BY IGNATIUS AIFUWA
Little knowledge is always dangerous. It leads to wrong readings, perception and action on a particular issue. Ignorance was described by John Foster in 1821 as “waste howling wilderness” to which many people have been consigned for lack of knowledge. This seems to be what is happening to many Nigerians on the issue of the National Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly – while they have not had the time to read the provisions of the Bill, they have found the time to imbibe the personal views of those who deliberately want to castigate the bill for self-serving reasons.
The gullible members of the public can be educated and saved from ignorance, but it seems there is nothing one can do about those oppose the Bill for their selfish interests and have, therefore, taken a path to perdition.
To bring Nigerians out of John Foster’s wildness, the Ministers of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and his counterpart from the Ministry of Water Resources, Suleiman H. Adamu, addressed joint a press conference on 22nd September 2020. This is necessary and commendable for two reasons. First, ignorance is human nature, after all the state of the advancement scientific inquiry depends critically on asking questions about what we do not yet know. Secondly, our decisions, as human, are most of the time set against the background of our massive ignorance about the past (past water resource laws, for example), the present (2020 National Water Resource Bill) and the future (which we all can anticipate or forecast based on past and present realities).
I don’t know if one or all the ministers were once class room teachers; because the
Pedagogical approach they took to remove our ignorance is superb. They carefully collected the various ignorantly construed misgivings expressed in the public domain and address them respectively.
But before I recast the lines of these minister-teachers at that memorable press conference, let me lift the veil and reveal, for those who don’t know, some of the achievements of Engr. Suleiman Adamu since he assumed office as minister of Water Resources.
The Ministry’s activities under the leadership of Engr. Adamu have been guided by the National Water Resources Master plan (2015 – 2030); United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and the Water Sector Roadmap (2016 – 2030).
The River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) have now been strategically positioned to facilitate implementation of the National Food Security programme and support employment opportunities. The RBDAs are being constantly revitalized to deliver on their mandate, to the extent that core and relevant professionals are appointed to the headship of the Agencies.
For optimal utilization of River Basin Development Agencies, the Ministry is expanding hectares for irrigation farming in Ejule-Ojebe, Gari, Bakalori, Kano River, Hadeja valey and Duku-lade basins toalling 55,000 Ha from 2016-date.
The Ministry fully implemented the Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) Action Programme in the last 12 months where 34 water supply projects have been completed, 159 rural water supply schemes in the North East, IDP camps and some Federal institutions and establishments were constructed, 895 water supply schemes in 10 States of Imo, Katsina, Jigawa, Plateau, Zamfara, Sokoto, Ondo, Osun, Delta and Bauchi are under construction, rehabilitation and upgrade leading to additional 2.4 million Nigerians gaining access to Water Supply in the last 12 months.
The Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) is another flag-ship initiative of this administration where the Federal Government and the States come in partnership to provide water supply in the country, this initiative has led 22 State Governments to endorse the PEWASH protocols while 11 more States have recently signed up bringing the total to 33 states.
The Ministry inherited 116 on-going and abandon projects. The Hon. Minister categorized these into high, medium and low priorities in an effort to tackle the litany of abandoned project. The result is 12 high priority projects have been completed and commissioned across the country.
In order to aid diversification of the economy, guarantee food security and create employment a National Irrigation Development Programme was initiated in 2016 as part of the Water Sector Road map. It is aimed at, among others establishing additional 100,000Ha of irrigated farmland by 2020 and achieve a total of 500,000Ha by 2030 and an additional 1,000,000Ha of irrigable land to be developed by the private sector and State Governments by 2030.
The World Bank is supporting the implementation of Transforming Irrigation Management in Nigeria Project (TRIMING) with a credit facility of US$495million. The Project involves rehabilitation/expansion of about 42,000Ha of irrigation land under the first phase at Bakalori, Kano River, Hadejia valley, Dadin Kowa,and Middle Rima irrigatin projects to be completed by 2022.
