Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Nigerians have been up in arms against the controversial Water Resources Bill 2020, with the claim that it would cede a vast expanse of land along river banks to herdsmen, as well as encourage the widely rejected Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) programme of the government.
The Minister, Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, in this exclusive interview, expressed shock that a bill that was started by the government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 16 years ago, was being opposed by the same party.
He pointed out that the conspiracy by four groups of people against the bill was deliberate to misinform Nigerians in order to short-changed them, among other things.
Adamu also spoke on open defecation, the threats against achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and plans to revamp the Lake Chad Basin. Excerpts:
Despite the fact that the Water Act has been in existence for many years, the Executive Bill presented to the National Assembly is being viewed with suspicion by many Nigerians to the point that they are calling on the National Assembly to throw it out. How do you see the argument of Nigerians against the bill?
First of all, I hope our readers will take away sentiments and emotions to really understand what I am going to say about this bill. There are three or four classes of people that I think on reflection have a problem with this bill. The first set are those that do not understand anything about this bill, it is only what they hear being echoed that they are basing their judgment on because they think is the gospel truth, while it is not. The second set are those that are in the policy or leadership position, but have not bothered to read and understand what the bill is, but have become emotional about it or decided to make it a political issue. And that brings me to the third set who are those who oppose anything that this government is doing, whether good or bad, they must find a reason to criticize the government. The last set of people I am beginning to suspect are interested party against this regulation because it’s going to maybe affect their business or is affecting their business. So, these are the set of people otherwise there should be no controversy at all because, this bill was just given a label, that it’s a Fulani herdsmen bill, it’s a RUGA bill without even understanding anything about the bill. I will now take you back to the real issues about this bill. One, we have four existing laws governing the water sector in this country. First is the Water Resources Act, second is River Basin Development Authorities Act, the third is National Water Resources Institute Act and the fourth is the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agencies Act. These laws are existing. Sometimes in 2004, please note these dates, some stakeholders and the government of the day at that time, felt that in view of the fact that Nigeria has subscribed to the concept of Integrated Water System Management, we should follow the same Convention like other countries and just have one water law. So, the idea came that these four laws should be aggregated into just one law called Water Resources Act instead of having different Acts and that is why more than 95 per cent of what is called ‘RUGA Bill’ is already existing under these four laws because it was these four laws that were brought together. The final draft of this bill was done in 2008. The drafting process started between 2006-2008 and the final draft came out in 2008. And it went through all the six geo-political zones, professional bodies and others were called upon and they made their inputs. But then for whatever reason none of my predecessors bothered to take this bill further until I came into office in November 2015. Three weeks after I came into office, I organized a retreat and brought in all the stakeholders in this country to discuss and help me chart a way forward for the water sector. Out of that retreat, we came out with a 15-year road map from 2016-2030, called the Water Resources Road Map. As part of the road map, it was the consensus at that retreat that we must get this Water Bill passed so that we can get a comprehensive water statute just so that we can move along with the rest of the world. Then I asked for the bill and read it from page to page. I am also a practitioner in the water sector, this is my 36th year in practice so I know something about water resources. I went through that bill page by page and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but even then I instructed that a copy of the bill should be circulated to all the 36 states of the federation, we did that and requested their comment. Very few of them had some observations, many replied that they didn’t have any observation. That was during the first quarter of 2016. In May 2016, we had a meeting of National Council on Water Resources of which I am the chairman. In that Council, all the commissioners responsible for water resources in all the 36 states of the federation are members and they all came to that meeting, along with other water stakeholders and that bill was endorsed by that Council. After that, in September 2016, I took the bill to the Federal Executive Council along with the new water resources policy because they go together. The Federal Executive Council is composed of ministers representing