By Babayola M. Toungo
The reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill 2022 generated a flurry of reactions from diverse stakeholders that highlighted sundry and varying shades of opinions and even understanding the role of the three tiers of government – Federal, State and Local Councils – on water legislation and regulation.
The reaction of Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor and a federal legislator from the same Benue state is a case in point. Of recent, the governors’ forum has also joined the chorus of naysayers to the Bill. According to some of these varying opinions, the Bill seek to bring all water sources as well as riverbanks under the control of the federal government through the agencies to be created by the Bill.
The National Water Resources Policy 2016 provided an entry point for this raucous debate. Most of the views expressed by the rejectionists are pedestrian, in my view. And I say this with all sense of responsibility. Some of these views like alleging that the proponents of the Bill have a set agenda flies in the face of reason. Don’t we all have an agenda for the development of the country? Must every action be viewed from the lens of partisanship – ethnic, religious, regional? Some petitioners alleged that their ancestral lands will be appropriated with the passage of the Bill; that the Bill is purely designed to forcefully acquire land for cattle – another RUGA (Rural Grazing Area); a harbinger of calamities and ultimately the destruction of their lives and properties.
This prebendal and parochial way at looking at every project or law is what is responsible for the stagnation of our democratic and economic development. Surface water and groundwater are transboundary resources that often cross political boundaries. Generally, under a federal system of government, no single governmental level has absolute sovereign authority over water. Effective implementation of water policies requires coordination among all levels of government, various administrative units, and independent agencies.
Thus, the federal government of Nigeria, through the National Assembly has a constitutional duty to legislate on an effective coordination of Nigeria’s water system as well as cross boundary waters management. Our nation’s water resources systems are crucial to our economy, public safety and the preservation and enhancement of our environmental resources just like oil.
Many Nigerians earn their livelihoods from our water levees, dams, inland waterways and from the ports as much as, if not more than those who earn their livelihoods from the oil sector. The country’s water resources system is in dire need of investments to enable Nigerians maximally benefit from it and the investment gap must be closed if we hope to both repair and modernise the existing infrastructure to be competitive in the 21st century as well as respond to the challenges of climate change mitigation action. Looking back from 2001, and some of the Presidential Initiatives under Olusegun Obasanjo, the report card for the infrastructures under the Ministry of Water Resources and its departments and agencies, was that Nigeria’s water infrastructure systems continue to see significant challenges and the nation’s dams and levees were at such a threshold of underperformance for lack of maintenance or in some instances non-completion of construction of such an infrastructure, or projects abandonment. The National Assembly is urged to explore within the ambit of the National Water Resources Bill 2022 the many options of formal and informal intergovernmental institutional arrangements that could be put in place or are being explored to meet emerging water issues in different regions of the nation. A legal framework must be in place to enable governments at all levels to identify and develop projects and programmes that will help in meeting the projected demand in water – hydropower generation, irrigation for food security, access to potable water and good hygiene.
The reluctance of governments overtime to regulate the water resources sector has left huge investment gaps in the execution of water schemes. An example is the continuous suffering of the ordinary citizen in accessing potable water. This is because investors cannot invest in an unregulated economic environment. Prioritising statutory instruments such as the National Resources Water Bill 2022 to institutionalise processes essential to building formative provisions along coordinated framework, is sine quo non to having a working system and meeting the demand of the teeming populace.
The importance of such a Bill to meet both domestic and commercial needs is significant to enhancing the living standards of the people. It will be beneficial to everyone if state governments can formulate state-wide water policies that would help guide and coordinate federal government, state government and local government activities as a premise for civil society activism instead of blindly opposing a Bill which most of us couldn’t make time to read, much less comprehend.
I am of the humble opinion, that it is not obstruction or calls for abdication from discharge of constitutional responsibilities that is required at this material time. Cooperation by all stakeholders in seeing that this all-important sector is regulated is what is required and not activism coated in ethno-religious chauvinism. Nigerians as one applauded the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act because we believe it is good for the country, not because it is good for a section of the country. That the PIA will attract more investments to the sector with all its attendant environmental pollution, yet here we are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that a similar regulatory statute for the water sector did not see the light of the day.
Toungo can be reached via email@example.com