The Akwa Ibom House of Assembly has concluded a public hearing and stakeholders meeting on a new Water Resources Sector Bill.
The public hearing was organised by the House Committee on Rural Development and Public Utilities chaired by Dr Usoro Akpanusoh of Esit Eket/Ibeno State Constituency.
The Executive Bill which passed second reading March 2022, seeks to provide for the development and regulation of the water sector, establishment of Water Corporation, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, Water Council and Regulatory Commission, together with wastewater management and other matters connected therewith.
The bill which is divided into 19 parts and made up of 117 sections, also provides for supervision and regulations on water quality and environmental issues, as well as spells out various offences and penalties for offenders.
When passed into law, the bill will be cited as the Akwa Ibom State Water Resources Sector and Regulation Law. It will repeal The Rural Water Sanitation Agency Law, Cap 116, Laws of Akwa Ibim State 2000; and The Akwa Ibom State Water Corporation Law No. 2 of 2002, which have become obsolete and not in tune with current realities.
“Water is essential for life. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right as declared by the United Nations in 2002.
“Akwa Ibom State is rich in water resources. Yet, many of its citizens do not have access to reliable supply of drinking water or to improved sanitation facilities. Many water supply and sanitation schemes in the state have fallen into disrepair.
“We have not yet managed to achieve the key objectives of supplying our citizens with reliable, sustainable and affordable water services. This slow progress in meeting our targets has stemmed from a number of factors, including institutional, legal and technical elements”, Usoro Akpanusoh said in his opening remarks at the hearing.
According to Akpanusoh, the bill was introduced in order to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the sector are clearly defined, as there would no longer be any overlap of functions or gaps which had led to problems in the past.
For the public hearing, stakeholders from the Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector were invited to discuss their observations and their recommendations about the bill. Details of the bill were also made available to all the invited stakeholders.
Invited stakeholders who were present at the hearing included the commissioner for lands and water resources, Capt. Iniobong Ekong; representatives from the state Department of Multilateral and Donor Agencies, Policy Alert, Akwa Ibom Water Corporation, Ibom WASH–Plus, Nigerian Mining and Geo–sciences Society (NMGS), and Borehole Drillers Association of Nigeria (BDAN), among others.
Many, who spoke commended the provisions of the bill, even as they proposed some corrections and modifications.
The commissioner for lands and water resources, Capt. Iniobong Ekong (rtd), said several programmes and projects aimed at achieving Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) had been merged, without the state’s participation due to the current dysfunctional nature of laws in the sector.
Ekong said that the law, when passed and given assent by Gov Udom Emmauel, would enable the state to benefit from various donor funded projects that abound within and outside the state, in addition to promoting healthy water supply for the people.
“When the bill is passed into law, Akwa Ibom Water Company Limited,
(AKWCL) will be transformed to a corporation with more powers than the AKWCL currently has, and will be given adequate financial and administrative autonomy to allow it become self- funding and commercially viable with focus on urban and small town areas,” Ekong said.
He added, among other benefits, that the new law will eliminate the incessant theft and vandalism of water equipment in the state, while he called for the creation of another section of the law to take care of the issue of toilets and open defecation.
The executive director of Policy Alert, Mr Tijah Bolton, represented by Mr Mfon Gabriel, described the bill as being “comprehensive, holistic and thorough.”
He said: “We are all racing to meet the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals 6 which talks about the achievement of clean water and sanitation.
“It will be important that laws that will help the citizens, especially in the rural areas, to have access to clean water and high level of sanitation and hygiene are maintained,” he said.
Gabriel, however, called for the inclusion of civil society organizations in the bill so that they could function in areas bordering on decision making.
He urged the state government to ensure that agreements entered with the private sector players are not detrimental to the citizens.
In their separate remarks, the founder and CEO of African Human Development Centre who doubles as the project director of Ibom WASH–Plus, Professor Gabriel Umoh, recommended the consideration of people living with disabilities, as well as the issue of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in the bill.
He appealed to the lawmakers to ensure that nobody was left behind on the issue of water supply, sanitation and hygiene in the state.
The senior special assistant to Gov Udom Emmanuel on multilateral and donor agencies, Mr Ndiana-Abasi Udom, assured that his office was doing everything possible to attract funding to the state government to ensure the continuation of all the good works concerning the economy of the state
The chairman of the House Committee on Rural Development and Public Utilities, Dr Usoro Akpanusoh, has promised that the House would consider all the recommendations made before the bill is read for the third time and passed.
He appreciated the governor for his interest in reforming the WASH sector, assuring that justice will be done as the House is poised to pass the bill as soon as possible.
Other members of the committee who attended the meeting were Godwin Ekpo (Ibiono Ibom); Otobong Bob (Nsit Ubium); Ifiok Udoh (Nsit Ibom) and Asuquo Nana of Ikono State Constituency.