By Frank Tietie
Intended Federal Government Control of Water Resources is Going Too Far. Call to Resist the National Water Resources Bill, 2020
The requirement for licensing is the most legally oppressive manner to take over the natural resources of a people.
The preamble of the 1969 Petroleum Act vests the control of the exploration of petroleum and ownership of all on-shore and off-shore petroleum resources
in the Federal Government of Nigeria
The sad story of the impact of the above provision is clear for the whole world to see. We have witnessed over 50 years of mindless exploitation and degradation of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria by International Oil Companies (IOCs) who, in cahoots with the Nigerian Federal authorities have continued from independence to date, to mine and sell crude oil to fund the most profligate and irresponsible management of petroleum wealth so far, in the history of the whole world,
Crude oil, like water is a blessing but it became a curse to Nigeria and the people of the Niger Delta because it was poorly managed and controlled by a central Federal government which used it to fuel corruption and other nefarious interests, without caring in the least for the people and environment of the region from where the crude oil is produced.
The people of the Niger Delta region are the most conquered people in the world. They watch daily, helplessly as their environments are being degraded with the exploitation of the crude oil that is naturally deposited in their land of origin.
To ensure the free and constant flow of crude oil, in order to fund the profligacy and consumerism of the Nigerian government, the social space of the people of the Niger Delta is constantly militarized and its people brutally policed. The young people of the region are repressed and terrorised. They don’t even have a sociosphere that would enable the development and pursuits of their dreams and aspirations. I was there and only escaped the horrors of the region by sheer grace of God. The communities in the Niger Delta region are constantly embroiled in local conflicts brewed by the divide and rule mechanisms that have been put in place by conflict merchants, all in favour of continued oil exploitation of crude oil by the IOCs.
It is this horrible fate that the control and management of petroleum resources by the Federal Government has foisted on the people of the Niger Delta that is about to be replicated with the case water by the National Water Resources Bill, 2020.
Water may appear cheap and everywhere in Nigeria thus, it can easily be overlooked. But that is not true. Water is more important than crude oil in too many ways. We can do without oil. After all, it has been more of a curse to us in Nigeria. It probably would have been better if we didn’t have crude oil deposits in Nigeria.Just see how crude oil has fueled corruption, underdevelopment and bred trouble wherever it was found. Unlike crude oil, we can’t do without water and the troubles associated with water conflicts will make those associated with crude oil look like child’s play.
Section 2 of the National Water Resources Bill vests use, management and control of all surface water and ground water in the Federal Government of Nigeria, provided such water affects more than one state as contemplated by Item 64 of the Exclusive Legislative list in Part 1 of the Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution.
Not that the rivers and creeks which criss cross all of the states of the Niger Delta region are all connected. It is these that the Federal Government now aims to control by the pending bill. It is not only control of surface water but ground water inclusive, that the Federal Government now aims to control. I leave the implications of such control to your imagination, given the history of crude oil management by the same Federal Government. This will form the subject of another of my writing and a focussed advocacy subject to resources.
It is understandable that the Petroleum Act was enacted by the military and it was during the civil war so there were no many opportunities or none for that matter, that afforded the people of the Niger Delta the right to accept or reject the highly consequential provisions of the then intended law to govern petroleum resources management and control.
This time around, it should be different. Therefore, every Nigerian and particularly people and groups from the Niger Delta area must read all sections of the intended law and consider them against the backdrop of the past, present and future of the country with that of the Niger Delta region. I have therefore undertaken to send copies of the bill to anyone upon request.
When an unjust law is passed, it is very difficult to reverse its negative effects. When the people of the Niger Delta realized the inequities against them and how oppressed they are by the legal regime of the Petroleum Act, they turned to militancy as a means of liberation but it failed them. Therefore they are still in the same place as things never changed and their future fortunes are uncertain. Even political palliatives in the forms of 13% Derivatiion money, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MINDA) and Amnesty Programme have left the region still highly underdeveloped relative to where it ought to have been, considering the likes of Dubai and Rotterdam. Instead, willing collaborators from the Niger Delta have turned these political interventions by the Federal Government into cesspools of mind boggling corruption and the people of the region will continue to suffer.
In this new era where the calls for restructuring are loudest and the Federal Government is being told to divest itself of needless control of legislative items so that Nigeria can indeed develop as a true federation, where the peoples of states can harness their resources for their perculiar development, it is therefore unthinkable and in fact amounts to direct provocation for the Federal Government to aspire to control local water resources to the extent of having to travel to Abuja for example, to obtain a license from the Federal Government just to drill a borehole. The Federal Government by the implications of the intended law can also grant control of iverine areas to persons and companies of its choice to conduct livestock business irrespective of the sensitivities and concerns of the people of the region. The pending National Water Resources Bill, 2020 is indeed, going too far and must be resisted! The bill should be dropped forthwith.
Frank Tietie, Human Rights Lawyer & Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER), writes from Abuja