By Chukwudi Nweje
A lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo has threatened that he would drag the Federal Government to court if the National Assembly does not throw out the National Water Resources Bill before it.
Speaking at a colloquium in Lagos by Indigenous People of Nigeria, he noted that the bill is in breach of the Land Use Act, and Section 315 (5) (d) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), even as he also said the Federal Government wanted to use the bill to appropriate more powers to itself.
He said, “Under a federal system of government like Nigeria, the Federal Government does not have absolute sovereign authority over water. The federating units have considerable authority to establish and implement water laws, policies, and programs suited to their priority water concerns. State authority is especially paramount in allocating water rights. The National Water Resources Bill is a further centralisation and undue concentration of powers on the Federal Government of Nigeria instead of the decentralisation and devolution of powers from the Federal Government to the State and Local Governments as is the characteristic of a Federal State.”
He added that while the National Assembly has the powers to pass laws on water from such sources as may be sources affecting more than one state, that such power is only on issues of maritime, shipping, navigation, and defence.
According to him the bill pending at the National Assembly would further impoverish Nigerians in riverine states who depend on waterways for sustenance.
“If the National Water Resources Bill becomes law, it will give Federal Government exclusive dominance and control on waterways which will further impoverish Nigerians in riverine states who depend on waterways to generate revenue internally. For Nigeria to make progress the government must restructure the country by encouraging the establishment of state police and the reversion to true fiscal federalism as it was in 1963. Every state should manage its natural resources and pay tax to the Federal government,” he said.
He called on the government to dredge the River Niger and Oguta lake so that they could be navigable, and develop the Warri, Calabar, Koko, Onne, and Port Harcourt Sea Ports, to create jobs and promote socio-economic activities in the country.
The Water Resources Bill seeks to establish a regulatory framework for trans boundary water resources in Nigeria and to provide for the equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s inter-state surface water and groundwater resources, and for related matters. But Omirhobo insisted that the bill is unconstitutional.