each of the 36 states of the federation and the bill was approved at FEC. It was then sent to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to dot the i’s and cross the t’s which he did. And finally it was sent to the National Assembly. The first arm of the legislature to deal with this bill was the House of Representatives. In November 2017, the House of Representatives invited people to a public hearing on this bill after which they collected all the information that they needed and went on to pass this bill. And then we rolled over to 2018 and the Senate then brought the bill forward to conquer and made whatever adjustments in line with procedures, it was during that process that some senators from the opposition started asking questions. For me, they have a right to ask questions if they don’t understand anything they should ask because they are lawmakers. And explanations were made, but then along the way the Senate was divided, many opposition senators didn’t quite understand what this bill was about, so then Senate President, Senator Saraki in his wisdom, said the bill should be taken to a technical committee to review and bring it back for consideration. The work started, but then it was caught up by the 2019 elections. After the election it was a transition period and so we felt it was not right to go back and discuss that bill. And, therefore, we left until the Ninth National Assembly was inaugurated before we represented the bill. So, all these talks and insinuations that the bill was thrown out by the Eighth Senate are not true, it never happened. The leadership of the Senate set up a committee to look into it, the committee didn’t finish the work until we went on the election. It was on that day that some media picked up this story, that a water bill has divided senators between North and South or along religious lines, which is very unfortunate and very unfair to this country. And then those that are antagonistic to the government, those who were somehow uninformed about it, turned the whole thing upside down and went to town labeling it all sorts of names, it’s a RUGA bill, Fulani herdsmen bill and so on and so forth, which it is not. In 2018, I tried to explain to Nigerians that this bill is not what it is being labeled and I made a passionate appeal that we shouldn’t politicize it, there is nothing political about this bill. It is a bill to manage the water resources of the country. So this is the history of this bill.
The new bill
I have said that 95 per cent of this bill are laws that are already existing, this bill is not creating any new agency, the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, which is the regulatory agency we are talking about has been in existence since 2007. Even before the bill, the government of the day had been implementing the principles of integrated water resources management by setting up the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, it’s already licensing commercial users of water. So, I really can’t comprehend why the opposition because, number one, there is nothing in this bill that is unconstitutional. The second schedule of the constitution, item 64, confers powers on the Federal Government to be custodian of all water resources that cut across more than one state. It’s already in the constitution and so if we have issues then we have to go and change the constitution. But this is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that we are operating. So, already the power is invested on the Federal Government by item 64 on the Exclusive List. Another argument is that the bill is going to take away lands on the banks of the river, it is not true. There is no where in this bill where you will see inches or kilometers or millimeters or meters. Every land that is away from the banks of the river if the Federal Government is going to do anything about it, it has to be consistent with the Land Use Act. It is different from the Highway Act. Under the Federal Highway Act, for instance, 50 meters either side of the road belongs to the Federal Government because it’s the corridor. But there is no provision like that in this bill at all, there is no where it is stated in the bill that the Federal Government is going to take responsibility for the banks of the rivers. In any case, Rivers change courses. If there is flood, if the width at this point is 10 meters today, next year if there is a heavy rain it can change to 100 meters. So, how can this law even define the water channel, it’s impossible. And if you look at the bill, the section that is talking about the River Basin Development Authorities says, that any River Basin Development Authority that is going to use the land for irrigation, acquisition of that land must be in consistent with the Land Use Act. That means they must go to the state governor. It is the governor that will grant the title to that land, if he doesn’t grant the title, it is not federal land. And all the lands that the River Basin Development Authorities are operating with were acquired based on title deeds granted by the state government. Some of the laws I’m talking about have been in existence for 30 years or more, nothing has ever happened to infringe on the rights of anybody, so why does anybody now think that Buhari will infringe on the rights of anybody. In any case, Buhari’s administration will end in 2023, this law is supposed to last for generations, so what is the fear?
