The Delta State Civil Society Organizational Forum (DELCOF) has called on the 9th National Assembly not to push further consideration of the controversial National Water Resources Bill (NWRB). In a statement with Newsmen, the Chairman of the Delta State Civil Society Organizational Forum Dr Andrew Agboro enumerated numerous reasons why further consideration of the Bill should be stopped.
The aim of the bill, titled: ‘”A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Trans-boundary Water Resources in Nigeria is to Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matters 2022” seeks to empower the Federal Government to control the water resources in the country such as rivers, streams , lakes and underground water such as boreholes and dug wells in nearly all parts of the country.
States are allowed to make provisions for the use, management and control of water resources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state in line with guidelines provided by the bill, Except for the Niger Delta Region consisting of about six States where the Bill seeks to control all of the waters – surface (rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds) and –ground waters ( Boreholes, Dug wells and all waters beneath the ground surface. Hence, the peoples of the Niger Delta are discriminated against and made to lose their LIFE AS WATER IS LIFE. By this singular act. Also the Bill turns Nigeria to a Unitary State from a Federal State. In all countries in the world that operate a federal system of government, water governance is carried out at the sub-regional level of State/Region/Province.
This is what obtains in the USA, Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan and Germany. DELCOF is totally opposed to the notion of the Federal Government having jurisdiction over any water (surface or ground) whether it crosses state boundaries or confined within a State. All waters are to be under the jurisdiction of each State with Policy and standards set by the Federal Government.
Part V- Licensing
a. Section 61 of the bill states that, “the use of water shall be subject to licensing provisions”. Licensing of water infrastructure and abstraction is a veritable tool used worldwide for the development and sustainable management of water resources .The lack of geological and hydrogeological data is a major obstacle to groundwater resources evaluation, development and management. This is why the legal requirement involving licensing which ensures proper data collection is essential but often not appreciated. While DELCOF is in support of licensing of drillers and commercial boreholes, this exercise should be carried out by State Agencies NOT FEDERAL AGENCIES. This is the norm in other countries running a federal system of governance. Also water is Life and should not be treated as a Revenue Stream by Governments at all levels
b. Section 62 lists many items for which licenses must be obtained from the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Commission which is being created by this Bill. We note that many of these activities are already being regulated by bother MDAs of State and Federal Governments and therefore it amounts to duplication and against the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Most appalling is Activity (p) :Carrying out commercial inland fisheries. For People of the Riverine areas especially the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
This is totally unacceptable. Fishing is our source of livelihood. Do crop farmers get a license to farm Yam, Rice, Beans et al, and do Animal Herders take a License to own animals and carry out animal husbandry? Are Niger Deltans slaves in Nigeria?
c. Furthermore, the bill seeks to establish the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Regulatory Commission (NIWRRC) . One of the responsibilities of the commission includes granting licenses for use of water across state lines. It is our position that the granting of licenses should be the prerogative of State Agencies, not a federal agency as is NIWRRC. Nigeria is a Federal Republic consisting of 36 states and the FCT. It is NOT a UNITARY STATE. Nigeria requires Devolution of Powers and Activities from the Centre at this Point in Time, Not the Federal Government grabbing more functions.
The reintroduction of the Bill has serious adverse effects on the predominantly Riverine State if it was passed into law as it is. A core question that must be answered to test the suitability of the bill is: “How well has the Federal Government performed on all centralized management of resources and institutions that are best localized?” In fact reading through the bill comes with a “serious headache” , it is like a military decree. It also enslaves people of the Niger Delta to whom Water forms the basis of their Economy, Life and Religion from time immemorial.
Dr. Agboro said the bill does not adequately address the interests of the States but empowers the Federal Government to take over water resources from states, license the supply and commercialize the use of surface and underground waters, which riverine states in the country considered an assault.
Other things lacking in the bill include “capacity to research, propose, dialogue and design effective legislations/ laws that help us govern our shared assets like waters, efficiently and equitably, in our Federation”.
States that would be affected are Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau and Kebbi.
The bill, according to the forum, should be reviewed with a view to accommodating the concerns of all states.” It would be recalled that the proposed legislation seeks to concentrate the control of water resources around Rivers Niger and Benue, which cut across 19 states, in the hands of the Federal Government, the forum warned against legislative abuse or betrayal of Nigerians if the bill is was passed without public engagement and scrutiny , adding that already , the sentiments expressed against the bill are too grave to be brushed off.
I wish to end this Press release by quoting from a paper on Decree 101 0f 1993, authored by an authority on Water Resources Law, Professor Tony Akpoborie. Decree 101 of 1993 is the foundation of all the laws including this NWRB 2022 . It was promulgated by President Ibrahim Babangida. Prof Akpoborie -who was a Professor of Hydrogeology at the Delta State University, Abraka reviewed the decree and made the following recommendations:
“Then it is shown that the objectives of the decree 101 of 1993 could be obtained without divesting communities, individuals and states of their inherent ownership rights to water”.
“Resource inputs in the form of equipment, monitoring, systems, detailed studies and personnel are best addressed at State level. The Federal Agency then limits its role to the provision of technical assistance, funding for research and data gathering systems, guidance for the evolution of appropriate institutional arrangements as well as retaining its overall supervisory activities of the nation’s water resources”.
The forum calls for more work on the draft bill, appealing to both the Senate and the House of Representatives “not rush the Water Resources Bill”. “It would be another Frankenstein Monster that will do the country no good.
Dr. Andrew Agboro
23 August 2022