Bill is not in the national interest, argues Michael Owhoko

There are strong indications that the National Water Resources Bill 2020 will soon be reintroduced to the National Assembly. If adopted, communities and people living along the country’s waterfronts, especially the Niger Delta region, Lagos State and other aquatic areas of the country, will be deprived of their main source of water. subsistence – fishing.

In addition, the 13% oil diversion fund from offshore fields accruing to the riparian states may also be confiscated from the federal government. Over 80 percent of the riparian communities have offshore land in the Niger Delta region.

The bill seeks to give ownership, control and management of surface and groundwater to the federal government. Implicitly, all waters of streams, lakes, sea, rivers, subsoils (boreholes), riverbeds and riverbanks found in and around any community in Nigeria become the exclusive property and owned by the federal government, which puts water under the exclusive legislative list.

Therefore, it will become illegal for people living in coastal areas to fish or use the river for any other purpose without the permission and permission of the federal government, the new owner of all water bodies in the country. In addition, no person or company will be allowed to dump sewage into the river without permission from the federal government. The process is to be managed by the Nigerian Water Resources Regulatory Commission.

Part of the Commission’s responsibilities is to grant an authorization or license to water users for a given period against payment of a fee. The Commission, which has the power to renew, suspend or cancel any license issued, also has an obligation to determine the cost.

This means that poor residents of riparian communities must apply for a license, pay the required cost and obtain approval before they can engage in commercial fishing or any other activity in their own ancestral territorial waters. Any community that does not respect these criteria will be sanctioned for illegal encroachment.

In addition, these riparian communities, especially those without land mass who use the river bank for domestic activities such as washing, and occasionally for other purposes, will pay for the discharge of waste into the river.

The flaws and toxicity of the bill can also be seen from its violation of Supreme Court rulings affirming the powers of state governments over inland waterways and physical planning, with the exception of the Law on l land use which confers ownership of land on state governors. The bill is an intruder designed to take over the powers of the state.

From the content, it is evident that the bill is bad, and men and women of good conscience with fear of God, must come together to ensure that it is rejected, otherwise the story will will register as accomplices of this diabolical plan to deprive communities in the coastal areas of their territories, fishing activities and livelihoods.

The river bank of a coastal community is an extension of its territory. In law, whoever owns the land owns the resources therein, and this principle is supported by the Ad Coelum doctrine. How to expropriate the territory belonging to a riparian community and cede it by force to a regulator, a foreigner, for commercial purposes?

The occupation of the riparian communities is fishing, and this is what they know and do for a living, either as subsistence or as commerce. By this means, they provide food, shelter, clothing, education and other basic necessities for themselves and their dependents.

If the source of livelihood for these helpless coastal communities is removed, what will they depend on as human beings? It is absurd that a government that has failed to ensure their well-being and security is now using the law to dispossess them of their territorial waters and source of income. Indeed, the bill is a study on the administration of malicious intent.
Throughout my teenage years in Warri I lived practically by the river where we did fishing drills from which money was generated for maintenance. With this bill, what will millions of families do now in waterfront areas whose lives depend on fishing for their survival?

God, in his infinite mercy, knows why he has provided a natural habitat for each community with means of survival. Those in the Sahel region are known to keep cattle. Those in the rainforest are good at farming while those in the coastal areas are famous for fishing. Each community is endowed, thus depriving coastal communities of their commerce amounts to undermining their existence and their basic human rights. Water, like earth, is a gift from God to man as part of his inheritance. To deprive it would be to distort the celestial orchestration.

The government must clearly define its priority. A country facing a growing poverty index (inflation and unemployment), insecurity, corruption and capital flight, leading to acute poverty and frustration, cannot make water resources a priority . There are enough laws on water resources. The Water Resources Act, the River Basin Development Authority Act, the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act and the National Water Resources Institute Act are already in place .
A law that seeks to strip a people of their heritage, properties and sources of income with the capacity to push them deeper into the abyss of poverty cannot be considered to be in the national interest of the country. , except for secret reasons to advance the course of sectional interest.

Dr. Owhoko, journalist and author, is the editor of Media Issues, an online newspaper based in Lagos

The reintroduction of a bill in the Ninth National Assembly that has already been defeated on national interest by the Eighth Assembly is suspect. Like the botched Rural Grazing Areas Bill (RUGA), the desperate pressure for passage of the water bill by vested interests in the north-central is a trap to gain a grip on the country’s water fronts across the country, particularly in the Niger Delta regions. .

And the motivation behind the recklessness and confidence with which the authors of this bill call for its passage is rooted in their conviction that they will be right in the National Assembly because of the demographics of the country and the delimitation structure. policy that is unfairly biased in favor of the North.

The quest for sectorial domination without consideration for equity and justice in the framework of the national interest, jeopardizes the unity of the country and pushes it to the brink of the abyss. As equal actors, it is imperative to respect each other’s borders, for their absence will engender mistrust and disunity.

The people of the Niger Delta, which is home to the country’s largest bodies of water, have suffered for too long and do not deserve further policies of oppression. It is enough anguish to declare the region’s oil resources as national assets, and gold otherwise, when only the people of the Niger Delta bear the brunt of the dangerous effects of exploration and development. oil production.

It is enough anguish for riparian oil communities to pay for fuel above the price at the pump due to the failure of the Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) created to administer uniform fuel prices across the country. country to exclude them from their network, explaining why the person from Bodinga, Sokoto State buys cheaper fuel than the person from Epebu, an oil-producing colony in Bayelsa State.

It is enough anguish to live in dilapidated homes in riverside oil communities spawned by poverty and the impact of seismic explosions and corrosion resulting from oil exploration activities. Financing the rehabilitation of infrastructure in riparian oil communities by oil companies as is currently done for the Northeast region will not be a bad idea. The oil companies, based on guidelines from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), are currently planning an annual budget to finance the rehabilitation of schools, homes, hospitals and other infrastructure destroyed by Boko Haram in the Borno State and other parts of the Northeast region.

Rather than looking for ways to ease the burden on waterfront oil areas and people living along the waterfront, the government is sponsoring a bill that will multiply their yoke. The bill should be rejected, trashed and thrown away.

Dr. Owhoko, journalist and author, is the editor of Media Issues, an online newspaper based in Lagos

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