The Water Resources Bill:   An Instrument for the Expropriation of the Aboriginal Water Rights of Nigerians

By Priye S. Torulagha

The National Water Resources Bill is reminiscent of the “African Pride” oil bunkering ship.  The notorious or mysterious ship had the uncanny ability to appear and disappear while in the custody of the Nigerian Navy during the heydays of massive oil bunkering by ocean-going vessels.  The Nigerian Navy intercepted the ship several times and detained it while it was engaged in its inglorious bunkering operations.   It was rumored that the ship had the uncanny ability to disappear and reappear because it was owned and operated by some of the most powerful individuals in Nigeria, hence the Nigerian Navy had much difficulty in stopping its disappearing acts.  Similarly, the National Water Resources Bill, like the cattle colony or RUGA, seems to have many lives comparable to the mysterious “African Pride.”

It keeps appearing on the floor of Nigeria’s National Assembly after Nigerians had made it clear that they do not want it as part of their laws.  Thus, the bill had been rejected twice, during the 8th and in the current 9th National Assemblies.  It should be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari first submitted the National Water Resources Bill on April 11, 2017, to the 8th National Assembly and it failed to pass due to its controversial nature.  Then, Hon. Sada Soli, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Water Resources, resubmitted the proposal again on July 12, 2020, to the House of Representatives and it was rejected on  technical grounds on  July 23, 2020.   Despite being rejected twice, like a cat with many lives, the bill suddenly reappeared again in the National Assembly on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, when Hon. Sada Soli, resubmitted it for consideration.  Since the bill keeps reappearing, some Nigerians believed that like the “African Pride”, it is sponsored by some of the most powerful individuals in the country, including President Buhari.  Thus, just as the Nigerian Navy was not able to stop the African Pride on numerous occasions, it also seems that the National Assembly is not able to put a stop to the reappearance of the National Water Resources Bill after the bill had been rejected twice.

Following the belief that cats have nine lives, some Nigerians are convinced that the Water Resources Bill is actually a reincarnation of the cattle colony, grazing reserve, Rural Grazing Area (RUGA), and the National Livestock Transformation Plan ( NLTP) because it is intended indirectly to achieve the same goal (“Water Resources Bill, recipe for wars.” 2202, July 5).  Based on this perspective, if passed, the law will allow cattle herders to spread around the waterways of the country under the guise that the rivers, creeks, lakes, streams, and any body of surface and underground water in Nigeria belong to the Federal Government. Likewise, if passed, the states, local governments, and indigenous ethnic groups will automatically forfeit their rights to use the water resources in their communities without first obtaining permission, in some cases, from a national agency.

Purpose of This Article

The purpose of this article is to identify the reasons which prompt a considerable number of Nigerians to doubt the sincerity of the National Water Resources Bill, thereby vehemently opposing it. It is argued here that the bill is intended to achieve a goal other than the enhancement of Nigeria’s national interest since it is mostly promoted by members of the same ethnic group in a country with more than 300 nationalities.  Therefore, it is an instrument for the expropriation of the aboriginal water rights of Nigerians.

The National Water Resources Bill is officially known as “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,” is a very tricky proposition.  It is designed to nationalize or centralize the control, regulation, and management of all surface and underground water resources, including riverbanks in Nigeria under the authority of the Federal Government.  A federal agency or commission known as the Integrated Water System Management Commission will be solely responsible for regulating and managing water resources, under the Ministry of Water Resources. In some cases, citizens might need permits from the commission to use some land or dig boreholes.

The Federal Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu tried to justify the passage of the bill by saying that it was originally proposed in 2006 during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.  He added that the waters in Nigeria are already being regulated by the Integrated Water System Management Commission, so, there is nothing unique about the Water Resources Bill, apart from the fact that it is intended to effectively integrate all services dealing with water resources management in the country. He also indicated that all the water resources commissioners in the 36 states of the federation have approved or supported the bill.  He added that he is working with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and the National Assembly to pass the bill (Majeed, 2021, August 5).

The Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Sada Soli, who resubmitted the bill maintained that those who criticize the bill are doing so without having read the proposal to understand the content.  He insisted that the bill must be passed because it is good for national development (Odizu, 2020, August 9).

The Reasons for the Opposition to the National Water Resources Bill

It seems that a large proportion of Nigerians are not convinced of the intentions of the bill.  Many Nigerians use terms like obnoxious, repugnant, draconian, odious, provocative, evil, and so forth, to refer to it because it is viewed as a Machiavellian plan to usurp the water resources rights of the Nigerian people, hence the strong opposition to the bill.   The bill is opposed for several reasons.

First, even if the National Water Resources Bill was originally proposed in 2006 during the presidency of Chief/Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the bill has taken an ominous dimension, thereby negating the original intention to strengthen the management of water resources in the country.  During Obasanjo’s presidency, federal character existed, and decisions were made through consultation with various segments of the Nigerian population.  Evidently, Nigerians were not apprehensive of any surreptitious plan to take away their natural right to use surface and underground water resources. 

The requirement for a national character in national employment disappeared when President Muhammadu Buhari hired mostly members of his family, ethnic group, and religion into all the critical national security positions in a multiethnic and multireligious country.  The nepotization, tribalization, and Islamization were immediately followed by the effort to create cattle colonies or RUGA throughout the country for members of only one ethnic group in Nigeria.  Additionally, the lack of political will on the part of the administration to utilize the security forces (police, army, air force, and the DSS) to decisively crush Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP), Ansaru, marauding herdsmen and bandits creates doubt about the sincerity of the administration on the Water Resources Bill. Thus, the failure to use decisive action in dealing with those who are terrorizing Nigerians creates the impression that there is a hidden agenda to accomplish a goal that is different from the strategic interest of Nigeria.  This explains why the 2006 effort by President Obasanjo cannot be compared with the current effort because the political dynamics have changed dramatically to cause most Nigerians to view the matter as an existential threat.

Second, the point made by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, and Hon. Sada Soli, the Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on Water Resources that the bill does not contain any information dealing with cattle colonies or RUGA but is focused on ensuring effective management of the water resources of the country is not convincing also.  The reason is that almost every law is written in a manner that allows for different interpretations, despite the existence of the concept of precedent in judicial decision-making. If the bill is passed, there is no doubt that those who support the establishment of cattle colonies or RUGA will argue that since the Federal Government owns all water resources in the country, cattle herders have a right to settle in any part of a river or waterway since they are Nigerians and are constitutionally protected. 

The fact that every law is interpreted and enforced differently in Nigeria is attested by the fact that when President Buhari made an Executive Order requiring people to turn in certain categories of prohibited weapons, the Nigerian Police Force responded by passing an order requiring Nigerians to turn in those firearms (NPF, 2018, February 26). As soon as the order was given, law-abiding Nigerians with such firearms duly turned in their guns to the NPF to avoid infringing the law, but the NPF never made any effort to enforce the law against cattle herders who openly carry sophisticated military weapons.  Thus, the police only enforce the law against non-herders while herders walk around with their firearms. The double standard creates the impression that herders are above the law and can carry such weapons openly while other Nigerians cannot do so. Any indigenous Nigerian found with such firearms is likely to be arrested but herdsmen walk totally free with their guns.

