On July 23, 2020, The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, reintroduced the controversial and highly contentious Water Resources Bill to the House of Representatives.
It is important to note that this is not the first time the bill is being brought before the NASS, as the Muhammadu Buhari-led presidency had done so in 2017. The bill seeks to transfer the control of water resources from the states to the Federal Government.
The Senate on May 24, 2018, considered the executive bill for second reading, during which, expectedly, Senators were divided along the now infamous Nigeria’s regional fault lines. While northern Senators readily supported the proposal and its objectives (why not?), their southern counterparts opposed it (why not?). The controversy the bill generated frustrated its passage by both the Senate and House of Representatives. After all, Nigeria is all about sharing the national cake. Not how it is baked!
The proposed law is 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.”
In summary, if and when passed (God forbid!), the bill will concentrate in the hands of the Federal Government, the control of water resources around Rivers Niger and Benue, as well as other water ways which cut across 20 states in the country.
Simply put, the bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria. The Federal Government can simply permit any person or group of persons from any part of the country to go and acquire any water resource without the consent of the local communities that own them. Incredible.
To this end, if this bill is ever allowed, herdsmen, bandits, strangers, and other elements who may not be desirable by the communities can with “federal” mandate, take over all lands adjoining communities, springs, streams, rivers, lakes, lagoons and coastal precincts which have served as means of livelihood for such local communities since the dawn of time.
The states affected by this satanic bill are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi states. That is over half of Nigeria being held down by the jugular, willy-nilly!
The proposed reintroduction of the bill has been met with stiff resistance by well-meaning Nigerians like my humble self, Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; interest groups, such as Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum; the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Middle Belt Forum.
Similarly, The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, has warned the NASS against licensing “dictatorship” because of the danger the bill portends to national unity. In the same breath, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state categorically accused the Federal Government of colluding with its controlled NASS to allow herdsmen grab lands across Nigeria under the thin guise of the water resources bill.
Given the swirling dust surrounding the bill, it is important to know why the bill is opposed with so much vehemence.
Obnoxious provisions of the Water Bill
Section 2(1) of the bill, stipulates:
“All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.”
Do we then take it that Eastern palm oil, all Zamfara gold, granite, rocks, bauxite, Edo rubber and timber, Jos coal, cotton, Northern hides and skin, Western cocoa, Benue yam, Argungu fish, etc, across Nigeria are also “resources common to all people” in Nigeria and jointly owned by all? Can we stop this huge joke please? Simply put, the bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria.
Earlier in 2018, during the Senate’s clause by clause consideration of the bill, the then Minority Leader and former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, who is currently the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, had vehemently kicked against the provisions seeking to empower the Federal Government to take over control of all waterways and their banks in Nigeria. The provisions vest on the Federal Government, large pieces of land adjoining the river banks across the country, which have been the exclusive preserve of state governments. It is the same bill that has now been surreptitiously and nichodemously reintroduced, albeit, with a different title. If it sails through, it will alter the critical provisions of the Land Use Act, which vests all ownership of lands in the sates in State governments to own in trust for the people, except lands in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where the federal government holds sway.
This is nothing but another evil push for the roundly defeated RUGA SETTLEMENT policy that was framed previously to enable herdsmen grab lands belonging to communities and indigenous peoples and then set up grazing reserves or cattle colonies. With palpable desertification, horrific terrorism and mindless violence currently ravaging parts of the North, this bill is seen by most Nigerians as a sinister ploy by the Federal Government to deprive communities and indigenous peoples of their natural ancestral patrimony for the benefit of non-owners without the voluntary consent of the said original owners. If this bill is allowed, herdsmen under the guise of the so called “Federal Water Resource Law’’, become legally permitted to simply take over all lands adjoining the springs, streams, rivers, lakes, lagoons and coastal precincts which have served as means of livelihood for the local communities since the time of their great grand grandparents. Yes, from time immemorial (Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo (Chika Okpala) would say, “from time imoriver!”)
By this bill, the Federal Government arbitrarily appropriates the constitutional powers of state governors to hold land resources in trust for the people of their states as provided for in section 1 of the Land Use Act. It will be a ready recipe for disaster. The conflicts and bloodshed that this provocative law will likely trigger will be endless, and their ponderous ricocheting effects are better avoided.
