Lai Mohammed attacks critics of reintroduced national water resources bill

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The minister of information and culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed yesterday described critics of the reintroduced national water resources bill as “anti-people who have no understanding of the provisions of the bill.

The bill has been criticised as a plan by the government to seize control of the nation’s water resources.

One of such critics is the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, who recently condemned the bill and warned the President Muhammadu Buhari government against the bill.

Speaking at a joint press conference, which he addressed with the minister of water resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, Mohammed said the water resources laws which had existed for a long time comprised the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; the River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004 and the National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.

“There is nothing new about the National Water Resources Bill. This is because it is an amalgamation of water resources laws that have been in existence for a long time.

“We know many multinationals today that are bottling water and they are using large boreholes, large reserve of water that will affect you and me and they are paying no penny to anybody, and we are saying let’s regulate this thing for the benefit of everybody, and you are talking about anti-people.

“The only people who are anti-people are those against this bill,” Mr. Mohammed said.

Despite different groups opposing the bill, the minister said there is no going back on the passage of the bill.

Contrary to the majority opinion, he said there is no hidden agenda in the bill and it was not designed to cause water wars in the country.

Mohammed also said the laws are being re-enacted with necessary modifications to bring them in line with current global trends as well as best practices in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

“The overall objective of this amalgamation is the efficient management of the water resources sector for the economic development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.

“The bill provides for professional and efficient management of all surface and groundwater for the use of the people (i.e. for domestic and non-domestic use, irrigation, agricultural purposes, generation of hydro-electric energy, navigation, fisheries and recreation).

“The bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons. Among other benefits, the bill:

– provides for the creation of an enabling environment for public and private sector investment

– provides for capacity building processes to foster good governance

– Establishes water use and licensing framework to ensure sustainable financing for Water Sector Development from tariffs,” he said.

He said the controversy generated by the bill is from those that have not even bothered to read its provisions, “thus depending on second-hand information to reach their conclusions.

“Those who have read it have perhaps done so perfunctorily. We have therefore decided to look at the main arguments against the bill by the critics and respond to them, with a view to clearing any misgivings and also enlightening Nigerians.”

He said the federal government’s intentions are not to take over the nation’s water resources by licensing and commercialising the use of water because the current Water Resources Act, 2004 (made pursuant to the constitution) already makes provision for that.

“This bill is only trying to provide a framework for implementing that provision. The regulatory provisions of the bill require that commercial borehole drillers obtain a licence.

“The code of practice for water well drillers issued by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the National Water Resources Institute (NWRI) in 2010 already requires this. The code provides technical requirements that a driller must possess to undertake drilling as well as information on each borehole to be provided to the national database.

“That code, however, requires the license to be issued by the NWRI in Kaduna. This bill provides for such licenses to now be issued by the states, under delegation of the national regulator, the Water Resources Regulatory Commission.”

He said borehole regulation is an international standard for the abstraction of large volumes of water.

“Most countries in Africa, and almost every developed country, regulate commercial abstraction. It is also important to note that there is no requirement for licensing domestic abstraction.

“Regulating abstraction of large volumes of water is necessary because groundwater abstraction is an activity that has environmental and ecological impact.”

He also said the bill is not seeking to implement Ruga by subterfuge because the bill reiterates the fact that land can only be acquired by any of the institutions established in accordance with the Land Use Act.

“We are therefore using this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to avail themselves of the provisions of the bill to avoid being misled by those who have chosen to politicise it. We also want to state that the bill is for the good of the nation, and has no hidden agenda whatsoever.”

He said the bill, when passed into law, will provide for the enhancement of the Nigeria water sector, in line with global best practices.

Also speaking, the Minister of Water Resources, Adamu, said the bill was never rejected by the 8th Senate as being said in some quarters.

He said the upper chamber of the National Assembly only set up a committee to look at the issues raised by stakeholders on the bill.

He said: “The House of Representatives passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for concurrence.

“Senators asked questions. This was within their rights to do so.

“The Senate did not throw out the bill in 2018. What it did was that it constituted a committee to look into the issues raised and report back.

“Before the committee could report back, the 2019 election came.

“When I was returned as minister after the election, I felt I should return the bill to the National Assembly.

“There was no subterfuge. We followed due process. It is not a Buhari bill. It is a water bill for Nigeria.”

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