The controversial Water Resources Control Executive Bill sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, must be handled with extreme caution before it throws the country into avoidable crisis. The 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 Development, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface and Ground Water Resources and for Related Matters” intends to give the Federal Government the power to control all water resources in the country.
Critics of the bill see its Clauses 1 to 5 as being controversial. Some of the provisions of the contentious clauses are: “All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control. There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provision of the Act.” The bill has already polarised the Senate along geographical lines of North and South. It has also polarised Nigerians, too.
Those opposed to the bill do so because of its inherent contradictions and its intention to vest the management of states’ water resources on the Federal Government. The bill is likely to go against the wishes of most Nigerians who yearn for a balanced federation through the devolution of powers from the federal to the states, as federating units. Already, there are 168 items on the exclusive legislative list. Adding the water resources bill to it will amount to overkill. If the intention of the bill is to encourage open grazing as being alleged in some quarters, then it is going to create more problems than it is actually meant to solve.
Some interest groups are not in support of the bill. The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), for instance, has called on members of the National Assembly to throw away the bill. The IYC also pointed out that the bill was designed to further pauperise the people of the Niger Delta as well as cause more disaffection between it and the Federal Government.
The provisions of the bill will conflict with the Land Use Act which vests all lands, except the Federal Capital Territory, on the state governments. Some people also think that the bill is aimed at dispossessing poor farmers in the riverine areas in this country of their God-given land. These are some of the issues the government should critically examine.
Despite these criticisms, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in a statement signed by the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman H. Adamu, insisted that “The National Water Resources Bill is not a new law; rather it is an amalgamation of Water Resources Laws that have been in existence as enshrined in LFN 2004. These Laws are Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004, the River Basin Development Authority Act, R9 LFN 2004, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN, 2004 and the National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.”
The minister also explained that “these laws are being re-enacted with necessary modifications in the new Bill to actualize current global trends and best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).”
According to him, “the overall objective is geared towards efficient management of the Water Resources Sector for the economic development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.” Adamu also stated that “the Bill is consistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Land Use Act.”
Based on the controversy surrounding the bill, we urge the National Assembly to suspend any further discussion on the bill forthwith. This will enable all the stakeholders, federal and state governments, to deliberate on the bill and possibly iron out its grey areas. But in the absence of a consensus, the bill should be discarded.