…Individual boreholes not affected
…River banks not included
…Opposition to bill borne out of ignorance
Soni Daniel, Emma Ujah & Gabriel Ewepu
The Federal government has refuted allegations that the National Water Bill would cede large swath of land along river banks to herdsmen, saying that there is no hidden agenda behind the Bill.
The Minister of Information and culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed and his Water Resources counterpart, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, who briefed journalists, in Abuja, Tueasday, insisted that land ownership was not affected by the Bill, in anyway.
The briefing followed the unending controversy that has trailed the Bill currently making its way through the National Assembly, with many dissenting Nigerians accusing the federal government of having a hidden agenda, especially with the aim of handing over the nation’s river banks to herdsmen.
According to Alh. Mohammed, “The Bill also does not apply to land. It clearly states that land required by any of the institutions established by the Bill would be obtained in accordance with the Land Use Act (i.e with Governor’s consent).
“Critics contend that the Bill, when passed into law, will clip the wings of state and local government authorities, as well as individuals, from making use of the water in their backyards without permission from Abuja
“Our response: Communities on River Banks are guaranteed undisturbed use of water as stated in Section 3 of the Bill. Also, all occupiers of Land are guaranteed the right of abstraction for domestic and sustenance, whether by borehole or rivers. Section 3 reiterates the right of persons to continue to access water without charge for subsistence and preserves existing customary rights to water. Section 2 of the Water Resources
“Critics contend that the Bill is aimed at taking the resources of a certain part of the country for the use of herders. In other words, the Federal Government is seeking to implement RUGA by subterfuge.
“Our Response: This is not the intent of the Bill and it is not even possible, as the Bill reiterates the fact that Land can only be acquired by any of the institutions established in accordance with the Land Use Act. Almost all the Institutions have State Representatives.
The Regulatory Commission Board comprises representatives of the six-geo political regions. The State level basins management includes representatives of each state in the Basin.”
The minister said that there was nothing entirely new about the Bill but an amalgamation of Water Resources Laws that had been in existence for a long time.
They included: Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; The River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004; The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N1100A, LFN 2004; and the – National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.
The laws, he said, were 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,” he minister said.
According to him, “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.”
Alh. Mohammed said that many of those criticising the Bill had not even bothered to read its provisions, thus depending on second-hand information to reach their conclusions and that those who have read it “have perhaps done so perfunctorily.”
He noted that borehole regulation was an international standard for abstraction of large volumes of water.
“Most countries in Africa, and almost every developed country, regulates 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.
Bill affects only inter-state water
According to Alh Mohammed, “The interaction of the Federal government with the State is only as it concerns the management of the inter-state water that passes through the State. The Bill does not apply to water that is wholly within the boundaries of a state.”
He disagreed with critics contended that the Bill was capable of triggering ‘water wars’ , saying, it would rather prevent internal water conflict which could occur “if an upstream state decides to dam an inter-state water, thereby preventing it from following its natural course, thus affecting downstream users. On the contrary, the Bill is the only panacea to internal conflict on water.
“For example, River Niger passes several states before emptying into the Gulf of Guinea through the Delta. If any of the states dams it, that can trigger water conflict. The Bill has taken this into consideration.”
Speaking further, Alh Mohammed said that it was worrisome that some critics had a mindset and refused to accept explanation by federal officials.
“Some say it is RUGA, and we are saying that this bill was in National Assembly since 2008, and RUGA didn’t come into being until 2019. For God’s sake let us have a free mind about this country and it gives some credit to those who are running the government. What does Minister of Water Resources stand to gain from imposing a water bill on you or us? Even me that is not a water engineer I have learnt a lot today. I begin to see that it is not just possible; one, the allegation that you cannot drill a borehole. You can drill a borehole in your house, you don’t need a license.
“But we know many multinationals today that are bottling water and they are using large borehole and large reserve of water that will affect you and me but they are paying no penny to anybody, and we are saying that let us regulate this for the benefit of everybody.
In his remarks, Engr. Adamu said that the Bill preceded President’s Muhammadu Buhari administration and in the best interest of all Nigerians.
He said that water resources must be effectively managed in such a way that future generations were not short-changed.