Regulating Nigeria’s Water Resources Sector for Sustainable Development.


By Sampson Ikemitang

There have been palpable fear that Nigeria is at the risk of experiencing severe earth tremors in the foreseeable future. This is despite the fact that the country is located outside of the major seismic zone of the world. A seismic zone is a geographical area that has high probability of seismic activity denoted by volcanic eruptions. With the increasing occurrence and spread of tremors in the nation, fear has been exacerbated among citizens that devastating tremor was looming. For instance, Kaduna, Ogun, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Oyo States, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, have suddenly become the homes of tremors in the recent past. Many analysts have therefore, attributed the tremor to both surface and groundwater activities as well as rocks blasting.

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 on November 1, 2018 after an earlier event on September 5, 2018 that lasted for three days in Mpape and parts of Maitama District in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). These left both residents and the whole country apprehensive of a possible earthquake.
Meanwhile, the immediate past Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu has decried the rate at which boreholes are being drilled in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, thus describing the trend as worrisome. He made this disclosure in Abuja during the 7th edition of the President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB administration scorecard series (2015 -2023).

According to him, “The Federal Government had developed 6,761 water schemes across urban, towns and rural areas of Nigeria with the production of 794.3 million litres per day for no fewer than 32 million citizens”.
Adamu further noted, “We are in a country where there is no regulations or standards for boreholes. We are not saying you cannot build a borehole in your house because we cannot do without boreholes, especially in villages, but we cannot have them in the municipals and urban areas; we have no business having boreholes in Abuja and Lagos.
Continuing: the Minister said, “What we want is to be able to know where the boreholes are and we are not saying the Federal Government is the one to give permit for drilling boreholes, we just want it to fall under a national safety code and guidelines so that hydrological services will have all the data it needs”. He explained.

Recall that some experts in the water resources sector opined that over 110,000 boreholes have been drilled within the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, while more than 330,000 metric tons of water are extracted daily from the holes. They have therefore, 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 land subsidence and violent tremors in the FCT.
Also, an earth scientist at the University of Abuja, Professor Ishaku Mallo has said, drilling of boreholes can cause the ground to shake while excessive extraction of water can make the ground sink. Speaking to THE WHISTLER, an online publishing platform, in his office, he said, “As you are drilling these boreholes into the ground, there is vibration in the ground. These shaking vibrations can easily cause dislocation of the plates in the ground.

Since drilling has brought cracks in the soil, the excessive extraction of groundwater can make the ground sink. The sinking down of the earth makes the ground moves. Even if it goes down a little, it can cause the whole FCT to shake because the balance of the earth has been distorted”. He noted.
It is worthy of mention that Professor Mallo was one of the sixteen-man team of experts invited by the Federal Government to investigate the remote causes of the tremor that occurred in Mpape and parts of Maitama District, in the nation’s capital city sometimes, in 2018, with a view to making far reaching recommendations.
According to the learned Professor, “People don’t realise that pressure on the environment has its negative effects. You see a Thirty-year-old tree and you cut it, if you plant another one, it may take another Thirty years to get to that point. Yet, there is indiscriminate felling of trees, digging of the ground and indiscriminate making of dams”. He maintained that all these things have negative effects on the environment.

As a result of the perceived imminent danger, occasioned by earth tremors, many have continued to wonder why the Government at all levels was yet to provide the needed regulatory framework, not only for the FCT but also the entire country regarding the hydra-headed issue of boreholes drilling. They said, regulations would go a long way in curbing the menace of boreholes drilling in the nation.
Suffice it to say that a supposed regulatory agency, the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, (NIWRMC), has hitherto, operated in a low key. This is because the bill which seeks to establish and empower it to carry out its mandate of regulating the water resources sector in the country is yet to be passed into law by the National Assembly. The 9th National Assembly could not pass the Water Resources Bill because of the controversies that trailed its introduction on the floor of the Senate. Sadly, the bill which is meant to give the Commission legal status for operation, was rightly or wrongly attached to the Water Resources Bill that never saw the light of the day.

Pundits are therefore of the view that to actualise the noble goal of developing, managing, using and conserving Nigeria’s surface and groundwater resources as encapsulated in the bill to establish the Water Resources Regulatory Commission (WRRC), effort must be intensified by relevant authorities at extracting it from the Water Resources Bill for eventual passage into law by the 10th National Assembly.
A cursory look at some countries’ efforts at regulating the water sector so as to achieve Integrated Water Resources Management, will leave no one in doubt that this practice is the way to go. For instance, In Ghana, access to clean water has historically favoured the urban population more than the rural dwellers. It was estimated in the year 2000 that more than half of 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.
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 Tunnel 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.
The 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 States have the mandate to administer the water resources within their respective domains in accordance with the Federal Laws.
Besides, the federal system of government itself calls for decentralised management of resources by which States play an active role in decision-making regarding the water resources found within their respective regions.
That explains why the government has adopted the River Basin Development Authorities, (RBDAs) established in 1976 as the implementing unit for the development and management of the water resources of the country which is in line with the Integrated Water Resources Management practices.

In view of the foregoing analysis of countries that have intensified efforts at regulating their water sector, Nigeria can borrow a leaf from them, develop and manage its water resources, with a view to attaining national development.

Sampson Ikemitang is a Resident Information Officer (RIO) at the Commission