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Experts insist water bill consistent with unitary Constitution

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
16 August 2022   |   3:45 am
As reactions continue to trail the National Water Resources bill before the National Assembly, experts have maintained that the bill is consistent with the Constitution.

As reactions continue to trail the National Water Resources bill before the National Assembly, experts have maintained that the bill is consistent with the Constitution.

Executive Director, Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC), Magashi Bashir, in a recent virtual conference, held the view, while explaining some salient provisions of the bill to reporters.

He said item 64 of the Exclusive legislative List of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2(1) of the bill recognises the right to the use, management and control of all surface and ground water affecting more than one state by the Federal Government.

“This enables economic development not allowing monopoly of power, encourages competition, consumer complaints management, employment creation, revenue generation, and encourages investment, industrialisation, economic and sustainable growth,” he said.

According to him, the bill predates the Buhari-led administration.

He explained that the draft bill written by ATKINS International was later reviewed by eminent Nigerian professionals/scholars with Prof Goldface Irokalibe (Prof of International Water Law/Expert) leading and Prof Lekan Oyebande (foremost hydrologist) and Barr Tanwa Koya, amongst others in the team, including the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) made inputs into the bill even before the current administration.

The bill also had gone through scrutiny of the National Council on Water Resource with all commissioners of Water Resources of states of the Federation as members.

He said: “The bill has gone through some further reviews to accommodate other opinions as indicated in the statement of Prof. Lanre Fagbohun (SAN).

“If there are specific issues, we should highlight them and let’s take necessary action. Water law accommodating the principle of Integrated Water Resources Management is necessary, considering that water is a shared resource and that it is even the best practice globally.

“Water law is imperative, particularly to manage water bodies traversing two or more states. You may wish to check Schedule 64 of the Constitution for lists of all trans-boundary waters in Nigeria.

“Our country is mainly drained by Rivers Niger and Benue and their tributaries. We must remember that most of Nigeria’s fresh water flows from the North Southwards. The bill seeks more to protect the downstream beneficiaries.”

He insisted that downstream states and their communities are well protected by the proposed bill when passed into law.

While answering questions on some critical areas of the proposed law, he pointed out that the bill is open to debate and public hearing on increasing the number of hectares of land for agricultural activities from five hectares as stated in the bill to even 20 hectares, in which water usage will not be charged.

“Any farmland that needs water to run and is above five hectares is commercial. But this is also open to discussions, since the bill is still with the National Assembly.

“There is still openings for discussions from five hectares to 20 hectares depending on the agricultural activity the farmer will undertake on that land.

“Five hectares is for subsistence farming for the farmer and his or her family to have food to eat, while the farmer takes water free of charge,” he added.

He said: “And this is also the constitutional provision that is going to guard against any conflict, which arises between one state or the other. It is the Federal Government that is expected to look at those problems.

“It is not about the Federal Government monopolising this, but we also have a lot of examples; the airspace is under the purview of the Federal Government then we have the Trunk A Roads that transverse the states, which is under the purview of the Federal Government.”