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Water Bill: Warri-based lawyer, Alaowei warns against fresh oil war in Niger Delta



By Teide Emomotimi

A Warri-based lawyer and chairman Board of Trustees,Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (CHURAC), Cleric E. Alaowei, Esq has warned the Federal Government and the National Assembly to stop further hearing on the controversial water bill, adding that the inimical bill if passed into law would fuel fresh oil war in Niger Delta region.

This was made available to Congress correspondent in a press statement by Cleric Alaowei Esq on Saturday.

The group, in a statement titled:”PASSAGE OF WATER RESOURCES BILL WILL RESUME MILITANCY IN THE NIGER DELTA ” said: “The nation was awaken with consternation that the National Water Resources Bill 2020 has been reintroduced at the Lower House of the National Assembly by Hon. Sada Soli. We’re quite aware that the National Water Resources Bill was first introduced into the National Assembly in 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari 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 setback.

According to Alaowei, the bill was made to steal the waterfronts of Niger Delta people and to deprive the people of their livelihood.

“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.

He maintained that the bill was to confer ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the Federal Government such as the petroleum resources which was stolen through such tricks.

“The Bill’s aims are to confer ownership, control and management of surface and underground waters on the Federal Government 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 in the face value, we are quite sure that it will prohibite people living in the coastal areas to carry out fishing or use the river for any other purposes in exercise of riparian rights without authorisation and permission of the Federal Government, the new owner of all water bodies in the Country. Again, no person(s) or companies will be allowed to discharge waste water in the river without the authorisation of the Federal Government. The process is to be managed by Nigeria Water Resources Regulatory Commission.

“On a 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 licence to water users for a particular period of time upon payment of a fee. The commission has the power to renew, suspend or cancel any licence 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 colonized by the Nigerian Government through legislative intervention. There’s no gainsaying the fact that the poor riverine community dwellers must apply for a licence, pay the required cost and obtain approval before they can carry out commercial fishing activities or any other businesses in their own ancestral territorial waters. Any community that fails to meet these criteria will be penalised for illegal encroachment.

“The riverine communities, particularly those without land mass like the coastal Niger Delta communities who use the bank of the river for domestic activities like washing and occasionally for other purposes, will pay for discharging waste into the river.

“There’s no doubt that the Bill if passed into law, will be inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It will also run contrary with the Supreme Court cases affirming powers of state governments over inland waterways and physical planning. Same also applied to the Land Use Act which vests ownership of land on state governors. The Bill therefore is an interloper designed to arrogate state governments’ powers.

“We once again alert Nigerians to reject this evil Bill which intention is to colonize and impoverish the riverine dwellers. People of good conscience with fear of God must rally round to ensure that it is rejected once again, otherwise, history will record them as accomplice to this wicked plan to deprive communities in the coastal areas of their territories, fishing business and means of livelihood. We cannot rule out a corresponding response from the affected people which we believe is recipe for anarchy. If this inimical legislation is allowed to divest the riverine dwellers of their source of livelihoods, resurrection of youth restiveness and resort to anarchy become strife.

“The river bank of a coastal community is an extension of its territory. In law, whoever owns the land, owns the resources therein and this principle is supported by the Ad Coelum Doctrine. How do you expropriate the territory belonging to a riverine community and forcefully give it to a regulator, an outsider, for commercial purposes?

“The occupation of the riverine communities is fishing and this is what they know and do for a living, either as subsistence or commercial. Through this means they provide food, shelter, clothing, education and other necessities of life for themselves and their dependents. Water like land is God’s gift to a man as part of his heritage. Depriving him of this gift is tantamount to distorting celestial orchestration.

“If the source of livelihood of these helpless coastal communities is taken away, what will they depend on as humans? It is absurd for the Government that has failed to provide for their welfare and security, will now use the law to dishonestly dispossess them of their territorial waters and source of livelihood. We foresee another violent agitations coming if the sponsors of that draconian Bill are allowed to have their way.

“God in His infinite mercy knows why He provided a natural habitat for every community with means of survival. Those in the Sahel Region are known for raising livestock. Those in the rainforest are gifted for farming while those in the coastal areas are noted for fishing. Every community is endowed, thus, to deprive the coastal communities of their trade is to undermine their existence and fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act amongst other international treaties.

“Federal Government must get its priority right. A Country that is faced with mounting misery index (inflation and unemployment), insecurity, corruption and capital flight, resulting in acute poverty and frustration, cannot be making water resources a priority.

“Already, there are enough existing laws on water resources. Viz: The Water Resources Act, River Basin Development Authority Act, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, National Water Resources Institute Act amongst others are already in place.

“A law that seeks to strip a people of their heritage, properties, and sources of income with the capacity to push them deeper into the abyss of poverty cannot be said to be in the country’s national interest, except for reason covertly to advance the course of sectional interest.

“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 (RUGA) 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 water fronts across the Country, particularly in the Niger Delta areas.

“Quest for sectional domination without consideration for equity and justice within the context of national interest puts the unity of the Country at risk and pushes it to the brink. As equal stakeholders, it is imperative to respect the boundaries of one another as the absence of this will engender distrust and disunity.

“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 hazardous effect of environmental degradation and despoilation arising from oil exploration and production.” the group asserted.