The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FOEN), a social justice organisation with offices across Nigerian regions has asked the Lagos State Government “to stop any form of water privatisation, including those under the public-private partnership model, and instead bolster real solutions that truly address people’s access to water.” The group made the statement during a press conference held in Lagos, recently.

In a letter to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, ERA/FoEN noted that the solutions to water problems “lie not in corporate management of public goods, but in collective investment in water infrastructure and democratic decision-making that prioritises the human rights to water over all other objectives.”

According to reports the Lagos State Government had stuck a deal with the International Financial Corporation (IFC), the commercial arm of the World Bank, to bring in private players into the state’s water sector.

The Director, Corporate Campaigns, ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “In October, we launched a major campaign called ‘This is Lagos, Our Water, Our Right, No to Privatisation’. With this campaign we have embarked on state-wide, national and global mobilisation to mount pressure on those who want to hand over Lagos water to big corporations. For decades, the World Bank has driven the privatisation of water worldwide. That agenda has come with devastating consequences for people’s ability to access safe, clean water.” Akinbode cited the failed water projects conducted by the IFC in Manila, Philippines, and Nagpur, India, emphasising that the injection of private sweat into the business of water will only make the resource elitist and very difficult for the average man on the street to access. He argued that the social implications of water make it imperative for it not to be left in the hands of capitalists, who are bent on making profits at all costs.

The ERA/FoEN also accused the IFC of conducting corporate bidding processes, designing complex and lopsided water privatisation contracts, dictating arbitration terms, and becoming part-owner of water corporations that win the contracts it designs and recommends all while aggressively marketing the model to be replicated around the world. “Not only do these activities undermine democratic water governance,” argued the Group, “but they constitute an irreconcilable conflict of interest within the IFC’s activities in the water sector, an alarming pattern seen from Eastern Europe to India to Southeast Asia to Africa,” Oluwafemi said.

However, the Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Ochekpe, has argued that privatisation of water simply highlights the inadequacy of government funding in the sector. She noted that commercialisation of water services will increase the revenue base of the sector for the maintenance of facilities and development of new ones.

A Gender Rights Activist, Betty Abah, also weighed in on the issue by reminding the government that women are largely affected by the scarcity of water because of their domestic responsibilities in running a home. “Lack of water endangers women more,” she told THISDAY, “because in the home, usually, it is the responsibility of the woman to provide water for drinking, bathing, and cooking. So, we need to make water available so as to make life easier. Privatisation is not the answer. And until we speak strongly against it, they will go ahead and do it.”

A campaigner at the Boston-based non-profit, Corporate Accountability International (CAI), Shayda Edwards explained that the drivers of water privatisation are only concerned about profit and not the equitable distribution of the natural resource. She pointed out that global corporations are seeking to take over ‘our water’ and that the World Bank stands to benefit if they are successful. “I think the global consensus is that the model does not work,” Shayda said. “It has not worked in Manila, it will not work in Lagos.”

She also gave strong assurances that her organisation is strongly committed to seeing that Lagos does not join cities like Manila and Nagpur, where privatisation has worsened the availability of safe water to the general populace.

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