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This study examines an appraisal of environmental laws and management of water resources in Nigeria. The research questions include identifying the key challenges in water resource management, exploring practical approaches to address these challenges, and assessing the effectiveness of these approaches in improving water resource management in Nigeria. The objectives of the study are to highlight the importance of sustainable water resource management, to analyze the current status of water resource management in Nigeria, and to propose recommendations for enhancing water resource management practices in the country. The significance of the study lies in its potential to contribute to the body of knowledge on water resource management in Nigeria and to provide policymakers and stakeholders with insights into effective strategies for improving water resource management. The scope of the study covers a review of existing literature on water resource management in Nigeria, an analysis of current practices and challenges, and a discussion of practical approaches to enhance water resource management. The research methodology involves a comprehensive literature review, data collection through secondary sources  and analysis of case studies and best practices in water resource management. The findings reveal that Nigeria faces significant challenges in water resource management, including water scarcity, pollution, inefficient use, and inadequate infrastructure. Based on the findings, recommendations are proposed for policymakers and stakeholders to enhance water resource management practices in Nigeria.



1.1 Background of the Study

Nigeria, like many countries, faces significant challenges in the management of its water resources and environmental sustainability. The country is richly endowed with abundant water resources, including rivers, lakes, and aquifers. However, these resources are under increasing pressure from pollution, overexploitation, and inadequate management practices. The degradation of water resources has serious implications for human health, agriculture, and ecosystems.

Water is used in traditional settings mainly for domestic purposes, fishing, farming and irrigation and livestock raising. Because customary rights in water resources are based on customary law it, it is useful to precede the description of customary water rights in this section with a general overview of customary law which is recognized as a major source of law in modern Nigeria along with Islamic law and laws passed by the legislature.

Customary law consists of the customs accepted by members of indigenous groups in Nigeria as binding upon them. For the most part, the rules are unwritten and their devolution can be traced to the social organization of Nigerian societies which is based on a strong pattern of kinship groups. The lineage, as the basic unit, forms the foundation of a wide social group called the clan. A system of interclan linkages in turn constitutes the tribe made up of people belonging to different lineages but speaking the same language with the same traditions. Group relations are normative, and give rise to a series of well-defined rights and obligations, belonging to and owing to members of the group. Kinship rights and obligations are specific when the individual is interacting with members of his lineage, but they become more general as the degree of kinship widens. Observance of all traditional norms, is secured through a system of sanctions that may vary according to the degree of kinship ranging from censure, to fines, to ostracism or even expulsion from the group.

Customary laws are not uniform across ethnic groups. Differences in the customary laws of ethnic groups can be traced to various factors such as language, proximity, origin, history, social structure and economy. For example, the customary law system of an ethnic group in one town may be different from the customary law system of the ethnic group in a neighboring town even though the two ethnic groups speak the same language. Thus, among the Yoruba language group, it is possible to identify several component ethnic groups each with its separate customary law system. Generally, the customary law rules among ethnic groups speaking a common language tend to be similar, but the rather significant differences that can sometimes exist make it misleading to talk of a uniform customary law rule applicable to all members of the language group[1].

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The Convention, concluded in 1982, replaced four 1958 treaties. UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th nation to sign the treaty.[2] As of January 2015, 166 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention. However, it is uncertain as to what extent the Convention codifies customary international law.

While the Secretary General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the UN has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention. There is, however, a role played by organizations such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority (ISA). (The ISA was established by the UN Convention.)

The UNCLOS replaces the older and weaker ‘freedom of the seas' concept, dating from the 17th century: national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation's coastlines, usually three nautical miles, according to the ‘cannon shot' rule developed by the Dutch jurist Cornelius van Bynkershoek.[3] All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters: free to all nations, but belonging to none of them (the mare liberum principle promulgated by Grotius).

In the early 20th century, some nations expressed their desire to extend national claims: to include mineral resources, to protect fish stocks, and to provide the means to enforce pollution controls. (The League of Nations called a 1930 conference at The Hague, but no agreements resulted.) Using the customary international law principle of a nation's right to protect its natural resources, President Trumanin 1945 extended United States control to all the natural resources of its continental shelf. Other nations were quick to follow suit. Between 1946 and 1950, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador extended their rights to a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) to cover their Humboldt Current fishing grounds. Other nations extended their territorial seas to 12 nautical miles (22 km).

By 1967, only 25 nations still used the old 3-mile (4.8 km) limit,[4] while 66 nations had set a 12-nautical-mile (22 km) territorial limit and eight had set a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) limit. As of 28 May 2008, only two countries still use the 3-mile (4.8 km) limit: Jordan and Palau.[5] That limit is also used in certain Australian islands, an area of Belize, some Japanese straits, certain areas of Papua New Guinea, and a few British Overseas Territories, such as Anguilla.


