Minister of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu, in this interview with TAYO TAIWO, addresses the misconceptions surrounding the Water Resources Bill which is before the National Assembly.
When you assumed office in 2015, you embarked on rigorous reforms, leading to the Water Resources Bill which is currently a controversial subject of national debate. Why is it that the bill has been greeted with opposition?
The idea behind this Water Resource Bill started around 2004. Nigeria had already subscribed to the concept of integrated water resources management, and there was a need to update our water law, or water laws as it were, to conform to this international convention of the integrated water resources management.
I said laws because, as of today, there are four existing laws in force that govern the water resources sector in the country. First is the Water Resource Act 2004 which was the Decree 101 of 1993. In 2004, the National Assembly took all the laws that it felt were relevant and transformed them into Acts. That was how it became the water resources Act 2004. We have the River Basin Development Authorities Act; we have the National Water Resources Institute Act and we have the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency Act. River Basin Act predates the water resources Act 2004, because River Basin started a long time ago. Even the water resource institute was created about 35 years ago. The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency is the new baby that was created in 2010. So, these were the four laws, or are the four laws that exist.
The experts at the time felt that instead of having these four different laws we should put them together into one statute- one book- and this is the essence of this Water Resource book. The essence is to bring those four laws instead of four different booklets or four volumes. The idea is to have one volume and then you have sections. Section one is the main provision of Water Resource act 2004. I don’t know about section two; I can’t remember why River Basin. Section three is Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency, and four is Water Resources Institute. So, you just have one document and one statue. That was the essence.
The second thing is that, based on the concept of integrated water resources management, it now requires that citizens should participate in issues related to water resources development and management of their catchment. That is to say if we want to build a dam, the communities that will be affected by the dam should also have a say. They are to be carried along in a way that everybody is happy and nobody’s rights are infringed upon because the Water Resources Act 2004 recognises that every citizen of this country has the right to water. If you look at the bill in black and white, every citizen has free access to water for his personal use, except, of course, if it is municipal water supply because you have to treat it. If they put a metre on the number you will pay because it is value-added. But if you have a stream at the front of your farm or in your house, or you have a pond in your farm, or you want to drill a borehole to provide water supply for your domestic use, you are free to do that. Nobody will stop you; it is your right, but I will come to the issue of regulation of boreholes later.
So, that is the concept of integrated water resources management. So, the government of the day at the time initiated this process; the process of compiling all these to draft a new law or new bill started in 2006 and it finished in 2008. In between that time, it went through six road shows in all the geo-political zones. It went through all the professional bodies and major stakeholders. The bill was circulated to them. They all put their comments and everything was harmonised and the final draft emerged in 2008. I would like you to listen to this and take note of this date, 2008. I think one of the reasons the main reason was that, by 2008 the ministry of water resources had been merged with the ministry of agriculture; and the ministers in charge where concentrating more on the agric side and left the water sector alone. So the water sector suffered a lot from neglect at that time and probably I think that is the main reason why that bill was not taken forward or carried forward, until I came in 2015.
Can we have some more insight into the processes leading to reintroduction of this Bill?
Ninety-five percent of this bill or more that we presented to the National Assembly is already existing and they are in four different laws. Now, when I came into office, I organised a retreat three weeks after. I invited all the major stakeholders in the country; we discussed. From that retreat we developed a roadmap for the water sector for the next 15 years. Water is not like other things that you can say I can do this in two years, a dam can take you five to seven years to build. Water resources is a continuous thing. So we couldn’t look at only the four years of my tenure. We cannot achieve much because of the way the sector is. It is a very dynamic sector so you just have to keep going on. And that is why we took a horizon and that is what we do normally in design situation. If we are going to design a water scheme, we design for a population of 15 years and then design phase two for another 15 years so that we took a 15 years horizon of 2016 to 2030. And within that roadmap, it was a consensus at that retreat that we should pass this roadmap, I mean this water bill. This water bill is passed, it has been drafted, it has been discussed, so what are we waiting for?
So I said fine. I asked to see a draft copy of the bill, the bill was brought to me I think in January, I went through that bill page by page. I am a water engineer, so its not as if I was reading latin, I understood what is there and I saw that it was good for the country. Even though I have not been involved in policy, I have been in the technical side of water issues. I am a water resources engineer, and I understand the issues. I know I have been practicing in Nigeria, I know the constrains of the sector. I have worked in the state water agency delivering water, I have worked in the planning aspect of water resources in government and I know how we used to plan. I became a consultant to design water schemes, I know the practical side of it. I have been there so nobody needs to tell me that this thing is good or bad. I digested the bill and I am of personal opinion that this it is good for the country. So, after making my own opinion about it, I now requested that the bill be sent back to all the state governments for them to look at it again if they have any issues because we are talking about from 2008 to 2016 (eight years). We gave them like four months from January to April and they brought back their observations. I can remember vividly the one from Edo State and from Kaduna State.
