By Abiose Adelaja Adams
It was a mass rallying point on Tuesday at the Lagos Water Summit, as members of both local and international civil society groups, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and human right groups across the country gathered to protest the water privatization plans of the Lagos State government.
The campaign, which was organized by Environmental Rights Action, ERA,/Friends of the Earth, Corporate Accountability International, USA and Public Service International, Ghana, began in October 2014 with the theme, “Our Water, Our Rights, Say No to Privatization”.
It, however, has not got a satisfactory response and so the promoters decided to harness all forces at the summit in order to galvanize people to action that would stop the Lagos government in its insistence that privatization is the solution to the problems of water access and delivery in the state.
“Water is a human right and free gift of nature therefore no one should be denied or cut out of this basic human right because he cannot afford the cost,” said Godwin Ojo, the executive director of ERA.
“The reason for this summit is that we are here to say no to privatization, we have started with this campaign last year but we are not satisfied because feelers from the Lagos State Water Corporation indicate that the Agency is pushing ahead with the public private partnership, PPP. Therefore we have come together to confront the menace of privatization in the water sector which is a force advancing on Lagos and other major cities across the world,” he stated.
Through this summit, he added, residents will be educated on their rights to water, while myths behind public private partnerships, PPP, will be debunked.
In his good will message, Solomon Adelegan, the National President of Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Technical and Recreational Services Employees, who also representing the Nigeria Labour Congress said, threatened that Labour would not condone the privatization of water in the state.
“If Lagos goes ahead with the privatization plan we will not only grind lagos, but the whole country, because it is Nigerian workers that will bear the brunt.”
“The NLC president is actively working on this and we will fight it to a halt,” he added.
Joe Odumakin, president, Women Arise, said a stop must be put to the privatization plan, adding “water is our right. If we do not stop them now from selling our water, one day, they will package the air we are breathing and sell it to us.”
ERA called to the world’s attention in October 2014 that the Lagos State had signed an MoU, memorandum of understanding with the World Bank’s Private arm , the International Finance Corporation, in a PPP, the content of which was not made public.
After much pressure from local and international NGOs, the managing director of the Lagos Water Corporation, Shayo Holloway, stated that “there is no plan to privatise Lagos water, rather its set to partner with the private sector in a bid to increase water supply and alleviate poverty.”
He called this public private partnership which is backed by the Lagos Water law of 2004.
Explaining the rationale, Holloway further stated that the total installed capacity of the Corporation as at today is 210 million gallons per day (water production), whereas the actual water demand is 540 million gallons per day.
By year 2020 water demand is expected to be 733 million gallons per day, while the water production will be 745 million gallons per day, leaving us with the excess of 12 million gallons per day.
However, Nnimo Bassey, director, Health of the Mother Earth Foundation, who gave the keynote speech at the Water Summit, observed that the World Bank was out to make profit from Lagosians through the PPP agreement rather than alleviate poverty.
Quoting Holloway, Bassey said “the total available water assets, even if run at 100 per cent efficiency, stands at 210 gallong per day, leaving a shortfall or deficit of 330 million gallons per day.
“Now that the installations are not working at 100 per cent and electricity is epileptic, how many Lagosians enjoy public water. The figure is a paltry 10 per cent. This is woeful for an upcoming Megacity ,” he said.
Similarly, Shayda Naficy, campaign director with Corporate Accountability International said provision of water is a social service which should not be for profit.
“The goal of any water system is to provide the water people need to survive, not earn profits for the corporate water industry. It’s time for the World Bank to end its dogmatic promotion of water for profit and support democratically controlled and publicly owned water systems, which is what the people of Lagos are demanding,” she added.
Nevertheless the Lagos State is going ahead with its plan. It says on it website that the estimated cost of the privatization scheme is $3.5 billion dollars and it cannot do it alone.