In 1956, the United Nations held its first Conference on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS I) at Geneva, Switzerland. UNCLOS I resulted in four treaties concluded in 1958:

  1. Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, entry into force: 10 September 1964
  2. Convention on the Continental Shelf, entry into force: 10 June 1964
  3. Convention on the High Seas, entry into force: 30 September 1962
  4. Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, entry into force: 20 March 1966

Although UNCLOS I was considered a success, it left open the important issue of breadth of territorial waters.[6]


In 1960, the United Nations held the second Conference on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS II”); however, the six-week Geneva conference did not result in any new agreements. Generally speaking, developing nations and third world countries participated only as clients, allies, or dependents of the United States or the Soviet Union, with no significant voice of their own.


The issue of varying claims of territorial waters was raised in the UN in 1967 by Arvid Pardo, of Malta, and in 1973 the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea was convened in New York. In an attempt to reduce the possibility of groups of nation-states dominating the negotiations, the conference used a consensus process rather than majority vote. With more than 160 nations participating, the conference lasted until 1982. The resulting convention came into force on 16 November 1994, one year after the sixtieth state, Guyana, ratified the treaty.

The convention introduced a number of provisions. The most significant issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones(EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline. (Normally, a sea baseline follows the low-water line, but when the coastline is deeply indented, has fringing islands or is highly unstable, straight baselines may be used.) The areas are as follows:

Internal Waters: Covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline. The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters.

Territorial Waters: Out to 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres; 14 miles) from the baseline, the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Vessels were given the right of innocent passage through any territorial waters, with strategic straits allowing the passage of military craft as transit passage, in that naval vessels are allowed to maintain postures that would be illegal in territorial waters. “Innocent passage” is defined by the convention as passing through waters in an expeditious and continuous manner, which is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security” of the coastal state. Fishing, polluting, weapons practice, and spying are not “innocent”, and submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag. Nations can also temporarily suspend innocent passage in specific areas of their territorial seas, if doing so is essential for the protection of its security. Archipelagic Waters: The convention set the definition of Archipelagic States in Part IV, which also defines how the state can draw its territorial borders. A baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the outermost islands, subject to these points being sufficiently close to one another. All waters inside this baseline are designated Archipelagic Waters. The state has sovereignty over these waters (like internal waters), but subject to existing rights including traditional fishing rights of immediately adjacent states.[7] Foreign vessels have right of innocent passage through archipelagic waters (like territorial waters).

Contiguous Zone: Beyond the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit, there is a further 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the territorial sea baseline limit, the contiguous zone, in which a state can continue to enforce laws in four specific areas: customs, taxation, immigration and pollution, if the infringement started within the state's territory or territorial waters, or if this infringement is about to occur within the state's territory or territorial waters.7 [8]This makes the contiguous zone a hot pursuit area.

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs): These extend from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres; 230 miles) from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. In casual use, the term may include the territorial sea and even the continental shelf. The EEZs were introduced to halt the increasingly heated clashes over fishing rights, although oil was also becoming important. The success of an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 1947 was soon repeated elsewhere in the world, and by 1970 it was technically feasible to operate in waters 4000 metres deep. Foreign nations have the freedom of navigation and over flight, subject to the regulation of the coastal states. Foreign states may also lay submarine pipes and cables.

Continental Shelf: The continental shelf is defined as the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin's outer edge, or 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal state's baseline, whichever is greater. A state's continental shelf may exceed 200 nautical miles (370 km) until the natural prolongation ends. However, it may never exceed 350 nautical miles (650 kilometres; 400 miles) from the baseline; or it may never exceed 100 nautical miles (190 kilometres; 120 miles) beyond the 2,500 meter isobaths (the line connecting the depth of 2,500 meters). Coastal states have the right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of its continental shelf, to the exclusion of others. Coastal states also have exclusive control over living resources “attached” to the continental shelf, but not to creatures living in the water column beyond the exclusive economic zone.

Aside from its provisions defining ocean boundaries, the convention establishes general obligations for safeguarding the marine environment and protecting freedom of scientific research on the high seas, and also creates an innovative legal regime for controlling mineral resource exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction, through an International Seabed Authority and the Common heritage of mankind principle.[9] Land locked states are given a right of access to and from the sea, without taxation of traffic through transit states.[10]

Part XI and the 1994 Agreement

Part XI of the Convention provides for a regime relating to minerals on the seabed outside any state's territorial waters or EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones). It establishes an International Seabed Authority (ISA) to authorize seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute the seabed mining royalty. The United States objected to the provisions of Part XI of the Convention on several grounds, arguing that the treaty was unfavorable to American economic and security interests. Due to Part XI, the United States refused to ratify the UNCLOS, although it expressed agreement with the remaining provisions of the Convention.

