In 2017, the federal government transmitted a bill on water resource control and management to the National Assembly for consent. The billed hit the rocks, as it was stepped down. Nearly one and a half years after, those backing the bill, seeing that their initial obstacles in the legislature are out of their way and the body language of the leadership of the current National Assembly appeared friendlier to the Executive than their predecessors, reintroduced the bill for passage. The sponsors of the bill reckon their stars might align this time to get the contentious bill passed.
Sadly, just like in its first introduction, the bill is currently ripping through the legislative arm of government, leaving in its trail a polarized lawmaking institution and an anxious citizenry. Through this bill, the federal government is seeking to accrue more powers to itself by owning and controlling all the water resources, both surface and underground bodies of water, found in Nigeria.
At a time when there is a clamour for devolution of powers and resource control, the federal government, like Oliver Twist, wants more, owing to its dwindling revenues from oil. Opponents of the government also accuse it of having veiled its failed RUGA aspiration in this new bill. Critics question the FG’s justification for seeking to gain control of the nation’s water resources, when everything in sight under the control of the FG, such as crude oil exploration licensing, has not in any way improved the economic conditions of the host communities. They argue that the irresponsible exploration activities of the IOCs has largely gone unchecked by the government.
Over the years successive governments have poorly managed both the oil proceeds and the environment where the largest chunk of the nation’s revenue comes from. This, among others, has led to a loss of trust for the political class by the citizenry, because they have been left to do for themselves what the government ought to be doing. For example, the citizens have, over the years, resorted to providing electricity for themselves by shelling out money for the purchase of generators, solar installations and inverters, and yet still have to pay electricity bills to the electricity companies. Also, individuals and communities are left with no choice but to fix bad roads with all types of debris.
Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that the general psyche of Nigerians is conditioned to distrust the government. Although there might be political skirmishes guised as pro-people resistance to the water bill that attempts to wrest ownership and unregulated access to this basic human need from the people into the hands of the federal government, this is a self-inflicted damage on the part of the federal government and a collateral benefit for the general public as a wider disapproval will turn the heat on lawmakers to reject the bill like they did under the headship of Bukola Saraki in the 8th National Assembly.
Here are The Top 7 Things To Know About National Water Resources Bill, 2020:
#1: The National Water Resource Bill in 2017
The bill was originally presented to the 8th National Assembly as “The National Water Resource Bill”. President Buhari sent the bill to the legislature in 2017, while the then Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, presented the bill as is customary for Executive bills.
#2: Godswill Akpabio Shot down the bill in 2018
During a clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, then Minority Leader and former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, who is currently the Minister of Niger Delta, kicked against the provision seeking to empower the federal government to take control of all waterways and their banks in Nigeria. The provision vests large pieces of land adjoining the river banks across the country, which are currently the exclusive preserve of state governments.
#3: Alteration of Land Use Act
If the bill sails through, it will alter the critical provisions in the Land Use Act which vests the ownership of the land in the state governments, except in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the federal government holds sway.
#4: Gbajabiamila Directs Re-gazetting of Water Resource Bill
The Speaker of the House of Reps has directed that the controversial bill be withdrawn and re–gazetted in response to Hon. Mzondu Bem’s protest that the passage of the bill did not follow the normal procedure stipulated in the House rules.
#5: Driller’s License
The federal government will take over water resources, license the supply and commercialise the use of water. Section 75 states that no corporate organisation or individual shall commence borehole drilling business in Nigeria unless such driller has been issued a Water Well Driller’s Licence by a Commission to be set up to manage the implementation of the law, if passed.
#6: Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria
The bill creates a Commission to regulate, protect, conserve and control water resources identified in this bill as water sources crossing state boundaries, in accordance with Section 2 as well as the first schedule of this Act, for equitable and sustainable social and economic development and to maintain environmental integrity.
#7: NGF To Take A Position
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has stated that it will make its position known as soon as its State Attorneys General and Executive Councils of states brainstorm on the proposed bill and other similar relevant bills that have been generating controversies in the country.