“This is an investment which the state government cannot solely undertake as this will take the State government 2 ½ years to fund; with every naira income going into the water sector only! With other equally demanding sectors (Health, Education, Security, Social services, etc), no State is able to undertake this financial burden.”
It says it has commenced the implementation of the Master Plan with the ongoing construction of Adiyan phase 2.
ERA argues that if the plan works out, it is believed that ordinary Lagosians who are already burdened with the cost of procuring water for drinking and other uses will be further levied while those who cannot pay will be excluded from a basic human right they are entitled to.
Even the rich who can afford borehole will also have their fair share of woes as the deal with World Bank’s IFC will result in the declaration of boreholes as illegal, thus forcing Lagosians who own boreholes to stop using them, relying only of government’s privatized water.
In addition, the state’s indebtedness to World Bank will continue to accumulate for generations to come to inherit.
Upon all this, it is not guaranteed to work as previous World Bank projects such as the examples from Manila in Philippines and Nagpur, India have failed, marred by poor services, hikes in water rates, other inconsistencies such as broken promises, as well as frustration of the plight of women and children.
Water As A Human Right
One of the points loudly reiterated by various speakers as they gave their good will message at the summit is the issue of safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right as recognized by the general assembly of the United Nations in 2010.
Twenty three members of the Congress of the United States, sent for the purpose of the summit a letter that reads thus, “Thank you for bringing to our attention the situation in Lagos, Nigeria.”
The letter further reads further:
“Water is a fundamental building block upon which individuals and collective prosperity relies. We are deeply concerned that low income communities and people of colour are disproportionately affected when water is managed with greater attention to profit margins than to human rights. we share you’re your concerns that a move towards privatization of the water scheme could leave the city vulnerable to the negative impacts historically associated with various forms of water privatization including rate hikes, worker layoffs, service interruptions and failures to adequately invest in infrastructure.”
Sani Baba, of the Public Service International, Ghana, one of the organizers of the event said “there are some communities that it is a taboo to sell water, whether in sachet or bottle. Water is a free gift of nature,” he restated that his organization is ready to stand by this campaign till it wins.”
Privatization and its effects
Lagos has population of about 20 million people, 90 per cent of which takes it upon themselves to provide their own water using alternative sources such as boreholes, water vendors, wells, sachet water, bottled water, streams or even rain water for drinking, cooking and washing.
The concern of activists is that the city of Lagos and, by extension, the country will face immense hardship if water is privatized.
Concerns were raised about the issues of increasing water-borne diseases, increased unemployment as a result of laying-off of Lagos State Water Corporation staff, lack of affordability due to poverty levels, increased corruption and crime.
According to the WHO/UNESCO, 66 million Nigerians do not have access to potable water; Premature death from water related diseases cost the country $2.5 billion, while $191 million was spent on healthcare for diarrhea alone in 2012.
“Avoidable deaths and diseases will continue to rise in portions of the world where citizens do not have adequate and safe water and sanitation,” said Bassey.
Tunde Akanni, a lecturer of Journalism at the Department Of Communications, Lagos State University, believes that the exercise will make criminals out of otherwise innocent people.
“Our attitudes to standard will be compounded by water privatization. For instance, if water is privatized people will be forced to look for short cuts and the government can’t police everybody,” he said.
Given the state’s insistence, the activists vow to employ all the might of other countries which have succeeded in resisting World Bank’s water privatization for instance, in Ghana.
ERA’s director of corporate accountability, Akinbode Oluwafemi said the group had sought dialogue from both World Bank and the Lagos State government to no avail.
“Even during the campaign, we met both governorship aspirants, Jimi Agbaje and Akinwunmi Ambode, they both said very good things they will do. Now we wrote to Ambode, he is yet to reply us.”
“What we are doing here is connecting Lagos to the global audience, and we will match them science for science, figures for figures. We are going to commission a large study to look at investments in water, what has gone wrong since the 70s. We are going to the Lagos House of Assembly to recruit parliamentarians. We are going to emlarge this campaign,” he stated.