Is Nigerian government’s new ‘Water Bill’ a central government’s ploy to further unitarism? – Rọpo Ṣekoni

June 3, 2018


Professor Rọpo Ṣekoni joins others in questioning the rationale behind the new ‘Water Bill’ which will empower “the federal take-over of management of all forms of water: surface and underground” … and wonders if this is not a surreptitious way “to degrade the federating units and reduce them to appendages to the central government.”  

Ṣekoni warns that “State representatives in the national assembly do not have the power to surrender water that subtends and sustains the land in their constituencies to the central government.”

As many other commentators in the Central and Southern parts of the country have cried, and are crying out, this Bill sent by President Buhari,and hailed by all in his core constituency have hailed as “long-awaited”, Ṣekoni asks, and this blogger joins him and others, in asking that this Bill be withdrawn by Buhari. TOLA.


Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over.—Mark Twain

Some hypothesize that increased water shortages around the world will lead to wars. The current Syrian civil war has been cited by many, including Dr Peter Engelke, senior Fellow at Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, as a recent example.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Syria experienced one of the worst droughts in recorded history…. Anders Berntell, executive director of 2030 Water Resources Group, a multi-sector water resources body, also suggests a link to Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, whereby young people “realize that, as a result of the lack of natural resources, degraded land and lack of water there are no livelihood opportunities… There is no future for them. They become easily targeted.” They are more easily radicalized…. All of which would predict a bleak future – but some nations have worked out solutions. And they’re impressive ones that the rest of the world can learn from.—Tim Smedley
Almost half of humanity will face water scarcity by 2030 and strategists from Israel to Central Asia prepare for strife.—Chris Arsenault

Unequal power relations within states and conflicts between ethnic groups and social classes will be the greatest source of social tensions rising from deprivation,” said Ignacio Saiz from the social justice group. “Water too often is treated as a commodity, as an instrument with which one population group can suppress another…. Water scarcity is an issue exacerbated by demographic pressures, climate change and pollution.—Ignacio Saiz



I have deliberately overloaded the epigra today, to demonstrate that water stress affects many parts of the world and that what is striking about the attitude to it in Nigeria is the difference between the way Nigeria’s federal government thinks about growing water stress and the way countries like Australia, Israel, and UAE, think about it. As we will argue later, other advanced countries think about applying technology to their water problem while Nigeria prefers to apply politics to its own.

Nigeria as a corporate body and as individuals have already started to act as victims of water stress, by attempting to cure headache with decapitation. The 152-clause Executive Bill on federal take-over of management of all forms of water: surface and underground suggests an effort to remake Nigeria into a unitary state: “As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources the Federal Government, acting through the Minister and the institutions created in this Act or pursuant to this Act, shall ensure that the water resources of the nation are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its Constitutional mandate.”

Clause (5) reads: “States may make provisions for the management, use and control of water sources occurring solely within the boundaries of the State but shall be guided by the policy and principles of the Federal Government in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management, and this Act.” These two clauses have emptied sub-national units of the country of any significance by threatening the fundamental character of the country. Rather than a law for passing by the national assembly, the intent of the law to own all forms of water—actual and virtual—degrades the federating units and reduces them too appendages to the central government. State representatives in the national assembly do not have the power to surrender water that subtends and sustains the land in their constituencies to the central government. This bill should be withdrawn and brought back as constitutional amendment. It is too fundamental to the essence of Nigeria as a federal republic.

Why would the central government want to treat water the way it has treated petroleum and gas and solid materials? It is to turn water into a commodity that it can also control exclusively and share like petroleum and gas. Undoubtedly, water is acquiring by the day the force to threaten political stability in many countries. As Anders Berntell has once acknowledged, the Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab terrorist groups owe significant part of their radicalization to growing lack of natural resources including water that has reduced chances to make a respectable living for young people in the countries affected by Boko Haram and Al Shabaab.

Other experts have also traced the anger and anxiety of herdsmen to threats to their pre-modern occupation and livelihood. Almost three decades ahead of projections on water-driven conflict between nations or sections of the same country, like Nigeria, the President’s bill before the Senate on making control and regulation of all surface and underground waters an exclusive function of the central government seems to be an avoidable heating of the Nigerian polity and society. What is needed is a blueprint to make water available to all sections of the country through use of innovative methods already being employed in other countries. It is not surprising that the bill is already stoking political and regional tension.

Just within hours of the Senate’s preliminary debate of the Waterways Bill, the nation seems to be divided, because the bill, if passed into law, has the potential to threaten national unity. The recent meeting of South-south governors and the communique that ensues from it: “We also agreed that the bill currently making round in the national assembly which we understand is an executive bill on management of water resources. We are of the view that the provisions of the bill are offensive and obnoxious; we disagree with the centralized control of water resources as we are already dealing with the problem associated with over centralization of our country and we have agreed that the bill should be immediately withdrawn by the federal government and further consultations be made on that” have, as expected, sharpened what is fast-becoming Nigeria’s entry into what is already seeming like high-voltage hydro politics.