Control of power, land and water resources have always been the major causes of wars in history. Nigeria will certainly not be an exception. There is no doubt that the purveyors of these draconian and obsolete laws are enemies of our country, its cohesion and national stability. They must be stopped dead on their sinister track.
In the same vein, Section 98 of the bill states:
“the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions.” This simply means that anyone that desires to embark on any water project, or even drinking it, must first obtain a licence from a designated government agency.
The implication of this is that anyone who wants to build a house on his land, to which he has a valid title (accompanied with a valid Certificate of Occupancy and other relevant title documents) will still not be permitted to generate water from his land without a valid license from a designated Government Agency. This is madness at its peak! Even in madness, there is order, rhyme and rhythm.
Ordinarily, one would have been tempted to laugh away this ludicrous proposed provision as impossible and unrealistic. But, the General Buhari-led administration has developed such an uncanny ability to do the impossible, the absurd, and the bizarre. It rams the most dreadful of policies down the throats of hapless and terrified Nigerians.
The above provisions of Section 98 are not only infuriating but bizarre and freaking. It lends credence to the widely held belief that this government is hell bent on making life miserable and unbearable for the ordinary Nigerian people.
To fully appreciate the senility and absurdity of the said Section 98, it is important to state that this government and successive governments have failed woefully in the simple task of providing clean potable water for Nigerian citizens, contrary to the provisions of section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. For instance, according to aid agencies, 60 million Nigerians, or 33 percent of the population, do not have access to clean water.
More reasons why section 98 is so dangerous
What this means is that there is water supply deficit in Nigeria and virtually all Nigerians have been forced to take up the responsibility of not just providing water for themselves, but also for their communities. Every household is a government unto itself, with its boreholes (water); generators (light); security (mai guard); shelter (tenants); hospitals (self-medication) and schools (children’s lesson classes)! With the knowledge of the above, the Government has now gone ahead to introduce a legislation which seeks to limit the ability of Nigerians to even provide water for themselves!
The said Section 98 further implies that the designated Government Agency can arbitrarily decide not to grant a licence to a person who wishes to embark on a water project for himself. This also means that the Agency can decide to grant the licence to another stranger who has no interest in the land at all. In a country already clearly polarized along primordial ethnic, religious, linguistic, and class lines, this is certainly a dangerous rampaging bull in a China shop.
Thus, except aborted in its infancy, the proposed bill may play up the following ugly scenario: If Emeka, Osaro, Timi or Umukoro builds a house on his land, he must first secure the licence of the designated government agency before he can sink a borehole for his own use in his own house and land. It also means that the designated Government Agency may decide to deny him such licence to provide his own water on his own land. It further means that the Agency can grant that same licence to generate water from the land belonging to Timi, Emeka, Osaro or Umukoro to Usman, Bako, Abubakar or Abdullahi, who has no stake or interest whatsoever in the said land. Haba! Is that how to run a Constitutional democracy?
Given the above dire implications, one does not need the gift of Nostradamus or clairvoyance to fully appreciate the dangerous nepotic spirit behind these provisions in the bill.
Further, Section 104 of the bill provides that the bill will empower the Government to:
“direct a person who has a supply of water in excess of his needs for domestic purposes to reduce the amount he is permitted to abstract under the terms of any licence or general authorization.”
The above provision is most vague and nebulous, for want of better words. It fails to state in clear terms how, having supply of water in excess of one’s needs, can be measured. How will the authorities determine correctly that a person has supply of water in excess of his needs? What barometer or yardstick will the Government employ?
Furthermore, the above provision is laden with obvious mischief. This is because in failing to state the metric for measuring “supply of water in excess” of one’s needs, it leaves the door wide ajar for government authorities to arbitrarily reduce the amount of water that a person is permitted to abstract from the earth, even if such quantity is what he actually needs.
Section 104 (7) of the bill also subjects anyone who contravenes the law to prison terms, ranging from 2 to 5 years. Did you hear me correctly?
The corollary implications of this are dire. It paradoxically means that if flowing from Government’s irresponsibility and failure to provide clean potable water for the populace, a citizen decides to sink his own borehole to provide water for himself, his family, or his community without a licence, such a person would be liable to prison terms, ranging from 2 to 5 years! This is most preposterous, exploitative, asinine, unconscionable, primitive, and wholly condemnable. (To be continued next week).
Thought for the week
“If the law is a bad law, there is always the contingent right to take action that you would not otherwise take”.