Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has, for the third time, pushed for the approval of a water bill which has been highly criticised by coastal states of the Niger Delta.
After two failed attempts, in 2017 and in 2020, Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli is now sponsoring the same bill albeit under a different name: “A Bill for an Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for Trans Boundary Water Resources in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Development, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Inter-State Surface Water and Groundwater Resources; and For Related Matters, 2022.”
Stakeholders, however, claim that it is essentially the same bill that has already twice been rejected. Nigeria is a federation of states, each with their own ethnic make-up and many with different perspectives on water management depending on whether they are part of the Niger Delta. Critics say that this bill is an attempt at a power grab from the federal government as it tries to take control of all waterways which are currently under the control of the states.
There are also concerns that this centralisation of water management and policy making will undermine certain specific ethnic groups. This is of special concern given the already existing friction between farmers and roaming herdsmen. As taking control of waterways would also imply taking control of the surrounding land, Nigerians are concerned that this will mean they will no longer be able to use the water in their property without the consent of the federal government in Abuja.
Ken Robinson, a spokesperson for Pan Niger Delta Forum, an organisation representing peoples of the Niger Delta, said: ““The people of the Niger Delta region, particularly of the South-south geopolitical zone had rejected the Water Resources Bill from the beginning and our position has not changed; it remains rejected.” “That bill is not only obnoxious, but draconian and imperialistic. It is an unnecessary evil. That was why it attracted wild condemnation when it was first introduced.” he added.