A human rights activist and legal practitioner, Comrade Cleric Alaowei, has warned the Federal Government and the National Assembly to stop further hearing on the controversial water bill, saying that “the inimical bill if passed to the law would fuel fresh oil war in Niger Delta region.”
Comrade Alaowei, who is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, gave the warning in a signed statement titled “Passage of Water Resources Bill will resume militancy in the Niger Delta”, copies of which were made available to journalists in Warri on Monday.
The bill, according to the human rights activist, was allegedly made to steal the waterfronts of Niger Delta people and deprive the people of their livelihoods.
He alleged that the bill was being programmed “to confer ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the FG such as the petroleum resources which was stolen through such tricks”.
Alaowei declared, “Reintroducing the Bill to the 9th National Assembly that was twice rejected on national interest by the 8th Assembly and earlier by this 9th Assembly is suspicious. Like the botched Rural Grazing Areas Bill, the desperate push for the passage of the Water Bill by vested interests in the core North is a snare to have a hold on the country’s waterfronts, particularly in the Niger Delta areas.”
He expressed concern that the nation was awakened with consternation that the National Water Resources Bill 2020 had been reintroduced at the Lower House of the National Assembly by Hon. Sada Soli.
The statement read partly, “We are quite aware that the National Water Resources Bill was first introduced into the National Assembly in 2017 by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and passed by the Lower House but the Senate failed to concur. The bill was again reintroduced in the 9th House of Representatives by the same Sada Soli in July 2020. However, the proposed inimical legislation again suffered a setback.
“Just the way we have been opposing the passage of the obnoxious and draconian bill from inception, there’s no doubt that if passed into law, communities, and people living along waterfronts in the country, particularly in the Niger Delta Region, Lagos State, and other aquatic areas in the country, will be deprived of their major source of livelihood which is fishing.
“The Bill aims to confer ownership, control, and management of surface and underground waters on the FG like what they did in the petroleum resources. Implicitly, all waters in streams, lakes, sea, rivers, underground (boreholes), river beds, and banks found in and around any community in Nigeria becomes the exclusive preserve and property of the Federal Government, bringing water under the Exclusive Legislative List.
“Even if Hon. Sada Soli said he has removed the controversial clauses in the Bill, in our holistic overview of the entire law at the face value, we are quite sure that it will prohibit people living in the coastal areas to carry out fishing or use the river for any other purposes in the exercise of riparian rights without authorisation and permission of FG, the new owner of all water bodies in the country. Again, no person(s) or company will be allowed to discharge wastewater into the river without the authorisation of FG. The process is to be managed by Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission.
“On critical analysis of the Bill, we got to know that the proposed Water Resources Regulatory Commission’s responsibility amongst others is to grant permission or license to water users for a particular period upon payment of a fee. The commission has the power to renew, suspend or cancel any license it has issued. Again, it also has the obligation to determine the cost.
“The danger therein is that the Niger Delta people will once again be colonised by the Nigerian government through legislative intervention. There’s no gainsaying the fact that the poor riverine community dwellers must apply for a license, pay the required cost and obtain approval before they can carry out commercial fishing activities or any other businesses in their ancestral territorial waters. Any community that fails to meet these criteria will be penalised for illegal encroachment.
The statement added, “The people of Niger Delta, who play host to the largest bodies of water in the country, have suffered for too long and do not deserve further oppressive policies. It is enough anguish to declare oil resources in the region as national assets, while the Niger Delta people alone bear the burden of the hazardous effect of environmental degradation and despoliation arising from oil exploration and production.”