The Nigerian Constitution calls for the separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.  However, in the 9th National Assembly, the legislative branch decided to nullify its constitutional authority by acting as if it is part of the executive branch.  As a result, it fails woefully to perform its duties as the “guardian of the public purse” and the watchdog (oversight) over the executive branch.  Due to the failure to operate based on the tenets of the constitution, the legislative branch has the habit of approving every financial loan that the executive branch asks for. Similarly, it approves almost every ministerial candidate submitted by the president without doing thorough vetting to ensure their qualifications and suitability. Moreover, the National Assembly allows the president to submit candidates for ministerial positions without assigning ministerial positions to each candidate.   Likewise, even though the National Assembly is aware that the heads of the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) have repeatedly failed to submit comprehensive budget reports of what they did with the funds that they were allocated in previous years, the legislative branch continues to approve new budgets for these agencies without any sense of accountability.  The Auditor General of the Federation (AGF), Adolphus Aghughu, reported that in 2019, the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) failed to remit or account for N4.97trn (Ojo, 2021, August 25).  Despite the damning report, the legislators continued to approve budgets for the offending MDAs without sanctioning them. Thus, impunity and lawlessness are   common facets of government operations in Nigeria.

Likewise, the law can be interpreted and enforced differently as demonstrated by the manner in which Nigeria regulates and manages mineral resources in the country.  The Federal Government insists that all minerals in the country are on the Exclusive List, meaning that only the national government has the sole responsibility to regulate, control, and manage their exploration.  Yet, it is only oil and gas that are fully nationalized and controlled by the national government while solid minerals are treated to a different legal standard.  As a result, the indigenes of the Niger Delta/South-South cannot engage in the private exploration of oil and gas, but Nigerians in the North and the Southwest can explore and earn private income through the mining of gold, tin, coal, manganese, bitumen, and other solid minerals.  The police, navy, and the army are constantly on patrol in the oil region to arrest private miners of oil but the police, army, and the air force do not go on patrol to arrest private miners of gold, tin, and other solid minerals.  Private miners in the oil region are called “oil thieves” while private miners in the gold and tin regions are free to earn a living.  Thus, like in Animal Farm, all are equal, but some are superior to others. In Nigeria, the law is turned upside down to favor some and punish some.

The credit for the maximum nationalization of oil and gas after independence goes to Gen Yakubu Gowon, Chief/Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who made sure the indigenes of the oil region had no power whatsoever to determine the exploration and marketing of oil and gas in Nigeria through the enactment of various military decrees or acts.  On the other hand, the three generals did not engage in the maximum nationalization of gold, tin, coal, diamond, manganese, bitumen, and other solid minerals.  As such, Nigerians in other regions are free to mine solid minerals to earn a living, and Nigerians in the oil region are not free to mine oil and gas to make a living.  In fact, the private solid minerals mining sector has an interest group known as the Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN) to protect and enhance its business and political interests.  Hence, the association opposes a plan by the Federal Government to stop mining in order to reduce insecurity in the country (Nnodim, 2022, July 22).

Another piece of evidence to show the reckless manner in which the Federal Government runs its affairs is the way it manages the Nigerian refineries.  The refineries were built to refine crude petroleum but for some years now, the refineries have not been utilized to do so.  Instead, billions of dollars are used to import refined petroleum products while the national government continues to spend large sums of money to maintain refineries that do not produce anything.  Kingsley Jeremiah of the Guardian reported:

The whopping sum of $26.5b, which the Federal Government has so far spent on the maintenance of its loss-making 445, 000 barrels/day capacity refineries, is capable of building three new refineries of the same size going by the cost analysis of refinery projects across the world.
 
Besides, the latest approval granted by President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the Minister of Petroleum Resources for the rehabilitation of the 210, 000 barrels per day Port Harcourt
Refinery is higher than the total capital allocation to the health sector by successive governments from 2009 to 2018 (2021, March 21).

Thus, there is ample evidence to show that the Federal Government is not a  responsible and accountable agent in managing the national resources of the country.   Consequently, why should Nigerians surrender their natural rights to use water resources in their communities to the Federal Government and then turn around to beg the same national government to grant them permission to use the same water resources?

