Deconstructing the Reintroduced National Water Resources Bill

By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi

There is no longer any doubt that in the corridor of Nigeria’s leadership, once a direction is chosen, instead of meticulously examining the process and setting the right course; that will allow us to ride out the storm and reach safety before we can make progress and achieve our goals, we stubbornly persist in executing such plans, regardless of minor or major change in circumstances.

A telling example of the above assertion is the controversial Water Resources Bill recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives and sponsored by the Chairman of the House Water Resources Committee, Sada Soli (APC, Katsina ).

The bill, which was first introduced in the 8th Assembly, sparked outrage as some Nigerians interpreted the bill as a power grab by the federal government.

Apart from this federal government’s habit of approaching challenges with the same reasoning as when it was created and of “over and over again the same thing while expecting a different result”, which is uncertain for the majority of Nigerians and of course, the world watching, is; why this sudden gesture after two previous unsuccessful attempts? What has changed to require the current reintroduction? What interest is the bill, if passed, supposed to serve/protect? And above all, will it announce in our political geography a just or unjust law?

As it stands, a just law is “a man-made code that accords with moral laws or statutes and elevates human personalities, while an unjust law, on the other hand, is a code which is not in harmony with moral laws”.

Adding context to this discourse, the bill which first originated from the executive branch and aims, among other things, to: establish a regulatory framework for the water resources sector in Nigeria, ensure the management, use and the equitable and sustainable conservation of Nigeria’s surface water resources, groundwater resources and related matters. No doubt noble, but following the controversies and concerns already raised, it becomes a moral duty for everyone to collectively and objectively take a disciplined look at it in order to adjust, adapt, incorporate it or not.

Essentially, the most telling evidence of the bill’s good intentions is signaled by the federal government’s determination to promote wise management of the country’s water resources, in addition to the possibility that the bill, if adopted, acts as a catalyst for the country’s achievement of the orchestrated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as preached by the United Nations (UN). But somewhere along the line is a set of inherent challenges/consequences arising from its nature, impact and strategy – a feat which has since reflected the whole document (bill) as a body without soul.

Based on the contents of the bill, it is easy to situate that the greatest evil associated with it is its tendency to disenfranchise Nigerians and sever Nigerians from ancestral property rights. over water and handing them over to a bunch of federal technocrats confusing Nigerians. with the error that “property rights to water are the same as rights to use water”.

Also working against the bill is the accompanying belief by Nigerians with critical interest that the urge to push the bill through is not driven by love for the wise management of the water resources of the nation or for the nation to grow agriculturally as legislators claim, but by sectoral and parochial interests such as some senators favorable to the bill are using brazen inaccuracies to mislead the Senate and gain support for The law project.

For example, around the time of the 8th Assembly, when the bill was first introduced, it was claimed in the Senate that the World Bank was waiting for the bill to pass in order to “grant” trillions of naira to the development of Nigeria. irrigation infrastructure. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The World Bank will never and cannot ask any nation to deprive its citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water as a condition of granting loans. Another hurdle that confirms the bill is plagued, however, does not seem to raise so much dust but could be costly in economic and political terms if ignored, is the asymmetrical support structure given to the bill. It is evident that virtually all of the senators who lined up behind the bill were from water-scarce states and regions that stand to gain from the passage of the bill once passed.

Interpretatively, this lopsided support for the bill since its inception, looking at the comments, was not fueled by a strong desire for the public good but for sectional gain. As things stand, this trend has undoubtedly become a pernicious problem embedded in our administrative culture that will be too difficult to eradicate. And also necessitated the question of how the nation can redistribute land from land-rich states to land-poor states, because the bill, if passed as is without amendment, could eventually result in transfers of water between basins be undertaken by the federal government. without the consent or even consultation of indigenous communities…just like crude oil and the associated problems of wicked, perverse and diabolical inequities.

The bill, in the opinion of the author, has vindicated the fears of discerning Nigerians that the federal government, by this decision to acquire more power, may not be interested in decentralizing power. as it is currently demanded by Nigerians or just pay lip service to the imperative and urgency of the restructuring of this country.

Therefore, the whole argument of the FG becomes even more vague, variable and elusive when one remembers that some of these elements will be better dealt with and will serve the greatest good of the greatest number if left in the hands of the State, local government or private owners.

From what Nigerians are saying, what has caused serious concern is that the bill viewed in a broader spectrum comes as telling evidence of the insensitivity of the current administration towards the people of the Niger delta and other aquatic areas.

These fears expressed by the people of the coast cannot be called unfounded as it was a similar Executive Order 101 of 1992 which is now incongruously disguised as an act of the National Assembly (Cap Water Resources Act W2 LFN 2OO4) which deprived every Nigerian of their water. rights as it was hastily signed into law by former military officer Ibrahim Babangida as his parting gift to Nigerians.

Sadly, this law and other sordid federal government laws in the past have particularly left the Niger Delta/coastal regions in social hardship with no good survival record as their environment is daily devastated/destroyed, with their youth unemployed while the communities are periodically dispersed by the flood.

In other words, environmental experts and development practitioners are particularly upset that the federal government has proposed such a bill in the face of an endless list of measures that have not been taken to improve the lot of the population.

In case after case, the federal government has become notorious for pursuing chosen policies, policies designed to benefit certain sections of the country, causing global observers to conclude that there is something troubling about this administration. With these facts in mind, the author is of the opinion that our nation is quietly making what future historians will surely describe as a disastrously wrong decision on the matter of the National Water Resources Bill.

Allowing this bill to pass into law will not just usher in an unjust law, but set the stage to truncate the budding peace the region is currently enjoying while ushering in another cycle of hostility as the people committed to peace by any means necessary, but may not. commit to becoming victims of peace.

To succeed in this mission, the federal government must be holistic in its approach and practice deliberative democracy. This, in the opinion of the author, will involve halting the ongoing debate on the National Water Resources Bill to clear the way for other stakeholders such as civil society groups , water experts as well as southern states to give their full input – submit memoranda and perhaps the opportunity to make a presentation on this bill.

And in a broader perspective, the government must move away from the current non-participatory approach to development and adopt a broad-based consultative approach that will give people some sense of ownership of their own issues.

Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374