Clamour against Water Resources Bill mounts

  • Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF, SMBLF, NBA, Soyinka, CAPPA, others kick
Public outrage against the controversial Water Resources Bill, being pushed by Buhari’s administration is heightening.

Various groups and individuals have urged the National Assembly to trash the bill which was re-presented on June 29, 2022, for First Reading by the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Sada Soli from Katsina State.

The bill, which was initially introduced and rejected by the lawmakers during the 8th Assembly following public outcry, was reintroduced in the current 9th National Assembly in 2020 but faced backlash again from Nigerians, forcing the National Assembly to step it down.

Groups opposing the bill include the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Nigerian Bar Association, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and Ijaw National Congress, among others. A notable voice against the bill is Nobel Laureate and playwright, Professor Wole Soyinka.

On September 15, 2020, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Employees (AUPCTRE) had led a delegation of civil society and labour allies to a meeting with the Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Hussein Adamu to whom a harmonised and well laid-out highlights of clause-by-clause analysis of the bill was submitted with specific recommendations encapsulating the voices and concerns of the public.

Contentious sections of the earlier version included Section 98 which stated that, “the use of water shall be subject to licensing provisions,” Section 120 which made it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes, and Section 107 which says, a licence might be cancelled if the licensee fails to make “beneficial” use of the water.

CAPPA questioned who determines beneficial use of water. Some of the identified problematic provisions in the previous bill are still recycled in the “revised” version.

If it becomes law, it will empower the Federal Government to control all water resources such as rivers, streams, lakes, and underground water in all parts of the country. It also makes a strong case for the much-discredited Public Private Partnership (PPP) water privatisation model.

In a statement issued in Lagos, CAPPA, however, described the so-called revised version as exactly the same bill that was roundly rejected by Nigerians and interest groups.

According to the group, the reintroduction of the bill is an insult to Nigerians from all the geopolitical divide, including socio-political groups that have kicked against it from the beginning because of its many anti-people provisions and the ulterior motive of its promoters.

CAPPA Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said:
“It is distasteful that the promoters of the Bill did not consider any of the objections by Nigerians about the draft Bill but only moved them to other sections with the intent to deceive Nigerians.”

Oluwafemi explained that a clause-by-clause analysis of the re-presented bill conducted by CAPPA showed that regardless of the ”re-packaging” and re-arrangement of its sections and a few expungements, it still fails woefully to meet the obligation of integrating the tenets of Human Right to water and sanitation.

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“For instance, although ”promoting public private partnerships in delivery of water services” has been expunged from the Objectives of the Bill under Part 1- Sec 1 (1)(i), the same provision is still retained in Section 13(1)(n) of the Bill,” CAPPA noted.

In the analysis, CAPPA observed that the bill is still rooted in a privatisation agenda: privatisation of Nigeria’s water resources under the guise of Public Private Partnership. This will only worsen the availability, accessibility and affordability of water resources by common citizens, it stressed.

The group warned that the bill, if allowed to scale through, would result in dispossessing a section of Nigeria citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water and this is by no means an equitable venture.

Further, it noted that a dysfunctional consequence of the bill is the establishment of a new Federal Government Commission, Institute and Boards to take over the responsibilities of the states on water resources within their territorial jurisdiction which runs contrary to the spirit of true federalism.

CAPPA reiterated its call that a pro-people bill should prioritize the normative elements of accessibility, affordability, and availability of water as mutually exclusive components of human rights by ordinary citizens. Nigerians’ water remains a natural resource which should not be commodified, it warned.

“It beats the imagination that the promoters of this Bill want to hastily make it a law without due consultation and consideration of the genuine concerns of Nigerians. Again, their ulterior motives are exposed, and Nigerians reject their deception. We want the National Assembly to not just step it down this time, but throw it out in its entirety, kill it,” CAPPA added.

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