Some unpatriotic Nigerians have put fear and hysteria in the minds of people and have continued to mislead people because it pays them to continue to confuse the minds of Nigerians. But I think Nigerians are much more intelligent than that. Now, the existing Water Resources Acts give the minister enormous amount of powers, this bill if passed by the National Assembly or even if it’s not passed, the existence of the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, is operating on the basis of delegated powers of the minister. Under the Act, as a minister, I can decide whatever I want to do with any river in this country under the laws, I can decide to dam this river, put hydropower there, do an irrigation scheme there, the Water Resources Act 2004 gives me that authority. So, we devolve that authority and want to make it permanent in this bill, we devolve it to the people by setting up this commission. With the commission which has been in existence since 2007, with what is in existence, if anyone wants to build a hydropower scheme, a large irrigation scheme or a large bottling company, he must come to the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission and apply and we must know what quantity of what he is going to take, so that we also monitor it. So, that at the end of the day, we can prevent someone who builds an industrial borehole in a residential area from depriving others of water. He is taking that amount of water because he is drilling for commercial purposes. Another conspiracy theory is that this bill is about getting taxes, no it is not. It is about regulating the water in order to manage it, in order for it to be guaranteed because for everybody water is a right and we cannot allow it to be hijacked by any moneybag. This is why this bill is important so that the right of every individual to water is protected. The process of applying for a license entails that the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, will call for a public hearing in that catchment where they want to build a dam, an irrigation scheme and it will be explained to those in that catchment what is going to be done, how much water is going to be taken by the company that applied and then explain that based on calculations is not going to harm downstream users. If there is going to be degradation of land, we will explain to the people in the catchment area what the company will do to remediate those problems. So, we will require the consent of the citizenry within that catchment before it can be done. If we don’t have a law like we have for our highways and our airspace, most of the fresh water in this country flow from Rivers Niger and Benue, Jos Plateau and Mambilla Island. If there is no big brother like the Federal Government to administer this, any state can dam the water within its catchment and deny the communities downstream from the use of water. Imagine if there is no law and Kebbi decides to dam River Niger or Niger decides again to dam River Niger after Kainji, or decides to dam River Benue or Benue decides to dam it at some point without any consideration, what do you think will happen to the communities downstream or what will be the fate of those in Niger Delta, Lokoja etc? It means their right to the water has been infringed because it means the major source of their livelihood is affected. The last time I checked, water flows from North to South of this country, it doesn’t follow from the Atlantic to the hinterland, the typography does not allow it and the quality of water is not desirable, nobody wants salt water. You know even our mangroves…look at all the problems we are having in Lagos with salt water intrusion at the coastal areas when they drill boreholes. So, it’s from the North that fresh water goes to the South and what this bill is doing is protecting everybody, especially those in the downstream. Nigeria today, is a strong member of the Niger Basin Authority, it was instrumental in setting it up. It is an organization of nine countries, River Niger flows through seven countries and then River Benue flows through two countries, Cameroon and Nigeria. We in the downstream side built the Kainji and Jebba dams, it was in order for us to ensure these investments that was why we entered into agreement with Niger, We have Nigeria/Niger Joint Cooperation, that is how come we are providing power to Benin and Niger at considerable rates because, as sovereign countries, they can also decide to put a dam on the river, what do you think will happen to those of us on the downstream end? That is how we have been managing that relationship. We have an agreement, we have a charter and everyone subscribes to it and that is why if anyone wants to build anything on the River Niger, all the nine members must agree. It is the same pattern that we are localizing with this water bill within our catchment. The other thing I want to say about this bill is that, Lagos State, for instance, is saying they have a case with Inland Waterways, the Water Resources Bill has nothing to do with Inland Waterways. When you hear Inland Waterways you are talking about navigation, there is nothing about navigation in this bill, this bill is about water resources management. For instance, if someone in Lokoja who owns an industry builds a channery and discharges effluent into the river, people in Idah, Asaba, Onitsha are drinking that water. So, if somebody is polluting the water in Kogi State who is going to stop them, who will be the umpire? It has to be the Federal Government, that is why item 64 on the Exclusive List in the constitution already identifies that and make that possible. And the point is when we finish, aggregate all these bills, we will repeal all those laws and have one law. Another issue I want to mention is the issue of