A group of climate and water rights campaigners has called on the Federal Government to halt its proposed plan to establish a regulatory framework to oversee the use and management of water resources in Nigeria.
Making the call on Thursday, September 1, 2022, in Abuja during a two-day National Consultative Dialogue organised by Education as a Vaccine (EVC) to sensitise the public on the implications of the proposed National Water Resource Bill 2020, the advocates challenged the proposal for neglecting public interest during its production process.
They cited this lacuna as one of the primary reasons why the bill has continued to face public rejection and lack of support from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Upper Chamber (Senate) of the National Assembly.
The Executive Director, EVC, Oluwatoyin Chukwudozie, who was represented by Judith Gbagidi, the Head of Programmes at EVC, while giving her remarks at the event, identified this gap as the major cause why the House was forced to withdraw its earlier position on the bill after a point of privilege was raised by Ben Mzondu, a lawmaker from Benue State, who complained about the procedural error in the reintroduction of the bill in 2020.
The problem with the bill
In July, 2022, the controversial bill was re-gazetted and presented to the House by the present committee chairman on Water Resources, Sada Soli, from Katsina State, as a reviewed and approved version adopted by all the governors; which is incorrect, according to Chukwugozie, who drew attention to a communiqué released by the forum rejecting the bill at the end of its 5th teleconference meeting held on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, because of “its inconsistency with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
“So, that is why we are here today to look at this bill, talk about the gaps in it and make recommendations,” she said. “We believe that public awareness, state and non-state actions are enhanced at the end of the meeting to promote a people-centered water resources bill to promote understanding of equity and justice.”
Issues in the bill
Reacting to some of the issues raised after his presentation titled “Nigeria Water Resources Bill: The Journey So Far,” Mr. Pius Oko, who is the Executive Secretary of Lift Humanity Foundation (LHF), explained that the bill didn’t specify whether a new agency is going to be established or if the existing ones are going to be strengthened to manage water-related activities across the nation.
Oko advised that the bill should not be jettisoned; rather it should be reviewed to include existing realities and provide the citizens with the required knowledge to advocate for necessary actions to ensure correction and bridge the gap in the proposed document.
Like the previous speaker, he also blamed the setback encountered by the bill on the secrecy attached to it as people were not carried along during its drafting process.
“Some of the controversies around the bill include the right to use, manage and control water, which will be vested in the hands of the Federal Government,” he disclosed.
Expectations of the dialogue
According to the executive director, EVC, her organisation hopes that public enlightenment mostly among women is enhanced, as well as civil society organistions (CSOs) are mobilised to push for a people-centered water resources bill at the end of the parley.
By Etta Michael Bisong, Abuja