•Ministry, stakeholders reject bill

Nigeria’s problem is that citizens don’t want to be regulated, says Senator Ordia

By Henry Umoru

THERE was sharp disagreement yesterday among senators, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Ministry of Environment and other major stakeholders in the water sector at the Senate.

The disagreement came up during a public hearing by the Senate on a bill seeking to establish a Clean Nigeria Agency to help tackle the menace of open defecation in the country so as to meet the 2025 open defecation free target.

The stakeholders at the public hearing vehemently rejected the bill that intended to establish Clean Nigeria Agency, but senators insisted that there was the need for the agency to be created.

It was at   a one day public hearing on the Bill organized by the Senate Committee on Water Resources.

The proposed legislation, titled “A Bill for an Act to establish Clean Nigeria Agency (Establishment) Bill, 2021,” is sponsored by Senator Clifford Ordia, PDP, Edo Central.

In his presentation, Senator Ordia made   reference to the Executive Order 009 on Open Defecation Free Nigeria by 2025, issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 20, 2019, as the motivation for the conceptualization of the bill.

According to him, paragraph 5 of the executive order  gives the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly the mandate to enact legislation on the practice of open defecation with appropriate sanctions and penalties provided.

Ordia, who noted that   motivation for the conceptualization of the bill was derived from extant reports on the menace of the practice of open defecation in Nigeria, said:  “It was reported, for instance, that Nigeria is the leading nation in the world with the highest number of people practicing open urination and defecation, estimated at over 46 million people and which has made it is practically impossible for the country to meet the SDG goal 6 by 2030.

‘’Also, apart from the stench that emanates from open urination and defecation sites, it also provides a breeding ground for disease causing organisms that has resulted in huge economic losses to the country.”

In her presentation, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said there were existing agencies of government which functions and mandate the bill would infringe upon.

Represented by the Ministry’s Assistant Director, Legal Services, Ati Amali, the Minister said the bill was a laudable one, but noted that there were other tiers of government dealing with the issues or functions the bill was proposing.

She said:  “The Water Resources Act, Water Use and License Regulation, Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act and some other Acts of the National Assembly are some of the laws the functions of this bill will infringe upon.

‘’The Ministry of Water Resources is backed to regulate how water resources are utilized. It is of the ministry’s opinion that the mandate of this bill should be domiciled in the ministry of water resources and the department it will be domiciled should ensure that it liaises with states and local government agencies under the ministry that will ensure that this particular issue is tackled.”

Also the   representative of Ministry of Environment, Helen Obayagbo, agreed with the Minister of Finance that the Clean Nigeria Campaign was a campaign programme based on the content of the Executive Order 009, a campaign programme, she said, could not be converted into an agency of the federal government.

Obayagbo, who is   the Ministry’s Director, Legal Services, explained that the bill was trying to convert a fragment of waste management component of sanitation into an agency, just as she warned that creating an agency for a fragment of one component of sanitation would mean creating more than 15 agencies for sanitation issues alone, in Nigeria.

In his presentation, the National Coordinator, Society for Water and Sanitation, Mr. Attah Benson, said the agency would clash with already existing agencies, but suggested that rather than have duplication of agencies, state governors should strengthen their commitment to water sector in their states and release funding for local governments to function better.

On his part, the National Coordinator, Organized Private Sector on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (OPS-WASH), Dr. Nicholas Igwe, opined that with or without any agency, financial gap, technological gap, efficiency gap were still the reasons sanitation goals hadn’t been met.

While describing the bill as retrogressive and not progressive, he said what was needed was   more collaboration, and  not a new agency.

In their reactions, the lawmakers, while disagreeing with the views of the stakeholders, wondered why the country was still a mess and yet to   achieve its   open defecation free target.

At this point, Senator Ordia, who took on the stakeholders, said that one of the nation’s problem was the fact that people don’t want to be regulated.

“The problem we have as a nation is that we don’t want to be regulated. There’s nothing a committee can do that will bring about the efforts of government to put in place a system where every human being in this country can be regulated.

‘’This is where the problem of this country is centered on right now. How can a nation survive on committees?   It’s disheartening. If you’re not regulated and you think you are going to get the best out of what government is putting in place, go outside and see people defecating in public, where’s the organizations?”

Also reacting, Senator Kola Balogun said:   “In spite of all the functions of the agencies you mentioned, why is the country still where it is in terms of open defecation?  When you look at a particular direction, we have agencies that are functioning yet we are not getting the desired results. Why do we still have environmental issues in our country?”

On his part, Chairman of the committee, Senator Bello Mandiya, said:  “You mentioned that there are so many agencies, yet Nigeria has the highest number of people practicing open defecation. Where are all these agencies?  

‘’Why are they not performing their functions. We have 774 local governments but only 72 have been declared open defecation free. So why are the agencies not doing what they are supposed to do?”

At the end of the day, Mandiya expressed dissatisfaction with responses from the stakeholders and ruled that the hearing be adjourned sine die.

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