boreholes. As a water engineer, I have worked in a state water agency, I do not like this idea of having boreholes in towns. Because, we are supposed to have municipal water schemes that take water into our houses, metered and then we pay. But for the last 30 to 40 years, our urban schemes some of them are working below capacity, there has been no investment commensurate with the rise in population of the country to accommodate water needs of the people. Please, I want everyone to understand that the responsibility of providing water needs in your home is purely a state affair, but the Federal Government supports the states. Under a new water policy, any state that habours water scheme, the Federal Government will support up to 40 per cent. Any state that needs support for rural water supply, Federal Government can provide 50 per cent contribution and we are doing it. We have already launched our PWASH programme which we initiated in 12 states now. In fact, in the next six months, 48 LGAs will have all their rural communities having 100 per cent access to water supply and we want to continue doing that till 2030. So, in this bill, because of inability of states to provide inadequate water for communities, we understand that there is economic, budgetary issues, but there are also political issues because we feel that states should prioritize water and sanitation. That is why Mr. President declared a state of emergency on water supply and sanitation in November 2018 and also launched a new WASH Plan – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Action Plan. In that action plan, we made it clear that the Federal Government will support states with 50 per cent, 30 per cent urban water supply if necessary, but states must show their commitment. In that WASH Action plan, to help states further, we put a strategy of providing a wash fund, but that fund needs to be backed by law. And we have incorporated that into this bill so that we can have a WASH fund. Who are going to be the beneficiaries of this fund? The Federal Government will be making a contribution by law, the states, international donors, international financing agencies will be putting money into that fund and states will be withdrawing from these funds to invest in their water and sanitation projects. So, if you kick this bill out, that opportunity will be lost. The other issue is that when we came into office, the Federal Government has developed over the years, 130,000 hectares of formal irrigation infrastructure. We have about 200 dams built by the Federal Government in the last 50 years. Out of the 130,000 hectares only 70,000 hectares were operating when I came into office, the rest no rehabilitations, no maintenance. Water is not getting to the irrigation, we are only using the field during the rainy season. We have what is called the World Bank funded tribune project, in the project there is a reform package in it. It is done all over the world, it is a new concept. The Federal Government will take care of the dam and the major irrigation canals because it will empower the farmers and we have already started doing that. But if they are paying for water under the present regulation, they have to pay through TSA. But the law will now provide for the farmers to set up farmers association and collect water revenue themselves and use it to maintain the secondary and tertiary irrigation projects. So, it is empowering the farmers, it’s taking away too much responsibility of managing irrigation facilities from the government and empowering the farmers as the major beneficiaries. But the federal will retain ownership of the dams while maintenance will be devolved to the rural communities. So, these three are the only new things outside the existing four laws of the country that I mentioned earlier and I don’t know what the problem is with that. So, those opposing this bill stand to gain more if only they will read and understand what this bill is talking about. But sadly, there are those that have decided that whatever means the government must be opposed and I am so surprised because the whole process of this bill was started by the PDP government in 2004-2008. The agencies we are talking about were set up by PDP administration and today, it’s the same PDP politicians that are making all the noise. So, they are shooting themselves in the foot as far as I am concerned.
Nigerians have asked for the Water Resources Bill to be reintroduced and the House of Reps seems to have listened and acted. What’s your reaction to what led to it being thrown out?
Of course, we are going to reintroduce the bill. It’s part of our responsibility as leaders to do the right thing. And the right thing for the water sector for this country is to do that. But I have said it over and over again, if it’s the will of the National Assembly not to pass the bill, which I doubt they will do, the laws already exist. So, we will continue to operate them under four different laws, instead of one law with different sections. But unfortunately, we will deprive the country of two things, one the WASH fund. We will probably have to promulgate a separate law for it or we lose it all together. And then this new strategy of operations of irrigation maintenance and infrastructure as we are working so hard to enhance our food security and make Nigeria, the bread basket of Africa, will be lost. So, if we decide that we don’t want that, it will affect the maintenance of our infrastructure and irrigation system. Honestly, these are the two set backs that I see, but I hope and I pray that that will not happen. I know that the lawmakers in this country, our governors and the leadership of this country, will see the value and see that all the noise, labels are just labels and see the truth behind everything and act according.
