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Water Resources Minister & the Water Resources Bill ~ by Olusegun Adeniyi

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On 3rd September 2020, I wrote a column regarding the controversial Water Resources Bill that had been effectively killed two years earlier by former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio before it resurfaced in the Senate.

When the column was posted on an online chat group, I was surprised when the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu joined the conversation. I had no idea that he was on the platform.

He wrote: “I would have loved to comment on this write up, if I had the assurances that Segun has actually read the contents of the draft bill and isn’t simply arriving at his judgment based on the ‘drama’ that transpired in the Senate two years ago. I would be happy to engage him and clear the air, sort of.”

The author, Olusegun Adeniyi
The author, Olusegun Adeniyi

I responded to Adamu’s jibe: “Thank you very much Honourable Minister. Although I did not read the bill before I wrote my column, I read the full presentation of the Water Resources Committee chairman, Senator Ubali Shitu which highlighted and explained most of the clauses in the bill.

“So, I did not write out of ignorance. I never do that. But I also came to my own conclusion which has been reaffirmed after reading the full bill. I find nothing new that I did not already know. It is still the same 2018 bill, and the issues remain the same.

“For instance, I referenced attempts at power grab by the federal government at a time we should be devolving powers. That much is still evident in the bill. I am almost certain that the issues raised by Akpabio will still come up in the debate of this bill when the National Assembly resumes.

“And given the toxic ethno-religious environment in the country, partly helped by some of the choices made by this government, the bill will still generate a lot of heat at the National Assembly.”

After thanking me for the explanation, Adamu also responded to an aspect of my column: “There is a schedule in the draft bill where the major rivers involved are listed. I bet more than 90% of the people shouting ‘foul’ have not read the Bill. That’s why I would rather discuss it with any individual after he/she would have read the draft.

“This bill was drafted between 2006 and 2008. So, it’s not a ‘Buhari Water Bill’. The Bill went through six town hall meetings, in each geopolitical zone, as of 2008. When I came into office and was requested by Water Stakeholders to ensure its passage at a retreat in December 2015, I first circulated it to all 36 states and received their feedback.

“Observations were incorporated into the final draft which I then presented to the National Council on Water Resources meeting of May 2016, at which all 36 commissioners responsible for water resources endorsed it. Then I presented it to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in September 2016 where it was also unanimously approved.

“Every state is of course represented at FEC. Finally, it went through another public hearing in the House of Representatives in November 2017 and passed without any rancour. Yes, I agree with Segun, it was Akpabio who tried to kill it in the Senate.

“By the way, the Water Resources Bill has nothing to do with inland waterways navigation. I will try and post a soft copy later today as passed by the House of Representatives. I really don’t understand the hysteria around it, other than just dirty politics.

“Unfortunately, many people have been sucked into it. And it’s not as if the Bill was brought back to National Assembly through the back door.

“The issue just got entangled with the 2019 elections and we ran out of time. With the good fortune that I returned as Minister of Water Resources for a second term, I was obliged to continue with the process, starting again from where we stopped.

“Let me also say that the hysteria is totally unnecessary because the Bill is just a consolidation of four existing Water laws into a single statute. The existing laws are Water Resources Act 2004; National Water Resources Institute Act; River Basin Development Authorities Act, and Nigeria Hydrological Services Act.

“Other aspects of the Bill which deal with the concept of integrated water resources management whittle down the powers of the Minister and empower citizens within a catchment to have a say in any major water resources development.

“It means, for instance, that the Minister cannot approve a major dam, irrigation or hydropower project without a consensus among stakeholders. It also strengthens regulations that would make the Water sector more attractive to private sector investment.

“Another provision deals with empowerment of farmers to maintain secondary and tertiary irrigation facilities, plus a new section for the establishment of a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Fund.

“As Minister of Water Resources, I am contented with the enormous powers bestowed on me by the existing Water Resources Act. But as a technocrat and a professional who has been involved with water issues for the past 36 years, I consider it most appropriate at this time to update our water laws and make them more effective, in accordance with global best practices and international conventions Nigeria has subscribed to.”

When others on the platform took on the Minister as to why Nigerians were not availed the information he was providing, he replied. “I do admit that our government has not been good at managing its public image, but on this score, we did everything possible to address the issue back in 2018.

“Honestly, we were taken by surprise at the negative expression that emerged from the Senate debate back then, as the Bill already had a smooth sail in the House of Representatives.

“However, although public perception matters a lot, I have taken the position that I would rather engage our legislators and other concerned individuals/interest groups/CSOs directly to explain and address their areas of concern. In the end, laws are only passed in the Legislature, not in the market square.”

Well, what Adamu forgot is that opinions in the ‘market square’ often determine what happens in the legislature.

“Two years after our online conversation, the 36 governors have rejected the bill on grounds that it “does not adequately address the interests of the states and is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” according to a statement by Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) chairman and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi.

Given my opposition to the bill, based on the same fears recently expressed by the governors, I met Adamu on Tuesday, at his instance.

He took me through the history of the bill and explained that before it was sent to the National Assembly, inputs were received from renowned experts such as Prof Lanre Fagbohun, SAN, Prof Goldface Irokalibe (a specialist in International Water Law who was said to have done the initial draft) and Prof Lekan Oyebande (a well-respected hydrologist).

Fagbohun, a member of an independent team of experts put together by the federal government “to provide an assessment of the provisions of the Bill against the backdrop of implications for relevant constitutional provisions and State powers” has argued that the governors have nothing to fear in the bill that “applies to inter-state waters alone.”

The bill, according to Fagbohun who echoes everything Adamu has been saying, is important to ensure that our water resources “are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in ways which take into account amongst other factors citizens’ right of access to safe water and basic sanitation; meeting the basic human needs of present and future generations; promoting equitable and affordable access to water and reducing poverty.”

My session with Adamu was quite stimulating, even though we were meeting for the first time. Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE), Member of the American Society of Engineers (MASCE) and Council Member of both COREN (Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria) and ACEN (Association of Consulting Engineers of Nigeria), Adamu is obviously one of the few round pegs in round holes under the current dispensation.

When he graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in 1984 at 21, Adamu was the winner of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) prize for the best final year student in Civil Engineering. He obtained his master’s in project management from University of Reading, United Kingdom.

I now understand what Adamu is trying to do with the Water Resources Bill, but he still needs to address the concerns of all critical stakeholders, especially the governors. And Adamu must also understand that even with good intentions, when it comes to public policy, securing the buy-in of “the market square” also matters!

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