Third, due to the lack of an effective judicial system in Nigeria, the legal process is easily manipulated by the national government and the ruling elite. Moreover, the Federal Government has demonstrated through various actions and inactions, that it has a right to do what it wants regardless of the law, hence, it picks and enforces the laws it wants and ignores those judicial decisions that it does not like.  Under these circumstances, it is very dangerous to allow the Federal Government to have total control over the management of water resources.  It could use its enormous power to punish and reward Nigerians by depriving those communities which do not toe the government line by depriving them of the ability to use surface and underground water resources in their vicinities. Likewise, there is a possibility that the Federal Government might use its control of the water resources to refuse to grant licenses for water-related businesses in certain regions of the country while allowing businesses from certain regions of the country to use the water resources as much as they like since they are associates of those who wield political power. It should be recalled that oil blocks are awarded based on connections to the ruling elite.  This explains the reason indigenes of the oil region have few oil blocks while most go to those who are connected to the ruling elite from outside the oil region.

Fourth, the Water Resources Bill is viewed with suspicion by the generality of Nigerian ethnic groups because President Buhari’ tribalized the governance structure of the nation by recruiting mostly members of his ethnic group and religion into critical national government positions in a country made up of 300 or more ethnic groups.   The suspicion about the bill is deepened because only members of the same ethnic group speak and defend the efficacy of the proposal at a time in which herdsmen and bandits from the same ethnic group are violently  grabbing lands from various communities in the country. Perhaps, this prompted the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) to say that the “repeated presentation of the bill is a signal Buhari intends to flood Nigeria with displaced Fulani from the war-torn Central African Republic” (Jimoh, 2022, July 28). Hence, each time the officials speak about the bill, they create the impression that they are imposing a tribal policy on a multiethnic and multireligious nation that is likely to cause more harm than good. 

It should be recalled that Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (retd), had warned about the danger of tribalizing the national government in a public letter he wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari.  In the letter, he cited Othman Dan Fodio’s warning about the danger of tribalization:

One of the swiftest ways of destroying a Kingdom is to give preference of one particular tribe over another or show favor to one group of people rather than another. And to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near (Ukpong. 2020, May 31).

In addition, part of Col. Umar’s letter also included the following statement, “Mr. President, I regret that there are no kind or gentle words to tell you that your skewed appointments into the offices of the federal government, favoring some and frustrating others, shall bring ruin and destruction to this nation” (Ukpong, 2020, May 31).    His warning about the danger of tribalizing Nigeria through lopsided appointments was ignored.  It should also be recalled that the late Dr. Junaid Muhammed too had warned before the 2019 presidential election about a cabal dominated by members of the president’s family due to the nepotistic manner in which people were being appointed to critical positions in government.  In an interview, Dr. Mohammed warned:

If they are going to treat this country as if it was conquered by them and or by their families, you can imagine what the picture would look like, if Buhari were to be given a second term and how they are going to use our resources and how they are going to abuse power (Abuh, 2018, February 17).

By nepotizing, tribalizing, and Islamizing critical positions in the national government, the present administration sets in motion a deep suspicion that there is a hidden agenda intended to radically change the country.  Hence, the opposition to the Water Resources Bill is a product of the fear that the rivers, creeks, streams, lakes, and coastal waters would end up being tribalized and politicized to favor a particular ethnic group if the bill is passed into law.  Therefore, when the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, condemned opposition to the Bill by describing critics as “detractors sponsoring false narrative,” (Odunsi, 2022, July 19) he is simply adding to the distrust of the proposal because Nigeria is a democracy and those who do not support the passage of the bill have a right to do so.  In other words, it is undemocratic to impose a law against the general interest of the population when the proposed law is perceived to favor only one ethnic group. Instead of criticizing those who oppose the bill, what the minister needs to do is spend more time explaining and answering pertinent questions in public gatherings in order to persuade the public to accept the merit of the bill rather than castigate Nigerians as if this is a military regime that can arbitrarily impose a decree on Nigerians.  Perhaps, the minister realized that he did not present the bill in a better light previously, hence, he changed his tone and tried to explain the merit of the bill on July 23, 2022 (Ewepu, 2022, July 23). Even this effort is insufficient to convince Nigerians to give up their natural rights to use water resources in their vicinities.

