BY OLATUNJI BUHARI
On June 29, 2022, in my hotel room in Abuja, I tuned to Channels TV, a Lagos-based television network. What caught my attention was the headline: ‘Reps Re-Introduce Controversial Water Bill’. My first reaction was, again? What exactly are the proponents of the bill trying to achieve with its resurrection? The re-introduction of the bill can simply mean that there are individuals with ulterior motives for its re-representation.
This bill which in summary seeks to privatise the country’s water resources and transfer the control of all water resources, both surface and underground from states to the federal government, has been challenged by civil society, labour organisations and water unions for advancing what they see as a threat to the attainment of the human right to water.
In the last two years, prominent figures such as Nobel laureate and playwright, Professor Wole Soyinka, and spokesperson of the Afenifere Pan-Yoruba cultural group, late Yinka Odumakin, including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Ijaw Youth Council have called on the national assembly to throw out the bill. The Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), among others, have equally made similar calls.
The bill titled — “An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Development Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Ground Water Resources and for Related Matters” — was stepped down by the speaker, house of representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 following its opposition by Nigerians.
Watching the news two years later to see the bill being re-introduced, I knew that the promoters were up to something that the rest of Nigerians are yet to understand because it is surprising that a bill that seeks to open its door to corporations that are only interested in maximising profit will still be opened for debate.
The sponsor of the bill, Sada Soli, chairman, house committee on water resources, claimed that all the concerns raised by civil society organisations, labour activists, water unions and the general public have been reviewed and taken to consideration in the re-packaged and re-arranged bill. But after taking a quick look at the re-presentation on the floor of the house, my conclusion was that something was fishy.
But it was comforting to see that Soda’s colleagues — including Mark Gbillah, PDP Benue lawmaker — drawing the attention of the house to the controversy caused by the bill when it was first introduced. He wondered why the bill is still being re-represented on the floor of the house.
On receipt of the bill, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) carried out clause by clause analysis and the findings were shocking but not surprising. CAPPA discovered that most of the anti-people sections are still there but the sponsor of the bill moved them to other sections. For example, the section of the law “promoting public private partnerships in delivery of water services” which was originally in Part 1, Section 1(1) is still retained in the new bill but was moved to Section 13 (1)(n). This is the first sign that the promoter of the bill has something up his sleeves.
Experience abound where nations that had privatised their water system are now taking them back because of the failure of the privatisers to deliver on the promise of availability, accessibility, affordability and general infrastructure investment.
Privatisation of water will lead to increase in price, job losses, low water quality and shut-off. For poor Nigerians who cannot afford to pay, privatisation will deny them their fundamental right to water which goes against the human right to water that should be sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable for personal and domestic use.
In July 2010, the United Nations in its resolution 62/292 declared water as a right and as such it is the responsibility of the government to manage and make it available for citizens.
Another disturbing part of the bill is Section 61 (1) which was in Section 98 in the previous bill. The new section reads: “Licensing. The section (1) Subject to the provisions of sections 3 and 72 of this Bill, the use of water shall be subject to licensing provisions under this Part and relevant regulations issued by the Commission.”
This provision has again reaffirmed the failures of government in providing water for its citizens. The citizens are the victims of the failures of the government’s lack of foresight. If the public water is functioning, nobody will think of sinking borehole because of its environmental implication.
What government needs to do is to prioritise water for the people. It has happened before, and it can still be done if government is serious about addressing the water challenge. In Lagos, during the administration of Governor Lateef Jakande, there was water everywhere because he developed the political will to ensure people have access to water. Unfortunately, that is no longer happening as successive governments after him have failed to make necessary investments to develop the water infrastructure.
The idea of water privatisation, or PPP, as a solution to the water crisis has proven to be a failure and the solution is in the realm of public and democratic control of water. Mr. Speaker, I also heard in the news, how you offered an explanation on why you allowed the bill to be read because of the claim by the promoter that all the controversial issues have been addressed and all the governors both in the south and in the north participated in it.
Let me state it here that you are not bound by what the governors have agreed upon but by the interest of the mandate of Nigerian people that you represent. It is your constitutional duty to enshrine a constitution that will be pro-people.
Whatever the motives or interest of those behind this re-packaging, or re-arrangement of the bill is, it is time to rest it, and in fact, kill it for the benefit of Nigerians, Mr. Speaker.
Buhari is an associate director with Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa
Source: The Cable