We have been hearing of dams creating jobs and adding power, what has happened to the completed projects and when will they begin to generate power to be added to the national grid?
First of all, dams are multi-purpose like I said earlier. There are dams purely for water and there dams for cattle, there are those for farms and irrigation and there are multi-purpose dams. When I came into office, I inherited 37 ongoing dams projects, out of those we have been able to finish about seven or so in the last five years. I know that this year, we hope to finish four. Dams are large scale infrastructural projects that require years to finish because you can only do most of the work in the dry season. Some of them have hydropower components, Nigeria has the potential for about 14,000 megawatts of hydropower. What the ministry has been dealing with is the mini-hydros and the midi-hydros. So, we have finished the Kashabilla dam, for instance, we have a 40 megawatt power plant. It is ready, but for the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that we are waiting for the Ministry of Power to finish the transmission line, we would have commissioned that project. But now, we are in the process, we have appointed the transactional adviser, we will concession it the same way we concessioned the Gurara hydropower. We completed the 30 Megawatts Gurara hydropower and concessioned it early this year. We also have a 40 megawatt hydropower plant in Dadinkowa which was also concessioned in 2005, but the works have finished and so we are now ready for commissioning. In fact, it’s ready to be fed into the national grid.
There are major hydropower projects, there is Zungeru hydropower project which is under the Ministry of Power. But we have signed an MoU with seven different companies now. Going forward, the Federal Government does not have the resources to bill the dam and to build the hydropower plant, so we are looking for build, operate and transfer arrangements. There are seven of them that we have signed MoUs, they have done outline business case and some of them are doing the full business case now and they are going to finance it themselves. We are working in tandem with Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission on this. But then for this kind of projects, even the study take a long time. It takes three years of comprehensive study because you are investing your money, you don’t want to make a mistake. Even the feasibility studies, and detailed engineering studies will be done by these companies, the Federal Government is not spending a dime. So, we concession maybe for 25, 30 years and take over after they would have recouped their investment. We feel this is the best time to do it now that the country is having revenue challenges.
With insurgency dominating the Lake Chad region, are we still considering aquaculture in that region? And what has happened to the much touted support by some EU member countries. And as the Chairman of the Lake Chad Commision, is the idea of pumping water from the Congo River Basin still being given attention?
Our strategy is that we want two things. We want to make sure that the lake is not allowed to go extinct. Because if you look at a situation whereby from 25,000 square kilometers in the 60s, the lake has dropped to 2,500 square kilometers, we are losing 90 per cent of its storage, you can be almost certain that except for the will of God, maybe in 50 years time if the trend continues, one day you will wake up and find that that lake is not there at all. But we don’t pray for that to happen, so our second strategy is that we must save this lake by whatever means. We had an international conference in February 2018 and the consensus was that we have to do this inter-water basin transfer from the Congo River Basin into Lake Chad. That is the only way we can sustain the lake. We may never get back the 25,000 square kilometers, but at least we can keep it at a certain level, even if it’s 8,000 to 10,000 square kilometers that we have, I think we will be fine. Of course, everybody understands the fact that the shrinking of that lake has been a major cause of the insecurity in that region. This inter-Basin River transfer is a long term project and it requires a lot of negotiation, hydro diplomacy we call it. But in the interim, as a first step, if we are going to transfer the current River channels of Ubangi and Chary Rivers that are supposed to bring the water, the amount of water to be transferred, the rivers cannot carry it. So, we have to improve the channels. We have found that by doing that, we will improve the inflow into the Cherry river. The terms of reference is ready, there was a meeting recently to revalidate it, but we are going to meet again in November and then we will need about $2 million to do a detailed engineering study for the hydrolicity of the river. If we can improve the hydrolicity, we will be able to see the impact it has on the lake. We expect a lot of improvement because right now, a lot of water is not getting to the lake because, the river is highly sedimented and so it is spilling water all over the banks and creating new flood planes many kilometers away from the lake. So, we want to capture the water and make sure it gets into the lake. It is a generational project and the only thing we can do is start the process, 10, 15 years later we will still be working on it.
