Law

Row over National Water Resources Bill

Lawyers: Proposed National Resources Bill will not stand

 

AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers have joined the fray to kick against the passage of the National Water Resources Bill by the National Assembly. They said the legislation would has no good intention other than to further foist wretchedness and avoidable hardship on Nigerians

 

Oppositions against the passage of the National Water Resources Bill by the National Assembly are mounting with some senior lawyers kicking against the Federal Government’s reintroduction of the legislation which had earlier been rejected by the 8th Senate. President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2017 forwarded the National Water Resources Bill to the 8th National Assembly.

 

The Bill sought “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 ground water resources and for related matter.”

 

Specifically, the Bill seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) and the banks of the water sources under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies to be established by the Bill. Section 13 of the Bill states that “in implementing the principles under Subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests”.

 

Also, Section 98 of the Bill states that “the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions” and Section 104 talks about emergency powers in case of shortage of water.

 

Its Subsection (1) (b) 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. Section 107 says that a licence may be cancelled if the licencee “fails to make beneficial use of the water”, while Section 120 makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.

 

Furthermore, Section 125 (2) states that; “An authorized person may, at any reasonable time and on production of their identity card or other instrument or certificate of designation if so required, enter a property with the necessary persons, vehicles, equipment and material in order to carry out routine inspections of the use of water or disposal of waste water under any authorization.” Customarily for Executive Bills,

 

The proposed legislation was presented to the 8th Senate by its Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan. However, in May 2018, the Bill was stepped down during the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Water Resources.

 

This was sequel to the failure of senators to agree on the need for the passage of the Bill as they were divided along party, religious and ethnic lines. While northern senators, predominantly APC senators and Muslims threw their weights behind the Bill and its objectives, senators from the southern part of the country, mostly Christians and PDP lawmakers were strongly against it.

 

They were of the view that if the Bill was passed into law, it would further centralise power and the nation’s resources. This, they argued, would counter the current move towards devolution of powers. The senators, who were opposed to the Bill said they were not in support of the move to create new Federal Government’s bodies to take over the responsibilities of the states on the water resources within their territories.

 

The Bill thus failed to secure the concurrent of the Senate and the assent of President Buhari before that Assembly’s tenure expired in June 2019 despite its passage by the Dogara-led 8th House of Representatives. Bill’s reintroduction to NASS Indications were rife that the controversial National Water Resources Bill would be reintroduced to the 9th Senate emerged last year during the Senate screening of a ministerial nominee, Suleiman Adamu.

 

The Jigawa State nominee was the immediate past Minister of State for Water Resources. Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, had called on the Executive to represent the Bill to the 9th National Assembly for legislative approval, saying its passage would lead to a better managed water resources environment. He said that the Bill would not scale through at the 8th Senate due to media campaigns against it by a former PDP senator who is now an APC chieftain and ministerial nominee.

 

He said: “Actually, Water Resources Bill was turned down unfortunately controversially by a senator and now he is on the side of government. I will just advise the honourable minister designate because I sponsored the Bill on behalf of the Federal Government. “I think at that time because maybe simple opposition somehow created a story around the Bill.

 

Then the bill was opposed and we tried to manage the situation and we couldn’t. Now that person is going to work for this Bill to be passed. So, you work with him, since he is going to be in the same cabinet with you.” A few months after the Senate President’s call on the Executive for the reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill, it eventually resurfaced at the House of Representatives on 23rd July, 2020.

 

The Bill entitled “National Water Resources Bill, 2020,” was arbitrarily reintroduced in the Green Chamber in violation of the House rules, legislative convention and constitutional provisions before the House adjourned for a two-month recess on the said date. After the House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila had initially expressed concerns about the propriety of the Bill it was reintroduced to the Green Chambers by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata.

 

The legislation subsequently passed through the first and second reading following the citing of Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House. The Bill has since been committed to a “Committee of the Whole” for third reading and final passage. Condemnation trails the Bill In a statement issued Thursday last week, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, condemned the reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill into the National Assembly.

 

He warned of the dangers inherent in giving the president absolute control over the nation’s entire water resources over and underground. Soyinka’s statement entitled ‘MLK’s Mighty stream of righteosuness’ reads: “A roundly condemned project, blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions.

 

“The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness – is to become exclusive to one centralized authority. It will be doled out, allocated through power directives from a desensitized rockery that cannot even boast of the water divining wand of the prophet Moses.

 

If the current presiding genius – and this applies equally to all his predecessors without exception – had a structured vision of Nigerian basic entitlements, Nigerians would, by now, be able to boast the means of fulfilling even that minimalist item of COVID-19 protocols that calls for washing one’s hands under running water.

 

“As for potable water for drinking and cooking, let us not even begin to address such extra-terrestrial undertaking. What next for the exclusive list?

 

The rains? I declare myself in full agreement with virtually every pronouncement of alarm, outrage, opprobrium and repudiation that has been heaped upon this Bill and its parentage, both at its first outing and since this recent re-emergence.

 

“Let all retain in their minds that, from the same source that preached the ‘streams of righteousness’ is encountered the promise of ‘no more floods, the fire next time’.

 

“In any case, let the promulgators of this obscenity, high and low, understand that the placid waters they think to control unjustly and grotesquely, will turn to be Martin Luther King’s ‘mighty stream of righteousness’ that will overwhelm and sweep them off their complacent, and increasingly loathsome sectarian, conspiratorial heights. “One polluted stream of human existence compounds the next.

 

A violation here joins forces with its tributary of resentment there yonder, all seemingly unconnected. Martin Luther King’s streams of righteousness turn into a mighty torrent of repulse that overwhelms the perpetrators but, alas, takes down much else as collateral, irreparable damage. “That is the only cause for regret and – restraint.

