Are some of the clauses of the new ‘Water Resources Bill’ a back door to resurrect the Grazing Bill?

Many Nigerian news outlets, including The Punch, Nigeria Business News and The Nation have commented on the new Nigerian “Executive Water Resources Bill”. Their comments have focused on three contentious Clauses of the Bill:  Three, Four and Five:

“The right to the use, management and control of all surface water and groundwater affecting more than one State pursuant to Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part l of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, and as set out in the First Schedule to this Act, together with the beds and banks, is vested in the Government of the Federation to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

“As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, the Federal Government, acting through the Minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.

“States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the state but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and this Act.”

One can understand the concerns of those who have written against these clauses because of the political situation in the country. An earlier Bill to provide for grazing reserves for herdsmen all over the country, including far South where cattle is not generally owned, was defeated. There, however, have continued to be confrontations between herdsmen and farmers which have led to killings by herdsmen in several communities.

In an ideal situation, a Water Resources Bill should not contain contentious clauses that look ordinary when the background political history of the country for which the Bill is being proposed is not rigged or something out of the ordinary.

The Federal Government, an amalgamation of diverse nationalities may have finally got rid of military regimes but the years of military’s “command-and-control” system has rendered it a pseudo- presidential system.  This was how the Abacha regime created 774 Local Government Authorities (LGAs) by fiat without rational basis for doing so. The orphan of the Abacha regime has been the basis on which subsequent governments have operated.

The military also tinkered with the creation of River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) without proper consideration of their functions and responsibilities vis-à-vis those other water resources institutions in the country.

These RBDAs should ideally be facilitators of the activities of other water resources institutions rather than project-executing institutions. In their bid to be project executors, the RBDAs have, in a number of cases, duplicated the activities of other institutions without coordination. This has led to a lot of waste in resources with many projects wasting away in several states without the states being aware of them.

Ideally, in the literature of integrated water resources management, water resources should be managed on the basis of a ‘unit river basin,’ which, at the smallest level, can  mean the basin of a small river common to two neighbouring settlements,  going up all the way to mean a river that could be common to multiple states in Nigeria. [Internationally, a ‘unit river basin’ could be common to multiple countries.]

However, this has not been the case in Nigeria. In the unwholesome pseudo presidential system the country operates, any bill that gives the central Government outright control without clear limiting conditions will cause a lot of conflicts.

Rather than the centrall Government  assuming management and control of interstate rivers and aquifers, it should facilitate the joint management of such resources by the states blessed with such resources.

In the USA’s government system after which the Nigerian governance system is supposedly patterned, there are water rights and water laws which form the basis for the management of the country’s water resources. The Federal Government of the USA is not structured like Nigeria’s Federal Government, and it does not practice a unitary system.

For example, the water of the Colorado River Basin is managed on the basis of a Compact negotiated between the “basin states”, not dictated by Washington. The Compact apportioned Colorado River water between Upper and Lower Basin states and, as a result, is considered a defining document in Colorado River management. In this example the USA Federal Government does not control and manage the waters of this huge river basin.

Nigeria should borrow a leaf from how this is done. In other words Nigeria’s central government should serve as a facilitator in developing compacts between states that share interstate rivers just as international bodies such as the UN or the World Bank serve as facilitators in the management of international Rivers/waters such as the River Niger and Lake Chad. They do not manage such water bodies for the riparian Nations.


Interstate River Banks and Interstate Aquifers

There is the need to avoid glossing over this new Bill for at least two contentious issues: interstate river banks and interstate aquifers.

Interstate river banks:  The waters of a river can be classified as interstate because the river flows through several states. The river bank DOES NOT flow. It is physically fixed where it is located and cannot be interstate. For example, the banks of the River Niger inside Nigeria cannot be claimed by any upstream riparian. Furthermore, the management of the shores of Lake Chad inside Nigeria cannot be managed by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) although the LCBC could advice the government of Nigeria on proper management of the lake shores if the quality of the water resources of Lake chad will be impacted through improper use of the lake shores.

The second issue of interstate aquifers requires a high degree of mapping of aquifers that are common to more than one state especially in the sedimentary rock areas of the country.  This will require that aquifer boundaries be properly defined. Detailed hydrogeologic mapping of the degree required for this kind of exercise is yet to be carried out in Nigeria which makes it impossible to determine the riparian states for such aquifers. Furthermore, the government should also merely serve as facilitator and technical advisory body in managing interstate aquifers.

As river banks are fixed physically throughout the course of any river, any idea of the river and the land forming the bank in the river’s journey is therefore absurd but considering the enthusiasm of the central government to acquire grazing reserves, critics of this Bill are justified to cry out because we cannot be sure that the clause(s) that vest management and control of river banks – though an impossibility in this case – will not be a back door to resurrect the “Grazing Reserve Bill.”

3rd June 2018.

DEPO ADENLE, PH.D. (HYDROGEOLOGY) is a retired Water Resources expert, and sends this from Ibadan.

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