They all brought their observations. Some didn’t some say they don’t have any opinion. The professional body were all sent the bill again and they all came back with their opinions. We collected them and then in May, 2016, we had the national council of water resources meeting; that meeting was chaired by the minister of Water Resources and it had all the commissioners responsible for water from all the 36 states and the FCT water board as members. They were all there and the bill was part of the agenda. It was discussed and endorsed by the council. The next step was that I took it to the federal executive council where the president, vice president, 36 ministers, one for each state of the federation endorsed it. There was no objection. It was approved by FEC along with the National Water Resources policy and National Irrigation and Drainage policy. They took those three documents together. They were all approved. And then in the normal process, the attorney general looked at it, polished it and before it was convened to the National Assembly.
The House of Representatives was the one to deal with it first. Note this dates, In November 2017, the House of Representatives had a two-day hearing on this bill and passed it. Not long after they went on recess. So in 2018, the senate now presented the bill for concurrence and it was tabled before the Senate chamber. At that point some senators from the opposition asked certain questions; they wanted to know what does bank mean? I didn’t watch it but from what I gathered from the transcript, they were asking questions the Senate leader was trying to explain and so on. I don’t know the atmosphere but in the wisdom of the then Senate President, he asked for the creation of a technical committee which will look at all the questions that were being asked. He noted that when the committee has done its work the bill will be brought back and considered. So the bill was not thrown out of the 8th Senate, it was referred to the technical committee to look at. The records are there, go and check. That committee started working, we went and made presentations, we sat down, we discussed with people like Senator Godswill Akpabio. The Senate committee on Water Resources even took the bill to the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, they looked at it and they don’t have any quarrel with it, they just ask them to change one language or something and they brought it back.
Unfortunately, before the committee could take it back to the floor, the 2019 elections had come so the bill was cut off by the election. After the election we know what happened, the then Senate President lost, even the chairman of the Senate Committee on water resources lost, so it would have been insensitive at that time to bring it up and we had only two months to wrap up. So we didn’t feel that there was any need to take it back at that time. So we decided to wait till when the 9th National Assembly comes to return this bill and by some providence, I was returned as minister and back to my ministry. So for me, we just continued with the work. And therefore, when this 9th Assembly was promulgated, and committees were formed, we made presentation to the House committee onWater Resources and told them, look we have this pending issue and we need to finish it.
Can you throw some more light on the bill?
There are two new things that are in the bill, every other thing that is in this bill like, I said, is already existing, including the commission. There is nothing like we are going to create a new agency, the agency is already existing since 2007; it has the budget line, it has staff but we need to strengthen it to make it independent because now they are operating on the basis of delegating powers of the minister. But the idea is that we want to make this commission independent, the appointment will be a chairman, vice-chairman, six members comprising one from each geopolitical zone as members, nominated by the president, screened and approved by the Senate. So even the president does not arrogate to himself the power to appoint, he has to be cleared by the Senate like you clear the ambassador and you clear every other person; that is the provision. But we have to have added two items to that bill. One is that we have been having a lot of problems managing irrigation infrastructure, so we have a world bank project now that has a model of how to manage irrigation infrastructure; and that model is that the government will maintain the dams and the main canal, but instead of the farmers paying for water that money that they will use to pay for water they would use it now or part of it, they will form water user associations, collect the money and use it to maintain the secondary and tertiary canals that feed into their farms. That way they can continue to operate.
So they are empowered, they’re involved in the operation and maintenance, that shouldn’t offend anybody it shouldn’t. I haven’t finished because now if you collect the water rate it has to go to TSA, so we need a provisional law that exempts them to be able to collect this tariff and use it to maintain. When I came into the office, the federal government has 130,000 hectares of irrigation infrastructure in the country but only half of it is in use, the rest are dilapidated. So we have to find a way to make sure we maximize the use of irrigation infrastructure, so that is one thing we have to do.
Second item, I was saying maybe by some providence, it might even be good that the bill was not passed in 2018, because in the former draft, we didn’t have a PEWASH fund. In 2017 we got a report we have done a survey which showed that in 1992, 30% of Nigerians were enjoying pipe borne water, that means you open your tab and get water. In 2015 it had dropped to 7%, because states have not been investing in water, its their responsibility to provide water to your houses that’s why federal government doesn’t have a water board. Our own is to support them, but the main investment needs to come from them. They have not been investing even the existing schemes. They have many of them but can’t even maintain them. So we now have to take a look at it as a serious matter and see what can we do to ensure that we revise the trend? Within six months that we came up with we called PEWASH action plan; water sanitation and hygiene action plan, and in that action plan first of all, we recommended to the president, and he accepted, to declare a state of emergency on water sanitation and hygiene sector; he did that on November 8, 2018. And then he launched the PEWASH action plan, in that plan he categorically stated what Federal Government will do, what state will do and what local government will do to ensure that we reverse this trend. We will ensure that we improve the water supplies and sanitation situation in the country now that wash fund have to be backed by law.