation, especially for commercial use of water, this is something they do not want to do.

“Some of them do not want to pay the necessary taxes to the government for mining these waters, as they are mining the water illegally,” he reportedly said.

The implication is that while other Nigerians are mining gold freely in some northern states, southerners must pay taxes to the federal government before they harness the water resources at their backward.

A senator in the eighth National Assembly, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had described the bill as an attempt by a section of the country to “finish off other sections by seizing their water resources after successfully annexing their oil and gas resources.”

It was a relief to the majority when the House of Representatives on September 29, 2020 forced the promoters of the bill to withdraw the obnoxious legislation.

The bill, which was brought through the backdoor, was withdrawn after the deceptive legislative fireworks by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase; the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Abubakar Fulata (APC/Jigawa); and the Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Sada Soli (APC/Katsina), failed to hoodwink the majority of the lawmakers.

Shortly before the bill was withdrawn, Soli had boasted that the bill must be passed and further criticised opponents of the bill, including the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, and Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

Many other prominent leaders from Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, including the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had also condemned the bill. They described it as a ploy by the federal government to secure the lands around the rivers in southern Nigeria to resettle the foreign herdsmen after the failed cattle colony and Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiatives.

On his part, Ortom, who said the provisions of the bill were at variance with the Land Use Act, further described it as a “disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country.”

With the bill providing for the federal government to annex the banks of any river that connects up to two states, many have expressed the fear that the purpose of the promoters of the bill is to provide land for the herdsmen.

The fact that all the promoters of the bill were from a certain section of the country had also strengthened this suspicion.

When the bill came up before the Senate during the eighth National Assembly, the then Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio had mobilised his southern colleagues to frustrate its passage.

The ulterior motive behind the bill became further suspicious when Akpabio appeared for ministerial screening before the ninth Senate. The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan had shocked many Nigerians when he reminded Akpabio the role he played in frustrating the bill even when the bill was not part of the agenda in the screening exercise. Lawan had told the former Akwa Ibom State governor that “now that you are on this side, you should go and liaise with the Minister of Water Resources to ensure that the Water Resources Bill is passed.”

 “That bill must be passed,” Lawan reportedly declared with air of finality.

Also, when the Minister of Water Resources, Adamu, who was reappointed, appeared before the ninth Senate for the same screening, he told the lawmakers that his greatest regret during President Buhari’s first tenure was the non-passage of the bill.

Despite the opposition to the bill, Adamu had insisted that there was no going back on the bill. The minister had listed what he described as the financial benefits of passing the bill.

But with the federal government controlling the huge revenues from the oil and gas resources, most Nigerians believe that the states and local governments should be allowed to enjoy the taxes and other benefits from water resources.

Adamu had at a point reportedly resorted to a subtle blackmail, when he declared that most rivers the southern part of the country is laying claim to, except those in Lagos, originated from Northern Nigeria.

 “Nigeria is losing about N6 billion to N9 billion yearly to the non-passage of the bill, which would have given legal teeth to the water sub-sector for optimal performance like other sectors,” the minister reportedly said through the Executive Director, National Integrated Water Resource Management Commission, Mr. Magashi Bashir.

The minister’s claim that the other sectors of the economy controlled by the federal government are experiencing optimal performance is false.

The federal government has not demonstrated any capacity to manage any sector successfully – be it aviation, education, health, hospitality business or the oil and gas sector.  During one of his visits to Katsina State, President Buhari also lent his voice to this curious campaign for the passage of this bill.

Speaking at a ceremony for the inauguration of the Zobe Regional Water Supply Scheme in Katsina State, Buhari said his administration would work towards ensuring that all Nigerians have access to adequate potable water supply and sanitation facilities as enshrined in the SDGs target.

“However, for this national aspiration to be realised, we need to mobilise funds from all sources, including the private sector. This is where the need for quick passage of the National Water Resources Bill that made provision for the National WASH Fund, as well as regulatory environment for private sector involvement in the sector, becomes relevant.

“I, therefore, call on the National Assembly to give attention to the Bill towards its passage into law as soon as possible,” he had reportedly added.

The questions agitating the minds of Nigerians are: Why should the federal government not focus on defence and other sensitive functions and allow the states and local governments to handle the simple tasks of managing water resources and providing access to portable water?

Why the desperation by this present administration to annex the waters and the land around the waters, when Nigerians are clamouring for the states and local governments to be given more powers? Curiously, after the bill was rejected by the eighth National Assembly, the promoters refused to give up. They reintroduced the offensive bill last Wednesday at the House of Representatives.

When a member of the House, Hon. Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue), reminded his colleagues that most Nigerians rejected the bill the last time, Soli told him that governors contributed in the drafting of the new bill.

Soli further added that the minutes of the meeting with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) had been attached to the bill. The Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, specifically told Gbillah that Ortom supported the new bill.

But Ortom has since dissociated himself from the bill and described as “evil” its re-introduction in the House of Representatives.

Speaking at the flag-off of the distribution of seedlings in Makurdi, the governor said the bill was part of the agenda of the federal government to seize land from the 36 states of the federation for the herdsmen.

“The other time they brought Water Resources Bill we said no, now they are bringing the evil bill again, it is evil plan to take over waterways.

 “In their attempt to take over our inheritance they came with Ruga and cattle colony among others. But the people behind this plot can be rest assured that Benue will resist any attempt to take over our land and water resources through any guise.”

“It is an evil bill by the federal government to take over the river banks and allow herdsmen from other parts of Africa to take over the Benue Valley,” Ortom reportedly said.

To stop this attempt to seize people’s God-given water resources and ancestral lands for foreign invaders, Nigerians should remain vigilant especially at this period when the National Assembly has become a rubber stamp legislature known to have allowed the decisions of the minority to prevail over the majority in the passage of many motions.

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