Fifth, if the bill were passed, the Integrated Water System Management Commission will become the sole federal agency to regulate the use of surface and underground waters in Nigeria under the Ministry of Water Resources.  In some cases, Nigerians might be required to apply to the commission to get permission to use certain water resources.  Even villages that have for centuries utilized the water resources in and around their environments might be compelled to write and petition this commission before they dig some boreholes or use some water resources. Can anyone imagine the bureaucratic bottleneck that will take place in a country of over 200 million people if Nigerians are compelled to apply for a permit from this commission before using certain bodies of water?

Due to the strategic nature of this commission, if the bill passes into law, it is predicted that it would always be headed by someone from the power-wielding groups in the country.  Why? The reason is that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and other cattle-related interest groups are likely to use their political influence to ensure that only Nigerians who are favorable to the nomadic cattle business are appointed as the head of the commission. 

It is further predicted that those who have a different agenda in mind other than Nigeria are likely to put tremendous pressure on the Federal Government to appoint only individuals who have a strong attachment to their ideological orientation to head the Integrated Water System Management Commission. The possibility of this taking place is because since oil became a critical source for both public and private wealth in Nigeria, the oil industry has been dominated by Nigerians who are not indigenous to the Niger Delta/South-South zone. Indeed, the oil region is treated like a conquered territory.

Sixth, it is a dangerous proposition to allow the Federal Government of Nigeria to manage water resources at the present time.  The reason is that the Federal Government has never been a good manager of anything in Nigeria.  Anything it touches seems to turn into dust.  Increasingly, every governmental institution is gradually collapsing because the government is overblown, corrupt, and inefficient.  Consequently, the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, and so on and so forth, are finding it difficult to ensure the safety and security of Nigerians as marauding herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers, and jihadists wreak havoc on the Nigerian population.  For instance, 300 members of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) rode motorcycles into Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, and attacked Kuje prison for almost three hours without the army, navy, air force, and police responding to stop or apprehend them.  After completing the operation, they disappeared into thin air (“How Boko Haram attacked Kuje correctional facility,” 2022, July 6).  Mind you, Abuja is the headquarters of all the security forces in Nigeria.  The failure of the security forces to stop the attackers in Abuja is reminiscent of the failure of the security forces to stop kidnappers and bandits in Kaduna State. In fact, no state has many security bases as Kaduna.  Therefore, apart from Abuja, Kaduna is supposedly the most militarily fortified area in Nigeria. Yet, bandits, jihadists, and kidnappers have been terrorizing people in the state with little or no security countermeasures. Cheta Nwanze of Al Jazeera noted the increasing ineffectiveness of the security forces to contain the spiraling violent killings “The attacks on Buhari’s convoy and the deputy commissioner in Katsina state, meanwhile, clearly showed that Nigeria’s security forces are no longer able to protect themselves – let alone civilians – against bandits in certain areas of the country (2022, July 27).  The failure of the security services compelled Chief E. K. Clark to suggest to President Buhari to:

urgently convene a sober ‘National Discourse on National Security’ of former Heads of State, Presidents, statesmen and leaders, women and selected youths in Nigeria to work out a consensual and amicable resolution of this long, seemingly intractable, challenge afflicting the country since the entry of Boko Haram menace in the national psyche (Amaize, 2019, May 27).  

Consequently, it is unwise for Nigerians to surrender their right to use water resources in their communities to the Federal Government where the process is likely to be bureaucratized, politicized, and corrupted to frustrate Nigerians.  It is a fact that for decades, the Federal Government of Nigeria has not been able to provide reliable electricity to its citizens.  The energy situation is actually getting worse. Under the circumstances, why should Nigerians agree to surrender their natural water rights to the national government?

