Nigeria: Groups Urge National Assembly to Reject Attempts to Re-Present 'Flawed' Water Bill

"Nigerians said it when the Bill was being debated, and Nigerians are saying it again: the National Water Bill is obnoxious, anti-people, and unacceptable."

The Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) have called on the National Assembly to reject the National Water Resources Bill being re-presented for approval.

The groups made the call in a joint statement released on Thursday.

The bill, which was earlier stepped down by the National Assembly due to some of its contentious provisions is now being re-presented by its sponsors, the group said.

CAPPA and AUPCTRE said it is shocking that President Muhammadu Buhari is giving support to the bill despite being re-presented with the same contentious provisions.

In the statement, the groups said the call is following a statement credited to Mr Buhari in the media, where he called on the National Assembly to quickly pass the contentious Bill.

Last week, Mr Buhari called for the quick passage of the bill by the National Assembly.

He was said to have declared support for the bill during the commissioning of the Zobe Regional Water Supply Scheme in Katsina State, where he was in the company of the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Hussein, who has been the arrowhead of the campaign for passage of the Bill.

Reacting to the reintroduction of the bill, Benjamin Anthony, the National President of AUPCTRE said the Nigerian government needs to jettison the "toxic bill and explore democratic decision-making processes in addressing water shortages in the country."

"We are shocked that the President is throwing his weight behind a bill that would further fracture the unity among Nigerians and impugn on the rights of its citizens.

"Nigerians said it when the Bill was being debated, and Nigerians are saying it again: the National Water Bill is obnoxious, anti-people and unacceptable," Mr Anthony said.

Background

The National Water Resources Bill was first introduced into the National Assembly in 2017 by Mr Buhari.

Although it was passed by the House of Representatives, it elicited dissenting opinions in the senate and the bill failed to get a concurrent passage. It was reintroduced into the ninth House of Representatives by Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) in July 2020 and passed by the lawmakers. The House later dropped it.

The bill attracted national criticism as non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and well-meaning Nigerians referred to the bill as anti-people.

AUPCTRE, CAPPA, and other groups had opposed the bill because of its contentious provisions. Nigeria's Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, also condemned attempts to sneak the bill into law by the executive and legislative.

Some of the contentious provisions in the bill include:

Section 98 - which states that "the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions." Section 107 says that a licence may be cancelled if the licencee "fails to make beneficial use of the water." Section 120 makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller's permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) also warned the National Assembly not to pass the bill because of the danger it portends to national unity.

"Information in the public domain has it that the National Assembly leadership is working surreptitiously with vested interests outside the Assembly anxious to pass the bill without due legislative process," read the statement dated August 28.

"We equally warn against legislative abuse or betrayal of Nigerians as this is what it will amount to if the bill is passed or caused to be passed without public engagement and scrutiny. Already, the sentiments expressed against this bill are too grave to be brushed off," NLC said.

Following the criticisms against the bill, the Nigeria Governors Forum said the bill will be thoroughly reviewed by the Attorney-General and Executive Council of each state before a unanimous decision is made on the bill.

The National Assembly stepped also down the bill in September 2020 saying its promoters did not follow the "right process".

New attempt to re-present the bill 'worrisome'

In their joint statement by AUPCTRE and CAPPA said attempts to re-present the water bill is worrisome and the president's remark disturbing.

The Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi said the privatisation of water by the federal and state governments will only deprive communities of their right to a basic human right.

"It is unimaginable that even with the popular rejection of the anti-people Bill by a broad spectrum of Nigerians, the president is still bent on re-presenting it at the National Assembly.

"Nigerians are however resolute that a Bill which does not have their input and consent will not be foisted on them," Mr Oluwafemi said.

He added that the President's remarks supporting the Bill reflects an unacceptable disregard for the wishes of Nigerians and the acceptance of the privatisation myth. It highlighted especially the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), which it said will ultimately lead to rate hikes, job losses, and poor quality service as examples across the globe have shown.

The groups said that the way forward is for the government to discard the obnoxious National Water Bill and kickstart a fresh community-based process which will entail consultation with Nigerians from the initial stages through the entire process at the National Assembly.

They also urged the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to respect the genuine wishes of Nigerians expressed through the media and other public channels and stop its promotion of the toxic National Water Bill.

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