From 1983 to 1990, the United States accepted all but Part XI as customary international law, while attempting to establish an alternative regime for exploitation of the minerals of the deep seabed. An agreement was made with other seabed mining nations and licenses were granted to four international consortia. Concurrently, the Preparatory Commission was established to prepare for the eventual coming into force of the Convention-recognized claims by applicants, sponsored by signatories of the Convention. Overlaps between the two groups were resolved, but a decline in the demand for minerals from the seabed made the seabed regime significantly less relevant. In addition, the decline of Socialism and the fall of Communism in the late 1980s had removed much of the support for some of the more contentious Part XI provisions.

In 1990, consultations were begun between signatories and non-signatories (including the United States) over the possibility of modifying the Convention to allow the industrialized countries to join the Convention. The resulting 1994 Agreement on Implementation was adopted as a binding international Convention. It mandated that key articles, including those on limitation of seabed production and mandatory technology transfer, would not be applied, that the United States, if it became a member, would be guaranteed a seat on the Council of the International Seabed Authority, and finally, that voting would be done in groups, with each group able to block decisions on substantive matters. The 1994 Agreement also established a Finance Committee that would originate the financial decisions of the Authority, to which the largest donors would automatically be members and in which decisions would be made by consensus.

On 1 February 2011, the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issued an advisory opinion concerning the legal responsibilities and obligations of States Parties to the Convention with respect to the sponsorship of activities in the Area in accordance with Part XI of the Convention and the 1994 Agreement. The advisory opinion was issued in response to a formal request made by the International Seabed Authority following two prior applications the Authority's Legal and Technical Commission had received from the Republics of Nauru and Tonga regarding proposed activities (a plan of work to explore for polymetallic nodules) to be undertaken in the Area by two State-sponsored contractors – Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (sponsored by the Republic of Nauru) and Tonga Offshore Mining Ltd. (sponsored by the Kingdom of Tonga). The advisory opinion set forth the international legal responsibilities and obligations of Sponsoring States AND the Authority to ensure that sponsored activities do not harm the marine environment, consistent with the applicable provisions of UNCLOS Part XI, Authority regulations, ITLOS case law, other international environmental treaties, and Principle 15 of the UN Rio Declaration.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The management of water resources in Nigeria is a critical issue that requires urgent attention. Despite the country's abundant water resources, there are several challenges that hinder effective management. One of the key problems is the lack of comprehensive and well-enforced environmental laws specifically tailored to address the complexities of water resource management. Existing laws are often outdated, fragmented, and inadequate to deal with current environmental challenges such as pollution, overexploitation, and climate change impacts.

Another significant problem is the lack of coordination among the various stakeholders involved in water resource management. This lack of coordination leads to overlapping mandates, conflicting policies, and inefficient use of resources. Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness and understanding among the general public about the importance of water resources and the need for sustainable management practices. This lack of awareness contributes to unsustainable water use practices and exacerbates the pressure on water resources.

Additionally, there is a lack of adequate institutional capacity for water resource management in Nigeria. Many of the institutions responsible for water resource management are understaffed, underfunded, and lack the necessary technical expertise to effectively carry out their mandate. This results in poor decision-making, inadequate monitoring and enforcement of regulations, and overall ineffective management of water resources.

Furthermore, the impacts of climate change, such as increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, further exacerbate the challenges facing water resource management in Nigeria. These impacts not only affect the quantity and quality of available water resources but also increase the vulnerability of communities, especially those in rural areas, to water-related disasters.

1.3 Research Questions

  1. What are the key environmental laws governing water resources management in Nigeria?
  2. What are the major challenges facing the effective management of water resources in Nigeria?
  3. How can the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws be improved to enhance water resource management in Nigeria?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

  1. To examine the existing environmental laws and policies governing water resources management in Nigeria.
  2. To identify the challenges and gaps in the implementation and enforcement of these laws.
  3. To suggest recommendations for improving the management of water resources in Nigeria.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Practical Significance:

This study holds practical significance as it provides insights into the current state of environmental laws and management of water resources in Nigeria. The findings of this study can inform policymakers and stakeholders on the gaps and challenges in water resource management, leading to the development of more effective policies and strategies. Additionally, the study can guide water resource managers in implementing sustainable practices to ensure the availability of clean water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use.

Furthermore, the study's recommendations can contribute to improving the overall management of water resources, leading to enhanced water quality, increased water availability, and reduced environmental degradation. This can have a direct impact on the lives of Nigerians, especially those in rural areas who rely heavily on water resources for their livelihoods. By addressing the challenges identified in this study, policymakers and stakeholders can work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6, which aims to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all.

