While northern senators support the bill and its objectives, their southern counterparts are opposed to it.
Those opposed to it pointed out that the bill, if passed into law, would further centralise power and the nation’s resources. This, they pointed out, would counter the current move towards devolution of powers, which is currently skewed in favour of the Federal Government.
President Muhammadu Buhari had sent the bill to the legislature in 2017, while the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, presented the bill as it is customary for executive bills.
It is ‘A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matter.’
The summary of the bill reads, “This Act repeals the Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004; River Basin Development Act Cap R9 LFN 2004; Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap N110A, LFN, 2004; NationaI Water Resources lnstitute Act Cap N83 LFN 2004; and establishes the National Council on Water Resources, Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission, River Basin Development Authorities, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, and the National Water Resources Institute.”
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The proposed bodies, if established, will “provide for the regulation, equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface water and groundwater resources.”
The division occurred at the plenary on Thursday when the lawmakers considered the report on the bill by the Senate Committee on Water Resources.
The southern senators particularly criticised the move to create new Federal Government’s bodies to take over the responsibilities of the states over the water resources within their territories.
The controversial parts of the bill are contained in Clauses 1 to 5.
The clauses read, “All surface water and groundwater wherever it occurs is a resource common to all people, the use of which is subject to statutory control.
“There shall be no private ownership of water but the right to use water in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one state pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
“As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.
“States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and this Act.”
The passage of the bill however suffered a setback when the Senate dissolved into the committee of the whole to consider the 152 clauses of the proposed law.
In a veiled persuasion of the lawmakers, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said, “This bill has 152 clauses. This bill is the Leader’s first bill. This bill is the President’s bill, so we are going to have a very swift movement in passing this bill.”
Unlike the normal process of taking the clauses one after the other, the Senate President put Clauses 1 to 50 to a voice vote at once.
Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi-North) however raised an issue with one of the clauses, asking the Senate to properly define ‘bank’ especially where it starts from and the distance it should be from a water body to the shore.
While he stated that he was not opposed to the bill, he noted that the clarification was needed for rivers that cross two or more states.
He likened it to a federal road which makes the government to acquire 50 metres from the centre of the road to both sides.
“Otherwise, a lot of conflicts are going to arise. River banks are much more contentious than roads because of agricultural and other activities,” Abdullahi stated.
Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue North-West), however, dismissed Abdullahi’s fears, saying that while the nature of the road was fixed, a river could increase or decrease in size.