Only few LGAs out of 774 have keyed into the eradication of open defecation programme, are there conscious efforts to get others involved. Will you recommend Lagos State method of prosecuting those openly defecating?
Our strategy on open defecation is a carrot and stick approach, that is to say, we will try to do advocacy, make people understand that it is personal responsibility for them to have toilets. But we also expect states to put up the necessary legislation to ban open defecation, to make it compulsory for people to have toilets in their houses, to make LGAs and businesses provide toilets in public places and so on and so forth. Our Executive Order number 9 signed by the President in November last year, already makes that very clear, that states should enact legislation and even at federal level, in the Senate there is a draft bill sponsored by a senator in the spirit of Executive Order number 9 so that we have a federal law against open defecation. But we have also asked states and local government to also make their own regulations regarding open defection. Some states like Nasarawa, it’s illegal to be involved in open defecation, but enforcement is something else. But then, we don’t mean to antagonize people to do the right thing as such, but then when people know that it is against the law not to do it, then you will know it’s a serious matter. But we will put more emphasis on behavioural change and we are doing that. Some states have keyed in, others are slow, but we will continue in our advocacy. We are also working with National Orientation Agency, going directly to communities, making them understand that we are doing a lot of training for WASH campaigns, setting up WASH communities in LGAs, once people embrace this audio campaigns, we will just have to go on auto pilot and people will not need to be told what to do. We are gaining grounds from one local government in 2017, to 27 a few months ago and we have 10 in the pipeline that are being validated right now. Once people know that it’s important there is no human contact with their faeces, then we are good to go. Even Nollywood have on their own come in because they have seen what we are doing, the same for Nigerians in Diaspora, they are going to spend millions of naira adopting toilets. We are working with organized private sector for WASH, we call it OPS-WASH, they are the ones working with the Diaspora and are going to create a Diaspora fund just for sanitation. So, a lot is happening, it’s a spark, but it’s already gathering momentum and hopefully it will spread like wild fire.
The World Bank, AfDB, Islamic Development Bank and other multilateral agencies are willing to provide more funds for water projects in the country but states seem not to be interested, how can states be convinced to key in?
Well, I think we need to sympathize with some states, maybe previous governments had taken so much loans that they cannot absorb it. They really want to do something, but they may not be eligible anymore for certain loans. But there are Nigerians who don’t see water as a priority. I see a lot of people concerned about the economy, about COVID-19, but they don’t know that the underlying boss is water. So, we are paying lip service to water in this country. People don’t seem to notice the Ministry of Water Resources, many don’t even understand what we do especially at state level.
Finally, I appeal to Nigerians to believe in the government, in the leadership of this country. Nobody will do anything that is detrimental to the interest of the people. All these things that have been said about the water bill is just a deliberate way of misinforming people in order to cause mischief, disharmony between the government and the governed, that’s all. And Nigerians are smart and should see through this ruse about the water bill and I pray that they do. Some of the detractors are riding on the VAT increase, increase in price of petroleum to misinform Nigerians. There is no implication of payment on ordinary Nigerian in this bill. If you want to drill a borehole in your house, you can and have your water, if there is a river passing by your farm, you can put a pump and draw water to farm your land at no charge. We are talking about large scale commercial users of water, that is what the bill is about. But we have also said for the purpose of managing water resources, it is important to know where the boreholes are, how much water are they taking. So, that when we are monitoring the way our ground water is depleting, we know what is happening. How can you be exploiting your water resources and you don’t know how much you have left? If previous generations have been wasting and mismanaging the water, our generation will not be enjoying what we have today. So, we have a responsibility to manage this water in such a way that future generations will get water and use it for their own benefits. Even the rates charged by the commission is not anything to go by, but there is need to have a system that the users will know that they are being regulated, especially those using it commercially. There is no apology about it, those minning this water in large quantity at the expense of ordinary people, must pay back.