Without mincing words, this bill is anti-federalism. Introducing a federal take-over of management of water resources at a time that the ruling party had established committees to make recommendations on restructuring and devolution of powers is one bill too many. Federating units are land-owning units and water—surface or underground—sustains land. Any bill that seeks to cut management of land from management of water wittingly or unwittingly seeks to de-nature the federation.

A bill that is likely to overheat the polity, stoke the flames of ethnic and political tension, and threaten national stability is not the way to solve a global problem: water stress. Instead of a bill to politicize the growing water stress in Nigeria, the thing to do is for Nigeria to ‘technologize’ this challenge, i.e. apply benefits of new knowledge and technology to solving water scarcity in all parts of the country. Making management of water resources an exclusive federal function does not guarantee an end to water stress in the context of rising population that is projected to make Nigeria the third most populous country by 2050.

What is needed is thinking out of the box and ahead, like Israel, UAE, Brazil, Australia, to name a few. These countries are increasing their water supply by capturing rain water and using an ‘Osmotic System’ of de-salination that makes sea water good for human consumption. A new method of de-salination made possible by scientific innovation is the way to end water stress without stoking the flames of regional tension and political instability. We left provision of power in the hands of the federal government half a century ago while we should have given such powers to sub-national governments. We are today bound to provide power at a much higher cost than we would have done decades ago. Transferring management of water resources, to the federal government, apart from such trans-country rivers like Niger and Benue, is to offer a solution to a problem that is not properly identified. Nothing seems to have broken that this bill is to fix. Water stress is now a global problem that can be solved with technology, not politics or law.


This essay first appeared in THE NATION ON SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018: Water: first source of life and now of power and conflict in Nigeria?


SUNDAY, JUNE 03, 2018. 11:54 P.M. [GMT]



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2 Comments on “Is Nigerian government’s new ‘Water Bill’ a central government’s ploy to further unitarism? – Rọpo Ṣekoni”

  1. Timothy Otunla Says:

    Late delivery:

    Buhari’s water bill is a brazen act of defiance against the pointed and potent political federalist lyric and song: EKO LO LETI OSA, AWA L’OLORUN FUN! OSA O SE GBE LO S’ABUJA O, AWA L’OLORUN FUN” [composer anon].

    History travels and develops on two legs as the specie Homo sapiens crawls out of hunter-gathering to the sophistication of modern governance as a tool of managing endless progress for humanity.This is the essence of PEOPLE-FRIENDLY GOVERNANCE, the new form of democracy.

    The Nigerian State which Buhari was elected to manage in 2015 has not been a successful experiment; in fact is an experiment waiting to fail . Still ensnared in the net of primitive hegemonism, its governments must tread carefully in applying oversimple solutions to political and socio-economic problems . The past twelve months have been dominated by issues of animal husbandry and now water resources. Fortunately it is not like the Nile or similar rivers, likely to bring competing states to the brink of war … over the control and use of the waters from a river that flows through their uncontested SOVEREIGN territories.

    Sent from my iPhone




    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Ẹ̀gbọ́n, Inu mi dùn lati ri ọwọ́ nyin!

      It’s never been too late checking out or contributing to posts on this blog., thanks to various search engines and the method of using key words in categorizing which one of my kids taught me on starting the blog over seven years ago. It keeps readers coming from different parts of the world. A review of ÌWÀ RERE L’ỌṢỌ ÈNÌÀ which I did and posted in January 2012 has attracted over 700 viewers this month alone, seven (7) as of this writing this morning already. Its viewership has continued to grow over the years.

      Thanks very much, Sir for the contribution to the subject.

      As for the tragedy of Buhari’s presidency and one of its latest hegemonic moves through the Water Bill, THEY will fail. Coming from someone known by all to have stood out for his election here and other publications, it is a sad, though not that strange turn – coming from and backed by, perhaps, the most reactionary section of Nigeria.

      As illustrated here in an essay posted here (not written by me but by a water resources professional), the banks of River Niger in other riparian states belong to those countries the Niger flows through. Won’t it be preposterous, therefore, for the whole basin of the Niger to be “administered” by the Nigerian Government agency known as Niger River Basin?

      Misgovernance, madness and greed – like the absurdity of Ọ̀sà – the Lagos Lagoon – belonging to anywhere/anyone but Lagos/Lagosians! Bless the soul of the composer of Eko l’o lỌ̀sà.

      My regards, Sir,



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