The imperative of regulating water resources sector in Nigeria

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By Sampson Ikemitang– “There has been repeated researchers’ findings that Nigeria is at the risk of experiencing devastating earthquakes in the foreseeable future. These probable earthquake magnitudes were as high as 6.0 in the year 2020, 6.5 between the years 2021 and 2022, 7.0 between the years 2025 and 2026 and 7.1 in the year 2028. The probability that these events will take place in the forecast year is 36.79 per cent,” as reported by The Guardian Newspaper of December 9, 2021.

Recall that there have been incidences of earth tremor in parts of the country, including the FCT in the recent past. Many analysts have attributed the tremor to both surface and groundwater activities, whilst Abuja, the nation’s capital city has suddenly become the home of tremors.

Earth tremor from a layman’s point of view simply refers to a sudden shaking of the ground that causes destruction as a result of movements within the earth crust or volcanic actions. The last officially reported episode was in November 1, 2018 after an earlier event on September 5, 2018 that lasted for three days in Mpape and some parts of Maitama District in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). These left not only residents but the whole country apprehensive that an earthquake was imminent.

It is believed that over 110, 000 boreholes have been drilled within the Federal Capital Territory while more than 330, 000 metric tons of water are extracted daily from the holes. As such, experts have warned that indiscriminate drilling of boreholes and extraction of water from the ground are capable of upsetting the equilibrium of the earth as well as causing violent tremors (slight earthquakes) in the FCT. Worthy of mention on the negative effect of borehole drilling is that it brings cracks in the soil, just as the excessive extraction of groundwater is most likely to make the ground sink. In like terms, the sinking down of the earth makes the ground move.

Despite this looming danger, it does appear that there is no regulatory framework yet in the FCT, let alone the entire country regarding the drilling of boreholes. Janet Peni, the Public Relations Officer to the Abuja Environmental Protection Board was quoted to have told ‘THE WHISTLER’ during a telephone interview that the Agency has no borehole policy.

It is against this backdrop that the National Water Resources Bill currently before the National Assembly is said to be apt, in view of the prevailing circumstances, especially the indiscriminate drilling of boreholes in the country. The bill seeks to establish a regulatory framework for the Water Resources sector in Nigeria. Therefore, there is a compelling need for equitable and sustainable development, management, use and conservation of Nigeria’s surface and groundwater resources.

It is worthy of note that the National Water Resources Bill in a nutshell, brings together all existing water resources laws currently in use to develop and manage Nigeria’s Water Resources as contained in the Water Resources Act, CAPW2LFN 2004; the River Basin Development Authority Act, CAPRQLFN 2004; the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (Establishment) Act, CAPN1100ALFN 2004; and the National Water Resources Institute Act, CAPN83LFN, 2004.

A number of countries suffice here with an undisputed resolve in regulating the  water sector, so as to achieve Integrated Water Resources Management. In Ghana, access to clean water has historically favoured the urban population than the rural dwellers. It was estimated in 2000 that more than half the total population did not have access to improved water supply and improving access for poorer people has been the major focus of the Government of Ghana.

Water sector regulation in Ghana is controlled by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission. During the 1990s, this body was said to be underdeveloped, without capacity or appropriate legal, financial and organisational frameworks to effectively manage the country’s water supply. However, between 1999 and 2009 the Commission and the Department for International Development was mandated to design a new approach that would take into account private sector participation in the sector.

In the case of Ethiopia, it operates a federal system of government under its Federal Constitution of 1995. It has subsequently issued a Water Resources Management Policy and several laws with respect to water resources management in the country. The Ethiopian Federal Constitution provides that the water resources of the country should be publicly owned and that the Federal Government has the overall mandate to determine the administration and management of the utilisation of the waters that are inter-regional and trans-boundary in nature, while Regional States have the mandate to administer the water resources within their respective States in accordance with the Federal Laws.

As a result, the Federal Government of Nigeria should have a prominent role in determining the manner in which water resources would be managed and utilised for various development purposes in the country. The Federal Government has also been given the mandate to delegate its powers and responsibility to sub-regional States or other bodies for proper management of the water resources of the country. The federal system of government itself calls for decentralised management of resources by which Regional States play an active role in decision-making regarding the water resources found within their respective regions.

Presently, the government has adopted the river basin as the implementing unit for the development and management of the water resources of the country which is in line with the Ethiopia Water Resources Management Policy. Most of the major powers and responsibilities of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources which is the executive arm of the Federal Government with respect to water resources has now been delegated to River Basin Development Authorities(RBDAs) that are to be established phase-by-phase. It is therefore expected that sub-regional governments will play a prominent role in decision-making for the RBDAS to be established, although this is yet to be seen.

The situation is not different in South Africa where bulk water provision and associated infrastructure is carried out by the national government and regulated under the National Water Act. A number of different bodies have a role in the market and as it stands presently, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is the department responsible for water affairs.

In addition to this, the Trans-Caledon Tunel Authority (TCTA) which reports to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) was established to develop and operate the Lesotho highlands water project and has since raised commercial finances for other water schemes around South Africa. It is envisaged that the National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency (NWRIA) will take over the functions currently split between DWS and TCTA, including the duties of the National Water Infrastructure Branch and Water Trading Entity within DWS.

In view of the foregoing analysis of countries that have intensified efforts at regulating the water sector, in order to ensure steady water supply, development and management, there is no denying the fact that the current National Water Resources Bill at the National Assembly seeking among other things to establish a regulatory framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria is indeed long over-due.

The National Water Resources Bill is therefore conceived with good faith and well- intended to guarantee the citizenry access to clean safe water. There is nothing sinister whatsoever about it as being speculated in some quarters. Those who are still in doubt about its genuineness are urged to suspend their disbelief and give the bill a chance.