The National Water Resources Bill 2022 – By: .

By Babayola M. Toungo

The reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill 2022 generated a flurry of reactions from various stakeholders that highlighted diverse and varied shades of opinion and even an understanding of the role of the three levels of government. – federal, state and local advice – on water laws and regulations.

The reaction of Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue state and federal legislator of the same state is a good example. Recently, the governors forum also joined the chorus of opponents of the bill.

According to some of these dissenting opinions, the bill seeks to bring all water sources, as well as shorelines, under the control of the federal government through the agencies that will be created by the bill. The 2016 National Water Resources Policy provided an entry point to this heated debate.

Most of the opinions expressed by the rejectists are, in my opinion, irrelevant. And I say this with full responsibility. Some of these views, such as claiming that proponents of the bill have an established agenda, run counter to reason. Don’t we all have an agenda for the development of the country? Should every action be seen from the angle of partisanship – ethnic, religious, regional? Some petitioners allege that their ancestral lands will be appropriated with the passage of the bill; that the bill is purely designed to forcibly acquire land for cattle – another RUGA (Rural Grazing Area); a harbinger of calamities and ultimately the destruction of their lives and property.

This prebendal and parochial way of looking at every bill 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 borders. Typically, in a federal system of government, no one level of government has absolute sovereign authority over water.

The effective implementation of water policies requires coordination between all levels of government, different administrative units and independent agencies. Thus, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Assembly, has a constitutional duty to legislate for effective coordination of Nigeria’s water system as well as transboundary water management.

Our nation’s water resource systems are crucial to our economy, public safety, and the preservation and enhancement of our environmental resources, much like petroleum. Many Nigerians derive their livelihood from our levees, dams, inland waterways and ports as much if not more than those who derive their livelihood from the oil sector.

The country’s water resources system is in dire need of investment to enable Nigerians to derive maximum benefit from it and the investment gap must be closed if we hope to both repair and upgrade the existing infrastructure to be competitive. in the 21st century as well as meeting the challenges of climate change mitigation action.

Looking back since 2001, and some of the presidential initiatives under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the record of infrastructure under the Ministry of Water Resources and its departments and agencies, was that the water infrastructure systems of the Nigeria continue to face significant challenges and the dams and levees were at such a threshold of underperformance due to lack of maintenance or in some cases non-completion of construction of such infrastructure, or abandonment of projects.

The National Assembly is invited to explore within the framework of the National Water Resources Bill 2022 the many options for formal and informal intergovernmental institutional arrangements that could be put in place or are being explored to respond to the problems emerging from the water in different regions of the country.

A legal framework must be in place to enable governments at all levels to identify and develop projects and programs that will help meet projected water demand – hydropower generation, irrigation for food security, access to drinking water and good hygiene.

The reluctance of governments over time to regulate the water resources sector has left huge investment gaps in the execution of water projects. An example is the continued suffering of ordinary citizens in access to drinking water. Indeed, investors cannot invest in an unregulated economic environment.

Prioritizing statutory instruments such as the National Resources Water Bill 2022 to institutionalize the processes essential to developing formative arrangements within a coordinated framework, is a sine quo non for having a functioning system and meeting the demand for a large population.

The importance of such a bill to meet both domestic and commercial needs is important to improve the standard of living of the people. It would benefit everyone if state governments could formulate statewide water policies that would help guide and coordinate the activities of federal, state and local governments as a premise for activism. of civil society instead of blindly opposing a bill that most of us couldn’t make the time to read, let alone understand.

I am of the humble opinion that it is not the obstruction or the calls for the abdication of the exercise of the constitutional responsibilities which are essential at the present time. What is needed is the cooperation of all actors to ensure that this so important sector is regulated and not militancy coated in ethno-religious chauvinism.

Nigerians applauded the passing of the Petroleum Industry Act because we think it is good for the country, not because it is good for part of the country. That the PIA will attract more investment in the sector with all the environmental pollution that results from it, but here we are fighting tooth and nail so that a similar regulatory status for the water sector does not see the light of day.

Toungo can be contacted via [email protected]

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