From Kenneth Udeh, Abuja
The Senate on Tuesday passed for second reading a Bill which aims to amend the Provisions of the River Basins Development Authorities Act, Cap R9, LFN 2004 to create an additional River Basin Development Authority for the South East geopolitical zone.
According to the sponsor of the bill, Sen Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West), the country has 12 River Basin Development Authorities for the six geopolitical zones of the country and the distribution of the 12 authorities leave the South East zone with only one, the Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority which he described has grossly inadequate.
The Bill is also referred to by its short title as River Basins Development Authority (Establishment, Etc.) (Amendment) Bill 2021, further seeks to change the nomenclature of the Chief Executive of River Basins Development Authorities from General Manager to Managing Director.
Ekweremadu added that the Bill also seeks to realign the jurisdiction of the various River Basins Development Authorities for ease of reference and administration. And to provide the legal basis for some of the existing River Basin Development Authorities that had no law creating them, e.g. Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority comprising Kwara and Kogi with headquarters in Ilorin.
The Bill was however presented for second reading during Tuesday’s plenary by Sen Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North) on behalf of the sponsor who was absent.
Sen Ekweremadu in his submission noted that the Bill was read for the first time on Wednesday5th February, 2020. He further noted that the Bill was passed into law in the 6″ and 8th Assembly but could not be assented to till the end of that Assembly
Drawing the attention of his colleagues he outlined the functions of the River Basins Development Authorities as established among others.
He said: ‘Undertake comprehensive development of both surface and underground water resources for multipurpose use with particular emphasis on the provision of irrigation infrastructure and the control of floods and erosion and for watershed management;
‘Construct, operate and maintain dams, dykes, wells, boreholes, irrigation and drainage systems and handover all lands to be cultivated under the irrigation schemes to the farmers;
‘Supply water from the Authority’s Storage Schemes to all users for a fee;
‘Construct, operate and maintain roads and bridges linking project sites;
‘Develop and keep up-to-date and comprehensive water resources master plan as well as water resources, water use, socio-economic and environmental data of the River Basin concerned.’
Giving more insight into the Bill, the former Deputy President of the Senate explained that the Bill seeks to divide the existing Anambra – Imo River Basin Development Authority into two, namely: Imo River Basin Development Authority to cater for Imo and Abia States, and Anambra River Basin Development Authority to carter for Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States.
Urging his colleagues to support the Bill he pointed out that the amendment the Bill seeks will entail obvious financial implications for the federal government in setting up of administrative structure as well as personnel cost.
‘This cost is estimated at N50 million per annum as it is expected that the host state government will provide initial accommodation to the new authority created,’ he said.
He added that N50 million, however, pales into insignificance when compared with the benefits that will accrue to the areas under the jurisdiction of the new Authority in such sectors as agricultural extension, provision of dams for irrigation and power generation, rural feeder roads development etc.
Ekweremadu urged the members of Tuesday’s Senate plenary presided over by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo Agege.
In his contribution, Sen Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East) supported the second reading of the Bill stating that it was important. He however pointed out that the dams in some existing dams usually caused flooding in some communities while urging the Senate to address that aspect l.
Sen Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central) opposed the passage of the Bill, he argued that the South East did not have enough landmass that requires an additional River Basin Development Authority, he compared the five South East states to Niger State, saying that the size landmass in the whole five states was not up to Niger State.
He further said that River Basins are not established based on geopolitical zones but the availability of land for irrigation purposes.
‘River Basins are not established on geopolitical zones but rather based on the availability of land for irrigation, if the land is available there is no problem whatsoever, Government can move to provide facilities to construct dams, build canals and other associated equipment that can make it possible for farmers to go into farming a year-round which is the basic essence of river basins all over the country,’ he stated.
‘The whole of Northwest has only one River Basin Development Authority, that is the Sokoto River Basin Development Authority which caters for Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi.
‘Kano has its own River Basin and that of Kano was constructed by the Kano State Government; it’s only Jigawa that’s merged with Jamari River Basin Development Authority where Bauchi and Jigawa stand to be beneficiaries.’
He said that rather than the creation of another administrative structure the existing infrastructures like dams should be expanded to serve irrigation purposes.
‘If the land is not available then you cannot do magic. I am not against another River Basin to be created in the South East but we have to look at the availability of land. Instead of additional administrative structures, I would rather suggest that we expand the existing river basin that is currently serving the South East to do more irrigation schemes, to construct more dams and more boreholes for the people and think this is the essence for requesting more dams in the South East, he stated.
He continued that ‘as long as this is done I don’t think there’s any problem, but if you consider the entire five states in the South East the whole landmass is not up that of Niger State, And Niger State is having only one River basin together Kano and we have more land to cultivate in Niger than the entire South East. So I believe in equity and social justice and in doing that but we also have to look at additional land to create additional River Basin in the South East if the land is available I have no objection.’
Sen Kabiru Gaya (Kano South) supported the Bill but noted that the most of existing ones were not either functional or dysfunctional and has thus created more problems for communities.
‘I support the creation of an additional River Basin where it is needed, but the problem is that River Basins are not even functioning. To us in Kano State, it was more of a minus than a plus because the late Audu Bagau who was the first Governor of Kano State created dams and the dam was built on hundreds of thousands of hectares for irrigation,’ he said.
He blamed the Federal Government for their negligence in the funding for the maintenance of the River Basins and expansion of farmland which has resulted in the destruction of farmlands due to flooding.
‘The Federal Government came up with its own and they took over that project and for 30 years the Federal Government has not created more than 5000 hectares of farmland and the Federal Government took over the River Basins and they are not funding them. Now we get so much flood during the rainy seasons and most of our farms get submerged. I was also affected. I believe there is a need to enhance the position of River Basins and give them more funds. But I have no problem with the creation of an additional River Basin in the South East.
Putting into a voice vote the Senate unanimously passed the Bill second reading and was referred to the Senate Committee on Water resources to report back within four weeks.