Seventh, Nigerians strongly oppose the Water Resource Bill, like the cattle colonies, grazing reserves, RUGA, grazing routes, and the National Livestock Transformation Plan because it is designed primarily to benefit members of a single ethnic group and not the generality of Nigerians.  This view is reinforced by the president’s persistent recruitment of mostly members of his ethnic group into all critical national security positions in a country that is made up of about 300 or more ethnic groups (Orebe, 2202, July 10). Moreover. Most indigenous Nigerians have no problem with the current water management system which is consistent with the traditional African communal system where communities are free to use the rivers, lakes, creeks, and streams in their vicinities without interference from any government. 

Eighth, it is a fact that in Africa, every ethnic group has a contiguous territorial space that it calls its own.  As such, they have a natural right to utilize the resources in their territorial spaces to ensure their livelihood and existence.  This view of natural rights is consistent with international law.  Resultantly, it is a violation of natural rights in international law for the Federal Government of Nigeria to attempt to take away the natural rights of the ethnic nationalities to freely use available water resources in their territories.  It should be recalled that Nigeria violated the natural rights of the people of the Niger Delta/South-South by depriving them of the right to make decisions about petroleum and gas exploration and management in their territory.  It should not attempt to violate the natural rights of indigenous Nigerians who have a right under international law to use the water resources in their communities.

Ninth, the Water Resources Bill violates the Land Use Act which gives the governors of the states the constitutional power to manage the lands in their states on behalf of their citizens.  The lands include water resources as well.  it is suspicious to say that the governors have acceded to the National Water Resources Bill without addressing the issue of water rights with their citizens.    Before the governors accede to giving the Federal Government the power to regulate water resources in the country, they must first seek the approval of their citizens since they were elected by the citizens to serve as governors. The right to use water resources in the country is a major national issue and no governor should sneakily grant approval to a national plan that is intended to strip their citizens of the right to water resources.

Before the National Assembly deliberate whether to pass the bill or not, it should allow Nigerians sufficient time to review the matter since their rights to use water resources in their communities are at stake.  Such an important issue should not be rushed through the National Assembly in a clandestine manner as if the members do not want Nigerians to know what is actually taking place. Udora Orizu, a reporter for This Day reported the reaction of the National Labor Congress toward the water resources bill:

On its part, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in a statement signed by its President, Ayuba Wabba, warned against legislative abuse or betrayal of Nigerians if the bill was passed without public engagement and scrutiny, adding that already, the sentiments expressed against the bill are too grave to be brushed off (2022, July 12).

Unfortunately, it appears that desperate measures are being taken to pass the bill despite strong opposition.  There are also speculations that the Speaker of the House, Mr. Femi Gballlljabiamila could be impeached if he fails to push the bill through the House (“Exclusive: Northern Lawmakers plot to impeach House of Reps Speaker, Gbajabiamila over controversial Water Resources Bill,” 2022, July 25).  It is hoped that those legislators in the National Assembly from the South, Middle Belt, and some parts of the North should open their eyes and not let their constituents down the way they disappointed host communities by allowing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to pass into law by giving them only three percent while approving 30 percent for frontier basin exploration.

Thankfully, to clear the air about their position on the National Water Resources Bill, the governors indicated that the bill is in contradiction to the existing constitutional provision which gives them the power to regulate and manage the lands in their states through the Land Use Act.  The Guardian reported:

Governors of the 36 states of the federation, yesterday, declared unanimous opposition to the contentious National Water Resources Bill, describing the proposed legislation as unconstitutional. They also said it failed to carry states along (Jimoh, 2022, July 28).

