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CSO, unions raise alarm over World Bank executives’ visit

By Agbonkhese Oboh

A coalition of civil society organisations, CSO, and unions, on the platform of Our Water Our Right, has raised red flags over the recent visit of World Bank’s executive directors to Nigeria.

From left: Executive Director, Joint Action Front, JAF, Mr. Achike Chudi; Chairman, AWASHNET, Lady Vicky Urenma; Deputy Executive Director, ERA/FOEN, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, and Chairman, Water Corporation for AUPCTRE, Mr. Tomiwa Odunsanwo, at the briefing on the World Bank team’s visit to Nigeria.

The coalition told newsmen in Lagos that the claim that the visit is to, among other things, assess the World Bank’s intervention on ground was just a whitewash over moves to consolidate on its plans for wholesale privatisation of the country.

World Bank Executive Directors that were part of the visiting team were from Switzerland, France, Italy, Nordic, Peru, Germany and South Africa (representing Angola, Nigeria and South Africa). Others were from Burkina Faso (representing Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa), Zimbabwe (representing Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa), United Kingdom and Indonesia.

Leader of the World Bank team, Dr. Patricio Pagano, the Executive Director for Italy, Albania, Greece, Malta, Portugal, San Marino and Timor-Leste, was quoted in a statement by the bank as saying “our visit to Nigeria is to help us get a better understanding of the country context, assess the World Bank’s intervention on the ground and support opportunities that will keep the country in a part of sustained development.”

However, Our Water Our Right coalition, which comprises Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN; Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, AUPCTRE; Corporate Accountability International, Child Health Organisation, Public Service International, among others, frowned at the timing of the visit and perceived secrecy surrounding same.

ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “Not only was the World Bank’s visit concealed until the team arrived, the calibre of directors on the entourage showed that they were only in Nigeria to consolidate on schemes contrived behind closed doors to financialise critical sectors of the economy, including water.”

Oluwafemi pointed out that the timing of the visit would seem to explain why the World Bank and its private arm— International Finance Corporation, IFC—were heavily represented at the recent Global Water Summit in France, where discussions with the Lagos Water Corporation, LWC, officials tilted towards privatising Lagos water sector.

Vicky Urenma, Executive Director of Child Health Organisation and Chairman of African Women Sanitation and Hygiene Network, AWASHNET, explained that civil society and grassroots groups are particularly unconvinced about the sincerity of the visit by the World Bank team going by past examples of how IFC had undertaken a secret advisory contract to take control of Lagos water.

Urenma added that pressure from Our Water Our Right coalition forced the IFC in 2016 to distance itself from the contract, noting that “we are now circumspect about a not-too-open romance between the Lagos government and the IFC on possible investment opportunities in the Lagos water sector.”

The coalition reiterated calls urging the federal and state governments to reject contracts designed by, involving, or influenced by the IFC, which operates to maximise private profit.

“We have said it time and again that Lagos and other states of the federation can fund water sustainably if they build the political will to prioritise water for the people and come up with a comprehensive plan that invests in the water infrastructure necessary to provide universal water access, create jobs, and improve public health,” the coalition insisted.

It said if the World Bank team had good intentions, it would have met with everyday Nigerians for accurate data.


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