Editorial

Editorial/In Buhari’s government, ‘water get enemy’

Illustrated: Water E No Get Enemy, by Fela

In his 1975 classical song Water! E no get Enemy!, the late Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapokuti sang what was as much an Ode to the essentiality of water to human existence as it was a lamentation of its destructiveness–and our helplessness in the face of it. For, it is the same water that we cook our food, bathe, wash our clothes and water our gardens and crops with, that also drowns people, kills thousands and destroys property in flooding. Or gets exhausted due to misuse or overuse, as in parts of India where the natural water aquifer has completely dried up, or in Cape Town, South Africa, where people now live in dread of a ‘Zero Day’ when water in the reservoirs may be too low to sustain running taps.

President Muhammadu Buhari

Fela may have sung about his running battles with the Nigerian establishment in those years. He may have sung how, despite his ‘notoriety’ with the government of the day, there were still many in the government—low, middle, high—who would unflappably warn him about plots against him by the government—like when state agents allegedly planted drugs in his Shrine in a bid to implicate him, which was actually what gave rise to Water! E No Get Enemy! But, given his prophetic inclinations, the music icon must also have gazed into his crystal ball and seen that a day would come in Nigeria when ruinous leadership would try to manipulate water politics to dire consequences for the state.

Let’s not beat about the bush: by reintroducing the National Water Resources Bill, which was rejected in 2018 by the 8th National Assembly (NASS), President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration has demonstrably declared itself an enemy of water. To the extent that this Bill, if passed into law, isn’t designed to grow, nurture and or conserve our natural water resources in any creative way, but to open them up to indiscriminate access and likely spoliation by uncontrolled users, its imposition on the people of Nigeria by anyone, group or governmental actors is decidedly evil and, therefore, destructive in its intent.

Section 2 (1) of the Bill gives out its noxious intent: “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs,” it says, “is a resource common to all people.’’ It means that a Katsina man is as much an owner of Adada River in Uzo-Uwani in Enugu State as members of that community themselves are. It also means that the same Katsina man, pleading a need to permanently quench his thirst, can relocate to Uzo-Uwani with his family, grab a piece of land by the river, build and live in his new home and he would have breached no law of the land.

The nation is faced, again, with the possibility of passing another piece of land-grab law that the Land Use Act eventually became. After taking away communities’ rights to their lands and the resources therein or thereupon with the Land Use Act, they have now turned their attention to water resources. It is as if this type of law is periodically passed in Nigeria to punish people for the “impudence” of coming from resource-endowed communities!

According to Section 13 of the Bill, “in implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.” As in the Land Use Act, how “the institutions (to be) established under this Act” will operate and by who, may already have been clearly cut out. What is certain, however, is that these institutions will never be run for the benefit of the locals; they will be run for the benefit of those whose narrow ethnic interests caused the Presidency to reintroduce an already rejected bill, in the first place.  If precedents are anything to go by and were this obnoxious bill to be passed into law, what it simply means is that the Nigerian government has, again, grabbed lands from their owner-communities, in what is clearly a ploy to rob Peter in order to pay Paul!

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with any action or set of actions designed to harness a nation’s water resources for the general good. The River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) established by the Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Mohammed Administrations in the 70’s, were part of the effort in that direction. Specifically, in 1973, two river basin authorities were established for Sokoto River and Lake Chad basin. In 1976, the law establishing the River Basin Development Authorities listed 11 agencies with the mandate to develop water resources to boost agricultural production in the country.  It was under the river basin development arrangement that many dams were built, especially in the North, to promote irrigation and, by extension, all-year-round farming. But after the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and the first, post-military civilian administration of Shehu Shagari, subsequent military regimes neglected the 12 RBDAs across the country by indiscriminately starving them of funds thereby inexorably leading to their collapse.

Since the collapse of the RBDAs, there would appear to have been no other concerted efforts to nurture the nation’s water resources with a view to boosting their ‘yields’. The Rivers Niger and Benue have all but silted up in most of their lengths and breadths. Every attempt to dredge them and, by so doing, increase their drafts to accommodate more water from tributaries and flooding, has been mired in Nigeria’s virulent ethnic politics, which tends to see projects not from the broader perspective of their benefits to the nation but in terms of how, by not executing such projects, communities not in the good books of the powers that be, can be given a short-shrift!

The National Water Resources Bill 2020 envisages nothing like the RBDAs. Ostensibly triggered by the growing desertification up North and the water challenges it has spawned, the Bill seeks not to grow and nurture but rather to expropriate the nation’s water resources for the use of a tiny few. But while desertification is real and must be addressed, the solution does not lie in moving populations down south to displace people from their ancestral lands and water resources.

Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives

More sustainably, the solution lies in resourceful governance, in a commitment by leadership up north to regenerate the region and make it livable. How many northern States, for instance, are still committing funds and personnel to planting trees and greening the North? Few, you would say. Many waste resources building more mosques, hiring Hisbah police to break beer bottles and sponsoring people to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. Yet, although practically all of Muslim Arab world is desert, nobody will ever hear about something like the National Water Resources Bill 2020 coming out of any Arab land. Rather than hatch schemes to cheat others out of their “more conducive environments” and God-given natural resources, the Arabs have simply dared to confront their own natural challenges:  they build artificial lakes, plant trees and flowers in the desert and generally green their environment, even as they use their own oil money to access technologies that make their world conducive enough for people from even temperate climates to visit. And the result is that these days, people visit not New York or Paris but Dubai, Riyadh and or other well-groomed Arab cities.

AbeyaNews takes a dim view of The National Water Resources Bill 2020. For us in AbeyaNews, it is nothing more than an ill-conceived, badly-thought-out piece of legislation birthed by lazy minds. It shows how unbelievably incompetent and bereft of ideas about governance of a modern state the current political leadership in Nigeria really is. The Bill is tendentious, obnoxious, opprobrious, vexatious, repugnant to natural justice and capable of igniting a conflagration that may consume us all. It is not for nothing that it is roundly condemned by Nigerians from all walks of life except, of course, members of the tiny, divisive cabal that have, for years now, been pushing Nigeria to the edge for whatever reasons.

We call on the President to, without any fuss, withdraw that bill whose passage into law may lead to unnecessary social disruptions in Nigeria.  We urge the President to heed the warning of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum which, in a statement called on “all the communities opposed to the bill meant to GRAB (emphasis ours) land around waterways for cattle herders, to use the break-time to organize community special sittings for their representatives to explain the meaning of this latest move and their roles in it.”

This is an ominous statement, a subtle warning to representatives not to support the Bill or face the consequences of their folly, and must not be ignored by the Presidency. We have had enough bloodshed in Nigeria in the past five years.

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