By Agbonkhese Oboh
After two days of deliberations on human right to water by over 150 participants drawn from local, national and international civil society and grassroots groups representing a global movement committed to resisting corporate control of water, Nigerian government and governments across Africa, have been told to, among others, reject privatisation projects designed by the World Bank and its corporate partners, describing same as a new form of colonialism.
Other demands placed on stakeholders by the summit held on January 29 and 30, organised by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, were that Lagos State government accede to the demands of the Our Water Our Right movement that it jettison privatisation, including its PPP addiction, and build the political will to fulfill the human right to water through the public sector;
A probe of all Public Private Partnership, PPP, projects, loans and funding for the existing water system and infrastructure nationwide, including at the state level; a national agenda for the human right to water, starting with a robust national campaign to demand for a bill that protects against privatisation and advances the human right to water;
Remunicipalisation, which is increasing globally as privatisation’s promises fade, offers opportunities to build local democratic governance of water sources and infrastructure; government to replace the failed PPP model with proven public solutions including the Public-Public-Partnership model and a national Water Trust Fund, as outlined in the way forward document entitled Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for Water Sector.
The participants also said governments in Africa should embrace democratic decision making in addressing water shortages, women and vulnerable groups should be accorded priority in plans to guarantee access and that there is need for comprehensive data on both water infrastructure investment and access to aid planning for the now and the future.
Co-organisers of the summit, held on the theme “Nigeria’s Water Emergency: From Resistance to Real Solutions Against Corporate Control,” were Corporate Accountability, CA; Public Services International, PSI; Transnational Institute, TNI, the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees, AUPCTRE, among others.
Participants were drawn from Nigeria and across Africa, Europe, India and the United States, including representatives from Flint and Pittsburgh, who have cases of lead-poisoned water.
Representatives of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles; Institute for the Black World 21st Century, NAACP; representatives of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the wife of the Senate President, Mrs. Toyin Saraki, were in attendance.
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Solidarity messages were received from notable civil society actors and representatives of critical allies in Nigeria and the global community. They include the United Nations, UN, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Leo Heller; UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston; representative Gwen Moore and representative Raul Grijaiva sent their solidarity messages via virtual video delivery.
Chair of the Board of ERA/FoEN, Nnimmo Bassey, delivered the welcome address, while a keynote address on “The Nigerian Water Crisis and the Imperative of Rights-Based Solutions” was delivered by the Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Centre LSD, Dr. Otive Igbuzor.
Denouncing the aggressive marketing of PPP “success myth” by the World Bank and its private arm—International Finance Corporation, IFC— especially in poor nations, the summit observed that the acceptance of the privatisation myth by the Nigerian government and governments across Africa has spiked land grabs by multinational corporations and pose serious challenges on all sectors of life, including access to water, thus depriving locals of their basic human right;
Lagos State government continues to demonstrate an unacceptable abdication of responsibility by its failure to embrace public sector solutions to address the yawning gap in access to water and rejuvenating the ailing water sector;
The corporate takeover of water in Lagos and other cities across Africa is a new form of colonialism now strangulating the African continent; plans laid out by the Our Water Our Right Coalition in the way forward document—Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for the Water Sector— have not been engaged with seriously or responded to;
Comprehensive data on water infrastructure investment and access is lacking, thereby stifling planning for now and the future; there are reports of massive corruption in water sector across the states and at the national level are alarming;
The World Bank and corporate powers are intensifying the promotion of privatisation, which is a false solution to the gap in access to water in Nigeria and Africa; PPP in the water sector is a new form of colonialism aggressively marketed by the World Bank and its corporate partners, and defines success only in terms of profit to corporations rather than universal affordable water access;
The funding gap in the water sector is due to the vested interests and lack of political will, not a lack of resources. For example, Lagos State, which generates nearly 60 billion naira monthly, claims to not have sufficient funds to improve the state water system;
Bills and policies on water at the national level include dangerous pro-privatisation elements, which threaten the human right to water. Participants were, therefore, galvanised to advocate the elimination of these policies as a means to protect their fundamental rights;
In decision-making in relation to water, local communities are not consulted and their inputs not sought. Women’s voices and the voices of other vulnerable groups are subjugated and not accorded priority. They are equally at the receiving end of water shortages and inaccessibility;
Oil extraction and its attendant pollution of rivers and other traditional water sources, especially in the Niger Delta, continue to deny local communities access to clean, safe water and an environment in which they can thrive, and those most impacted by government decision in respect of water governance are least informed about what the government is doing.
‘Review water policy’
Among decisions reached by participants at the summit, according to a communique, are that the National Water Policy be reviewed to make it mandatory that all states, in collaboration with local governments, ensure adequate fund is made available to resuscitate all water facilities;
Women’s leadership shall continue to be sustained and bolstered to achieve future victories in the fight against PPP; African governments invest in public infrastructure and embrace democratic, participatory and transparent management of water investments; the state governments across the federation make public the sums they have obtained in loans or grants from donor agencies for water and how much have been expended in the last decade;
Communities at the grassroots level, including Community Development Associations, CDAs, be fully integrated into campaigns on the human right to water; the Freedom of Information, FoI, Act be utilised in the public demand of information on funds sourced and approved for public water projects in the last three decades;
There is need to reinvigorate movement for water justice across Africa to address the challenges of governance, human rights and corruption in the water sector across the African continent, and in the design and implementation of policies relating to the water sector, governments in the Africa must recognise the role of workers and guarantee they have job security.
Nnimmo Bassey, ERA/FoEN; Shayda Naficy, CA; Sani Baba, PSI; Benjamin Anthony, AUPCTRE; Satoko Kishimoto, TNI; Priscilla Achakpa, WEP, and Leslie Adoghame, Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development, SRADeV, signed the communique.