From Yusuf Alli and Onyedi Ojiabor, Abuja
There is no hidden plan for proposing the National Water Resources Bill for passage, the Federal Government said on Tuesday.
It added that the bill will be pushed ahead having been endorsed by many states, the National Water Council and the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The government said contrary to misgivings, the bill is a panacea to likely water conflicts in the country.
It denied that the bill is a ploy for the reintroduction of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA).
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Water Resources counterpart Suleiman Adamu gave the government’s position at a news conference in Abuja.
Mohammed said: ”I am sure you have all been following the controversy trailing the National Water Resources Bill 2020, which is currently making its way through the National Assembly. Critics have, among other things, accused the Federal Government of having a hidden agenda by pursuing the Bill. We also want to state that the Bill is for the good of the nation, and has no hidden agenda whatsoever.
“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. These are: 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; National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004.
“So, why are the laws being re-packaged as the National Water Resources Bill 2020? The answer is that they 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 ground water 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.
“With the above stated lofty goals, one is then compelled to ask: why has the Bill generated so much controversy? The first thing to say is that many of those criticizing the Bill 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.”
Mohammed added: “Critics contend that with the Bill, the Federal Government is poised to take over the nation’s water resources by licensing and commercialising the use of water.
“This is not the intention, because the current Water Resources Act, 2004 (made pursuant to the Constitution) already makes provision for this. 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 (SON) and the 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 such 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.
“Please note that borehole regulation is 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.
He said Section 75 of the bill was not designed to deny Nigerians access to potable water.
“Section 75 states that ‘subject to the provisions of this Bill, no borehole driller, whether corporate or individual, shall commence borehole drilling business in Nigeria unless such driller has been issued a Water Well Driller’s licence by the Commission’’.
“Why is a technically-competent driller afraid of obtaining a Licence? It is a licence to practice, just as a medical licence or any other licence to be obtained by people professing to have the technical competence to do something.
“Most collapsed boreholes are drilled by charlatans. It is therefore incumbent on the government to prevent this. On the provision of potable water, this is the responsibility of State governments. The national policy for water resources prioritizes abstraction for water treatment in the allocation of water use.
“Sections 76-79 of the Bill clearly provide that the states will undertake this regulation under a national framework provided by the regulator to ensure homogenous policy implementation.
He faulted the claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling has overwritten the National Water Resources Bill by claiming that the power of physical planning in any state of the federation is exclusively vested in the state government.
The Information minister said: “This is not a Physical Planning Bill. This Bill only relates to the management of water resources that crosses state boundaries. The constitution already grants the federal legislature this responsibility (item 64, Exclusive Legislative List, CFRN 1999).
“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. The Bill also does not apply to land. It clearly states that land required by any of the institutions established in the Bill will be obtained in accordance with the Land Use Act (i.e with Governor’s consent).
He said: “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. (See Sections1, 2, and 3 of the Bill). Section 2 of the Water Resources Act, 2004 is reproduced. This section protects the right of persons to use water for domestic purposes without charge and recognises the right of a holder of customary or statutory right of occupancy to access water for personal and household use but not for commercial purposes.
He said the bill is not about taking the resources of a certain part of the country for the use of herders.
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