Now back to the press-conference and how the duo ministers addressed the fears of Nigerians on the 2020 National Water Resource Bill.
The starting point was for the ministers, was to insist that “there is nothing new” about the bill, to the extent that it was, indeed, an amalgamation of several past Acts on the subjects. These include:
• Water Resources Act, Cap W2 LFN 2004
• The River Basin Development Authority Act, Cap R9 LFN 2004
• The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, Cap
• N1100A, LFN 2004 and
• National Water Resources Institute Act, Cap N83 LFN 2004
For clarity, they also posed and answered the burning question: Why have the laws being re-packaged? They premised this on the need to “bring them in line with current global trends as well as best practices in Integrated Water Resources
Management (IWRM),” with the overall objective of achieving efficient management of the water resources sector for the economic
development of Nigeria and the well-being of its citizens.
Nigeria’s water resources are enormous, but only when these are professionally and efficiently managed can their full economic potential be realized and serve the purposes of:
• Domestic and non-domestic use
• Irrigation for agricultural purposes, including fishery
• Generation of hydro-electric energy,
• Navigation and transportation
For these, the nation’s water resources need to be protected, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner. These are the intentions of proponents of the Bill, and necessitate the imperative of the creation of an enabling environment for public; promotion of private sector investment; establishment of licensing frameworks for financing of the water sector.
According to the ministers, the disturbing part of the whole controversy is that many of those criticizing the Bill might not have read its detailed provisions. The statement then tackles the wrong notions fueling the criticisms as follow:
a) Rather than seeking to “take over the nation’s water resources by licensing and commercializing the use of water” the Bill is only affirming the regulations that commercial borehole drillers obtain a License from the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and the NWRI, Kaduna. However, the Bill is assigning the role of provision of database as a requirement by NWRI to States, under delegation of the National regulator, the Water Resources Regulatory Commission.
b) There is nothing unusual about a borehole driller, whether corporate or individual, who is technically-competent submitting technical assessment before being granted a license
c) On critics’ contention that the Bill is illegal, citing the Supreme Court which held that the power of physical planning in any state of the Federation is exclusively vested in the state government and that the National Assembly lacks power to legislate on the physical planning outside the FCT, the ministers said a Physical Planning Bill should not be confused with a Water Resources Bill!
Other concerns the ministers educated us on include:
a) The assertion that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Federal Government does not have the power to approve or issue licence for digging boreholes in any part of the country
b) Communities on River Banks are guaranteed undisturbed use of water as stated in Section 3 of the Bill. Also, all occupiers of Land are guaranteed the right of abstraction for domestic and sustenance, whether by borehole or rivers. Section 3 reiterates the right of persons to continue to access water without charge for subsistence and preserves existing customary rights to water.
c) The intention of the Bill is not to take the resources of a certain part of the country for the use of herders. In other words, that the Federal Government is seeking to implement RUGA by subterfuge.
d) The Bill reiterates the fact that Land can only be acquired by any of the institutions established in accordance with the Land Use Act. Almost all the Institutions have State Representatives.
e) The Regulatory Commission Board comprises representatives of the six-geo political regions. The State level basins management includes representatives of each state in the Basin.
f) The fear of “water wars” in the country is unfounded, since this is a phenomenon usually associated with relationships between countries.
In view of the dynamics between knowledge and ignorance and the competing and contrasting worldviews, coupled with the dirty politicking that shapes our polity, it is always good to spend quality time and budget to carry the populace along. This is to ensure that the intent and purpose of policies and laws government are proposing understood by the public.
Our ministers have, by their collaboration on the press conference, acknowledged the fact that our decisions, as humans, must come upon against massive ignorance; and that, to unveil that ignorance requires timely efforts to educate the citizenry.
The press conference in question was, therefore, one good way to do that–a masterstroke.
Aifuwa (Ph.D) writes from Abuja
Source: The Cable