Theoretical Significance:

The study also holds theoretical significance as it contributes to the existing body of knowledge on environmental laws and water resource management. By reviewing and analyzing existing literature and policies, the study can identify gaps in knowledge and areas for further research. This can help researchers and scholars in expanding their understanding of environmental governance and sustainable water management practices.

Additionally, the study can contribute to theoretical frameworks and concepts related to environmental law, governance, and sustainable development. By examining the effectiveness of current laws and policies, the study can provide insights into how legal frameworks can be improved to address complex environmental challenges. This can lead to the development of new theoretical models and approaches for managing water resources in Nigeria and other developing countries facing similar challenges..

1.6 Scope of the Study

This study will focus on the legal framework governing the management of water resources in Nigeria. It will examine key laws, regulations, and policies related to water resources management, with a particular focus on their implementation and enforcement.

1.7 Research Methodology

The study will use a combination of desk research and fieldwork. Desk research will involve a review of existing literature, reports, and documents related to environmental laws and water resources management in Nigeria. Fieldwork will include interviews with key stakeholders, including government officials, water resource managers, and community representatives.

1.8 Definition of Terms

  • Water Resources: Water resources refer to all sources of water, including rivers, lakes, aquifers, and groundwater, that are used for various purposes, including domestic, agricultural, and industrial use.
  • Environment: The environment refers to the natural and physical surroundings in which organisms live, including air, water, soil, and ecosystems.
  • Laws: Laws refer to rules and regulations that are enacted by a governing body and are enforceable by authority.
  • Environmental Law: Environmental law refers to the body of laws, regulations, and policies that govern the protection and conservation of the environment.
  • Management: Management refers to the process of planning, organizing, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals.
  • Water Resources Management: Water resources management refers to the planning, development, and sustainable use of water resources to meet the needs of present and future generations.

1.9 Literature Review

Mohammed Tawfiq Ladan in his book, Materials and Cases on Public International Law[11] extensively highlighted on the international law of the sea, and Nigeria’s maritime law. He raised fundamental issues and clearly enunciates the seminaries and dissimilarities of the two laws. Another author in the Procedural Framework of the Agreement Implementing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea analyzed on the law of the sea, procedures of agreement implementation, and on the New Legal regimes of 1982 UNCLOS. His contribution on the territorial sea, Continental Zone, exclusive economic Zone, continental shelf were relevant to this study. He succeeded in making a distinction between the zones and proffered useful legal definitions of the zones.

Osita, C.E., in Transfer of technology to developing Countries[12], elaborated on the prevention and control of marine pollution from all sources. His contribution on the promotion of the development and transfer of marine technology on fair and reasonable terms and conditions with proper regards for all legitimate interests including the rights and duties of holders, suppliers and recipients of technology are invaluable to this research. They have been analysed in the light of this research. Ilogu, L.C.16 made needful contributions on the maritime sector, especially in the area of ship, ship mortgage, but failed to succinctly address the issue of new emerging trends in the maritime sector which this research aims at addressing. Akinsanya, A. in his work on maritime pollution in environmental law and policy,[13]made useful observation on marine pollution and its adverse effect on marine life. His work is relevant to this research but did not touch on issues of Nigeria’s maritime interest. Brownlie, I., in Principles of Public International law,[14] gave an apt examination of the convention on the law of the Sea, bringing grey areas to light and making useful recommendations. However, he failed to examine the issues of Nigerian maritime interest within the African context.

Green, L.C., in his work, International Law through the cases,[15] highlighted the issue of innocent passage and observed the challenges militating the exploitation and exploration of marine resources. The work failed however, to look at the African context, especially Nigeria; and her maritime sector, which this research aims to augment.

Walker, W.L., in Territorial Waters,[16] discussed the parameters of boundary disputes and adjudication and made useful recommendation on the issues raised in the work. The work on the other hand did not address the challenges of vessels, especially on Nigerian waters which this research aims to address.

Ayua A.I. Yagba T.A.T., Osiase O.A. “in the New Law of the Sea and Nigerian Maritime

Sector: Issues and Prospects for the Next Millennium,”[17] highlighted issues on the exploration and exploitation of the marine environment; and discussed to some extent the challenges faced by coastal states, but failed to proffer solutions that would curb the problems faced by the coastal states which are peculiar to each situation. This research therefore aims at analyzing these grey areas and recommending practical way out if the issues raised.

Patel, B.N. and Thakkar H., in “Marine Security and Piracy: Global Issues, Challenges and Solutions”[18] analysed the menace of piracy and made valuable comparative analysis of different legal regimes and suggested ways of combating maritime piracy as a subject of universal jurisdiction and the dimension of global maritime piracy. Though invaluable their contribution, they however failed to identify those problems that are peccary to Africa coastal states.