October 4, 2023

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WRB: “The law proposed could have been a dressed-up Military Decree” — Oby Ezekwesili


CEM REPORT | The proposed Water Resources bill (WRB0 has continued to face stiff rejection from various quarters. Fresh rejection of the bill comes from former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili.

The former minister took to her Twitter handle to state that the legislation has the potential to deepen over-centralisation of resources in the federal government.

Ezekwesili via her tweet urged the National Assemblies not to pass the bill explaining that there was no basis to add to the federal government’s responsibilities with its poor performance in handling centrally managed resources.

“I have read through the Water Resources Bill and sincerely advise @nassnigeria @SPNigeria @NGRSenate @DrAhmadLawan @HouseNGR @SpeakerGbaja to not pass it,” she stated in the tweets, adding, “There’s simply too much going on in those proposals that must be unpacked. Deepening centralisation? No please.”

“How well has the Center- that is, the Federal Government @NigeriaGov performed on all centralised management of resources and institutions that are best localised?”

She compared the bill to a military decree noting that reading through the bill comes with a “serious headache”.

“The intent, content and tone showed a complete lack of capacity to learn from our present failures in Governance. The law proposed could have been a dressed-up Military Decree. Please don’t pass it @nassnigeria.”

She further added that the bill lacked the “capacity to research, propose, dialogue and design effective laws that help us govern our Shared Assets like waters, efficiently and equitably, in our Federation”.

She appealed to both chambers “not rush the Water Resources Bill” adding that “It would be another Frankenstein Monster that will do the country no good.”

Ezekwezili joins a growing list of other prominent Nigerians, including Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, who have spoken against the bill.

Recall that the Water Resources Bill was introduced to the National Assembly in 2016 by then Chairman of House Committee on Water Resources, Ahman Pategi. However, an executive bill was later introduced in 2017, which was passed by the House but rejected by the Senate.

The bill resurfaced in 2020 on the floor of the House and was referred to the Committee. Two months after, the House was forced to rescind its decision after a point of privilege raised by Hon. Ben Mzondu, who cited procedural error in the reintroduction of the bill.

Last month, the bill was regazetted by the Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli (APC, Katsina). He said that the bill is a reviewed version approved by the governors.

However, the governors, in a communique issued at the end of the  5th teleconference meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), rejected the bill.

“It is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the communique reads in part.

Last week, Mr Soli announced that the copies of the bill will be shared with members of the House for thorough scrutiny by the members.

Highlights of the Bill

The bill seeks to put the right to surface and underground water affecting more than one state in the hands of the federal government.

States are allowed to make provisions for the use, management and control of water resources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state in line with guidelines provided by the bill.

The bill proposes getting authorisation in the form of licences for accessing water for commercial use but grants free access without prior authorisation for household water consumption, water for livestock, subsistence farming and customary use.

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Also, the bill seeks to establish the National Council on Water Resources with the Minister of Water Resources as Chairman and Commissioners of Water Resources of states as members of the council.

Furthermore, the bill seeks to establish the National Water Resources Regulatory Commission. One of the responsibilities of the commission includes granting licences for use of water across state lines.

Section 62(c) provides that a licence must be obtained for the construction of boreholes for commercial purposes.

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