 

Hence, our duty to position that anguished question frontally and call the world to witness our open propagation of that challenge: Do future lives matter? “Let Buhari and his myrmidons ponder that question in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds. They should not bequeath to future generations the harvest of the grapes of wrath.”

 

MBLF kicks The Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) had equally expressed its opposition to the reintroduction of National Water Resources Bill to the National Assembly. In a statement entitled “we Must Reject Illegally Revived Water Bill” signed by Yinka Odumakin (South West), Chief Guy Ikokwu (South East), Sen. Bassey Henshaw (South South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), the forum called on Nigerians to be ready for protracted resistance to the move by the lawmakers.

 

The statement reads: “The Bill we thought was dead with the last legislative session has arbitrarily been reintroduced in the House in a breach of its rules, legislative convention and provisions of the 1999 Constitution before the House adjourned for a two-month recess on July 23, 2020, according to a newspaper report.

 

“The forum called on all the communities opposed to the Bill meant to grab land around waterways for cattle herders, to organise community special sittings for their representatives to explain the meaning of this latest move and their roles in it. Freedomloving Nigerians should be ready for protracted resistance to this move to grab land around waterways for Miyetti Allah by the executive arm of the government.

 

“The Bill seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) and the banks of the water sources under the control of the federal government through its agencies to be established by the Bill.

“Section 13 of the Bill states that: ‘In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and groundwater resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment as well as upstream and downstream interests’.

 

“Section 2(1) of the Bill states that: ‘All surface water and ground water, wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.

 

“Investigations revealed that the Bill was neither gazetted nor clean copies circulated to members before it was committed on July 23 for passage, in breach of the rules of the House.

 

“Order 12 Rule 18 of the House standing rules state that: “Bills passed by the preceding Assembly and forwarded to the Senate for concurrence was made or passed by the Senate and forwarded to the House for which no concurrence was made or ‘negative’ or which were passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the president for assent, but for which assent or withholding thereof, was not communicated before the end of the tenure of the Assembly, the House may resolve that such bills, upon being re-gazetted or clean copies circulated, be re-considered in the Committee of the Whole.

 

“Part 2, section 5(1) of the Land Use Act of 1978, which states that: “It shall be lawful for the governor in respect of lands, whether or not in urban areas to grant statutory rights of occupancy to any person for all purposes,” and Article 7, subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution also grants state governors powers over land, to back its submission.”

 

Lawyers speak Some senior lawyers have in the meantime slammed the Federal Government over its relentless pursuit of the National Water Resources Bill saying such action is subversive of the growing agitations for restructuring.

 

The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend spoke with one voice in rejecting the Bill saying it is obnoxious and offensive. In his comments, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, said the Bill is subversive of the demands for restructuring.

 

He said: “The proposed National Water Resources Bill is an objectionable proposal by the Federal Government and is subversive of the demands for restructuring. It is to be observed that the strategic water resources are in the South of our country and the proposed law is akin to the Grazing Bill that was being pushed at the National Assembly”.

 

Sowemimo was echoed by another member of the inner Bar, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), who described the Bill as obnoxious and offensive. He simply said: “The Bill is obnoxious and offensive. Civil Society Organisations (CSO) should organise against this Bill.” Speaking in the same vein, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, called for a halt of further deliberations on the Bill by the National Assembly.

 

“For the record, the Bill was roundly rejected by the last National Assembly for good reasons and there are no inputs into the Bill to show or make those tangible reasons intangible.

 

“I join other well-meaning Nigerians in stating that the Bill has no good intentions other than that it will further foist wretchedness and avoidable hardships on the people. With due respect, it is not enough to propose a Bill because such laws work in the western world.

 

“In such places, their governments has the responsibility to supply water to every home at affordable rate, incentives were also given to fishermen and users of water in such places. We do not find all these in Nigeria. “I suggest that the existing law-Water Resources Act, should be left the way it is rather than compounding the people’s woes.

 

The indigenes and rural dwellers will be worse-off with this Bill as it has the effect of making them pay for the use of what the Lord gave them. Again the Bill has the intention of increasing the already bogus powers of the President and the Federal Government,” he said. Dr. Fassy Yusuf opined that the Bill is not only repugnant but also against the spirit of true federalism.

 

He said: “The Bill is repugnant to the spirit of true federalism. It is therefore, a further manifestation of pseudo- federalism we practise in Nigeria. The Federal Government should not overtask the precarious state of the nation. The Bill should be returned to where it came from”.

 

A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, was of the view that deliberation on the Bill is nothing but a wasteful legislative endeavour. “With due respect to members of the National Assembly, this is an idle legislation. How on earth can they engage in such a wasteful legislative endeavour while leaving issues of importance unattended to? “For crying out loud, is it not the failure of government that made it inevitable for everyone to be sinking boreholes indiscriminately?

 

Or if the government is functioning well and living up to expectations by providing potable water, will there be any need to sink boreholes or other similar sources of water? How will anyone determine the volume of water needed in his homes? How many borehole drillers will apply for licence?

 

I submit most regrettably that this type of legislation is anti-people because majority of homes in Nigeria use local labourers to dig well in their homes and it is practically impossible for such local people to apply for licence to do so.

 

“If this law comes to being, majority of house owners will be guilty of one impropriety or the other in respect of this obnoxious legislation and it can breed anarchy because people who are already disappointed in the ineptitude of the government will never understand why any government officials under any guise will enter their homes to enforce the law or seek to know whether the law is complied with. I urge the legislators to drop the passage of it. If however, they go ahead, it will be an otiose legislation that will serve no useful purposes,” he said.

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