By Bose Adelaja & Augustina Anyaegbu
A recent study by the World Health Organisation says 66 million Nigerians do not have access to potable or safe water, a situation which has given rise to water-related diseases, costing the country a whooping sum of $2.5billion as people throng various hospitals for treatment.
The situation is worse in Lagos State which accounts for about 21 million people without safe water. Indeed, it is said that over 40% of them do not have access to pipe-borne water from the state’s water corporation, hence their reliance on various alternative means of water supply. The most common is by sinking wells and boreholes.
From Lagos Island to Lekki-Ajah and Lagos Mainland, the situation is the same as residents pay through their nose to get potable water. A beautician, Mr Majekodunmi Adebari, who recently moved to his new apartment in Agboyi-Ketu said he spent N300,000 to sink a borehole.
Similarly a resident of Pero in Agege local government, Mr Mudasiru Gbadamosi,claimed he spends about N3,000 per week to get potable water.
In the face of this, the Lagos State government recently revealed its intention to partner with the World Health Organisation, WHO, to provide potable water for residents. According to the plan, the Lagos State Water Corporation will be operated by a Public Private Partnership, PPP. But the plan has been widely criticised by civil society groups which are of the opinion that Lagosians will be forced to pay for the services they don’t enjoy.
At Onipanu, for instance, residents claim most of the pipes are rusty with water being supplied only twice per month. In places like Baruwa-Ipaja, Gowon Estate, Amuwo-Odifin, Agbado-Ijaye and Ikotun, to mention but a few, residents claim they do not feel the impact of the state water corporation.
To make matters worse, some areas cannot dig or sink boreholes or wells due to the topography.
Also, a recent study kicks against the proliferation of boreholes in Lagos, reason being that the ground water could have been contaminated by salt water from the Atlantic Ocean.
Last Tuesday, Ikeja and its environs witnessed a large turn out of protesters under the aegis of civil society groups who came out to register their grievances with the intention by the state government to privatise the state water corporation. They were led by Environmental Rights Action, ERA/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria, FoEN, in collaboration with other stakeholders which delivered a letter to the state house to press home their demand that the privatisation plan be shelved.
Though the state governor was absent, the letter was, however, handed over to one of the workers as the protesters promised a follow up.
Director, Corporate Accountability ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, is of the opinion that the state water corporation should not be privatised. His reason was that the action will increase unemployment rate, even as residents would be compelled to pay more for less services. “Lagos State water should be controlled by Lagosians, not by the World Bank,” he said.
Corroborating his view, Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Lagos State chapter, Comrade Idowu Adelakun, said the state water scheme should be managed by government which had the responsibility to provide potable water for residents.
Some of the protesters claimed water is a fundamental human right which should be managed by the government. According to Mr. Victor Oni, an advertising agent: “Privatisation has been bastardised in Nigeria. Government will deliberately ruin some public corporations through corruption and inefficiency.
“They will turn around to sell the corporation to their cronies who in turn will strip those companies of their assets, sack the workers and pretend to make it work while charging unjustifiably exorbitant fees.”
By and large, the masses do not benefit . Though we may make a case for it when the government is ready to privatise governance and the economy, as both are afflicted with same illness.
Mrs, Abiodun Irokwe, a business development consultant, added: ‘’Why is government privatising parastatals? Can’t it manage them effectively? My own opinion is that government should stop privatising. Instead they should improve the management performance.
In a similar vein, Miss Chinaza Ezechi, a self-employed worker, said that though she has not enjoyed tap water even for one day, she will not support privatisation of the water corporation. According to her: ‘’Why should they privatize it, even the so called PHCN that was privatized, now charges higher than when it was in the hand of government. In my area, we don’t enjoy electricity, yet we pay power bills. Even if the water corporation is privatised now, the charges will also rise like PHCN bills and not everybody will get the water and they will also pay for the services they don’t enjoy. Government should wake up and know the root cause of why there is no water and sack those ghost workers in that ministry. Government shouldn’t privatise all their ministries. They should do their job and provide us with all the social amenities they have promised. It is not too much for them to do; just give an order and it is done.’’
Among other things, the civil societies advised government to fully uphold the human right to water as an obligation and to reject contracts designed by or involving International Finance Corporation IFC, which operates to maximise private profit.
Meanwhile, a copy of the letter to the governor reads: “We urge you to reject water PPP projects in Lagos. The models upon which these proposals are based have failed to uphold the human right to water and have locked government into long-tern contracts.”