Tenth, if passed, the bill will be a threat to the national security of the country because it is mostly intended to diplomatically reward only nomadic cattle breeders against the general interest of the indigenous ethnic groups which have for centuries effectively manage their water resources with little or no governmental interference.  Some Nigerians infer that the bill is a population transfer scheme designed to encourage the settlement of nomadic pastoralists from the Sahel in Nigeria against the general interest of the aborigines.  In particular, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is a major proponent of the view that the bill is designed to spread cattle breeders throughout Nigeria. Ochogwu Sunday of Daily Post quoted the position of the Benue state government:

The bill, in addition to its provisions which are grossly at variance with the Land Use Act, is disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country. The bill is another version of ruga and cattle colonies whose objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock (Reintroduction of Water Resources Bill: Count us out – Benue Govt fumes,” 2022, July 3).

Eleventh, the fact that the entire water resources management system in the country will be regulated and coordinated by one government agency in a very complex country will give too much clout to whoever might oversee the commission if the bill passes. It would end up as a political football like the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC), and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) before privatization).  The president and the political party in power are likely to politicize the commission to punish those who did not vote for them.  Such a development is likely to lead to a political disaster for the country.  It is unfathomable that the Federal Government would want to create a super-agency that is likely to be bureaucratized, politicized, and corrupted to do the biddings of those who wield political power.  Even some governors might use their influence to persuade the head of the commission to prevent some communities from gaining access to water resources in their backyards without paying steeply or conceding to certain political demands. 

Twelfth, there are 300 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria.  Of this number, it seems that only members of one ethnic group want the National Water Resources Bill passed.  The fact that it is only members of a particular ethnic group in a country with more than 300 ethnic groups that want the bill passed creates the suspicion that it is part of the effort to spread cattle herders throughout Nigeria.  Many Nigerians seem to assume that it is an indirect way to establish herders’ enclaves.  The suspicion is deepened following the fact that President Buhari has invested so much political capital trying to establish cattle colonies and pass the National Water Resources Bill to fulfill his dreams and promises he made to a section of the country (Sunday, 2022, July 3). 

It is unfortunate that in a democracy, the interest of one ethnic group is viewed as being more paramount than the interests of the 299 or more ethnic groups which adamantly opposed the nationalization of water resources they have been using for centuries.

Thirteenth, the bill is intended to centralize power which is a contradiction to federalism.  In fact, Nigerians have been clamoring for the restructuring of the country with the attendant reduction of the power of the national government to enable the states and local governments to develop their economies instead of relying on central authority as if Nigeria is a communist state.  It should be recalled that it was the military that created a unitary system of government that now seems to concentrate every governmental authority at the center.   Thus, while Nigerians are calling for decentralization and functionalization of true federalism, it does not make any sense for this administration to want to centralize the management of water resources. The Afenifere, the premier Yoruba socio-cultural organization, alluded to the contradiction between citizens’ demand for decentralization and the administration’s desire to centralize water resources.  The Premium Times noted:

According to the Association, while the majority of the people are requesting more decentralisation of government, the bill is seeking more responsibilities for the Federal Government.

Afenifere noted that the National Water Resources Bill would have negative consequences and was a “cunny actions being cleverly foisted on the nation, which must be resisted by well-meaning Nigerians (“Afenifere kicks against reintroduction of National Water Resources Bill, 2022, July 22).

It is questionable that while there is an increasing call for the devolution of political power at the center, the Federal Government wants to concentrate more power in the national government by trying to impose draconian national control of water resources in a country that is democratic.  Even in the heydays of communism, the governments allowed their citizens to use water resources in their communities without undue interference, and Nigeria which has a federal system of government wants to take away the rights of the people to freely use water resources in their vicinities. A considerable number of Nigerians oppose national control because of the Federal Government’s reckless and irresponsible behavior in the management of national resources.  For instance, it took total control of oil and gas exploration, and the entire system is mired in massive corruption to the extent that the people of the Niger Delta/South-South have been pauperized, traumatized, and exposed to poisonous biochemicals that cause complicated medical maladies due to oil pollution and gas flaring. The region is probably the most polluted oil region in the world and Nigeria does not care about cleaning the pollution.

