Water has no enemy but the debate on an executive bill seeking to give ownership and control of the water resources sector to the federal government has caused division in the senate along ethnic and regional lines.
The bill entitled: “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,” is supported by the northern while their southern counterparts are opposed to it.
The summary of the bill reads: “This Act repeals the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; River Basin Development Act Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N110A, LFN, 2004; NationaI Water Resources lnstitute Act Cap N83 LFN 2004; and establishes the National Council on Water Resources, Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission, River Basin Development Authorities, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, and the National Water Resources Institute.”
The proposed bodies are expected to “provide for the regulation, equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources.”
It was already been processed by Senate Committee on Water Resources which chairman is Senator Mohammed Ubali Shitu (APC, Jigawa State) and was to be considered Thursday on clause by clause basis before final approval.
The southern senators particularly criticised the move to create new federal government’s bodies to take over the responsibilities of the states over the water resources within their territories.
The controversial parts of the bill are contained in Clauses 1 to 5.
he clauses read: “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 provisions of this Act.
“The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.
“States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and this Act.”
The senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, drew attention of his colleagues to the fact that the bill could deprive people living along riverbanks of their basic livelihood.
Akpabio who raised issues against Clause 3, warned against making a law that would lead to the Federal Government taking over the landed areas of riverine communities, especially communities where the water bodies dry off.
Akpabio made reference to Lake Chad which water he said used to cover 25,000 kilometres of land but had dried up to about 5,000 kilometres.
He said it meant that the community now had 20,000 kilometres for farming and other activities, stressing that it would have been out of the reach of the people if the government had possessed the bank.
“The kind of river we are talking about should be clearly defined. If we want to say that all waters in Nigeria must be legislated upon by the Federal Government, then we will cause a lot of confusion because there are a lot of communities that depend on small rivers to survive.
“If the banks now belong to the Federal Government, we are doing what we are not supposed to do; we are centralising power at the centre, we are not devolving powers. We are bringing Nigeria back to a unitary state. We are now making sure that even communities are now dispossessed of their land. Some of those places are natural elongation of the land,” the lawmaker argued.
Senator Emmanuel Paulker (PDP, Bayelsa-Central) supported Akpabio, noting that there was a need to define what a bank is.
He also pointed out that the federal government was about to take over resources in the states at a time when Nigerians were calling for devolution of power.
Some other lawmakers from the South, like Senators Gbenga Ashafa (APC, Lagos-East), Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos-West) supported Akpabio’s position declaring that the Nigeria Inland Water Ways Authority (NIWA) was already having inroad into Lagos State waters.
Adeola particularly cited the example of Lagos State which is currently in a legal battle with the Nigeria Inland Waterway Authority over the control of water resources. The case is already at the Court of Appeal.
The majority leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe-North), however countered Akpabio, stating that the lawmaker was arguing in error.
Lawan noted that the clause was in reference to waters like River Benue and River Niger, which flow through several states. He urged the Senate to ignore the issues raised by those opposed to the bill.
Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto) said that the contentious provision was clear and should be adopted.
Senator Binta Masi Garba (Adamawa North) who also said that the clause should adopted added “We should be more Nigerians when we are discussing national issues.”
To prevent the debate from deteriorating and creating more trouble, the senate president, Bukola Saraki, said the bill should be referred to an ad hoc committee made up of the water resources committee chairman, Senator Mohammed Ubali Shitu (APC, Jigawa State), chairman of the senate committee judiciary, David Umaru, director of legal services and Senator Barnabas Gemade, to reconsider the clause and report back in one week.
PUNCH, THE GUARDIAN