Fourteenth, the National Water Resources Bill seems to be an instrument for the expropriation and conquest of indigenous groups by rendering them powerless over the use of water resources, as the British colonial authorities did in taking over the control of mineral resources in Nigeria.  It should be recalled that part of the British effort to conquer and colonize Nigeria included a plan to render indigenous Africans powerless to use the mineral resources in their territories.  Hence, the British enacted various mining ordinances in 1906, 1907, 1910, 1914, and 1916.  For instance, the Mineral Ordinance of 1916 read:

The entire property in and control of the minerals, and mineral oils, in under or upon any land in Nigeria, and of all Rivers, streams and water courses, throughout Nigeria, is and shall be vested in the Crown, save in so far as such rights may in any case have been limited by the express grant made before the commencement of this ordinance (Raji and Abejide, 2014).

Thus, the National Water Resources Bill seems to have been adopted from the 1916 Mineral Ordinance and is slightly twisted to reflect water resources.   The similarity between the two further seems to indicate that those who crafted the current water resources bill are bent on expropriating water resources in Nigeria the way the British expropriated mineral resources in the country.  This possibility is being enhanced by the allegation that the plan to pass the National Water Resources Bill was finalized during a religious pilgrimage in a foreign country (“EXCLUSIVE: Northern Lawmakers Plot To Impeach House Of Reps Speaker, Gbajabiamila Over Controversial Water Resources Bill,” 2022, July 25

Fifteenth, perhaps, both the RUGA and the National Water Resources Bill would have passed without any controversy if President Buhari had not created the environment for their failure.  In other words, the president is a victim of his own making because he tribalized the national government. By so doing, he created the ground for suspicion on the part of other ethnic groups, hence, the adamant opposition to both schemes.  Thus, it is impossible for other nationalities in the country to accept a national policy drafted through the handiwork of only members of a single ethnic group in a multiethnic and multireligious country. The fact that the National Water Resources Bill is being pushed for passage by mostly members of the same ethnic group feeds the conspiracy theory that the bill is intended to achieve a goal that is not in the national interest of Nigeria. Consequently, it is viewed as a Trojan horse intended to expropriate the natural water rights of Nigerians.

Conclusion.

The surreptitious manner in which the National Water Resources Bill is being pushed for legislative approval after it has been rejected twice in the National Assembly indicates that the motive is driven by an agenda quite different from the strategic interest of Nigeria.  Hence, the president keeps putting pressure on the National Assembly to pass it before he leaves office.   The fact that the president keeps resubmitting it means that there is indeed a hidden agenda that the president feels he must accomplish before leaving office.

Unfortunately for the president and those who support the National Water Resources Bill, the reasons advanced to justify the passage of the bill are not convincing since it is a natural right for people all over the world to utilize the water resources in their environments without undue governmental interference.  Therefore, the motive of the bill is questionable and seems intended to take away the rights of Nigerians.  It should be reminded that the British passed mineral ordinances to expropriate mineral resources from indigenous Nigerians and render them powerless and the Nigerian military passed various petroleum decrees and or acts to expropriate oil and gas from the indigenes of the Niger Delta/South-South and render them powerless.  Now, some people are trying to pass a Water Resources Bill to expropriate water resources from indigenous Nigerians and render them powerless.  Moreover, the timing of the bill is totally out of place while insecurity is the most pressing issue that require urgent action.

The National Assembly should reject the water resources bill and focus its energy on solving insecurity, economic downturn, and massive unemployment as the country is teetering on the edge of the cliff.   The issues raised by cattle herders and Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi concerning their perilous business situation in Nigeria require a national solution spearheaded by a president who appreciates the ethnic and religious diversity of the country to develop a workable plan after consultation with stakeholders throughout the country.  The issues cannot be solved through a tribal solution crafted by members of the same ethnic group.   

References

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