The Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees, AUPCTRE; Public Services International, PSI, and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, organised a one-day national town hall meeting on the Water Resources Bill on Monday, September 20, in Abuja, with a call on the Federal Government “to discard the obnoxious National Water Bill and kick-start a fresh community-led process and consultation to birth a true and inclusive National Water Bill at the National Assembly”.
The town hall meeting was informed by the need to further heighten engagement by critical stakeholders to again reaffirm opposition to the contentious National Water Resources Bill as reports swell about plans for its re-presentation at the House of Representatives.
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CAPPA boss address
While delivering the welcome address, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA, noted that from the second to the last quarter of year 2020 there was national outcry about the Bill and the manner its promoters in the Ministry of Water Resources and the National Assembly tried to force it on the nation.
Oluwafemi said that even after the Bill was stepped down, its promoters have continued to push for its representation, hence labour and civil society actors will continue mobilising against it till the government listens and institutes a fresh process that will incorporate the inputs and demands of the people.
Solidarity messages were received from notable labour, civil society actors and critical allies such as PSI, Joint Action Front, JAF; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, among others.
The keynote address titled “Resource Management Dialogue Within a Federal State Versus National Water Bill”, was delivered by Dr. Sofiri-Joab Peterside of the University of Port Harcourt.
He dwelt on how the Nigerian government continues to brush aside the genuine yearnings of Nigerians and, instead, tries to impose neoliberal policies on the citizenry.
Joab Peterside said the unfortunate neoliberal economic paradigm foisted by the World Bank and other capitalist institutions has been bought by the Nigerian government and manifest in Nigeria’s education, electricity, public infrastructure, housing and now water sector, while the same government encourages tax benefits and generous incentives for the private sector operators.
After deliberations and contributions in panel sessions, the participants observed that water has emotional, spiritual and ancestral appeal to indigenous people, serves as common pool resource and it is pivotal to maintaining cultural identity;
In cities across the globe and in Africa where privatisation and the Public Private Partnership, PPP, model of water privatisation has been experimented, there have been disastrous consequences on local communities, job losses, shut offs, among a host of sad commentary;
Plans to foist the National Water Resources Bill on Nigerians despite opposition from a broad spectrum of Nigerians is reflective of the Nigerian government embrace of neoliberalism and the culture of insensitivity to the genuine needs of Nigerians in the water and other sectors of the economy;
The water governance challenge in Nigeria is a manifestation of the power grab character of the Nigerian political elite and their accomplices in all the corridors of power;
The Federal Ministry of Water Resources is determined to reintroduce the toxic version of the National Water Bill and this smacks of respect for the wishes of Nigerians who have unanimously called for it to be trashed because of its ambiguous, obnoxious, and pro-privatisation clauses;
The government at the centre and state governments continue their unacceptable abdication of responsibility in failing to encourage and promote public sector solutions to address the gaping chasm in access to water in communities throughout the federation;
The funding gap in the water sector is due largely to vested interests and lack of political will on the part of government, and not because of lacking resources;
The acceptance of the privatisation myth, especially the Public Private Partnership by the federal and state governments is the singular most disturbing challenge to access to water, depriving the average Nigerian a basic human right;
Comprehensive data on both water infrastructure investment and access is lacking, thereby stifling planning for the now and the future;
The World Bank and other capitalist establishments are escalating and assertively promoting privatisation in Nigeria and other African countries and define success of water policies only in terms of revenue to government or profit to corporations rather than universal reasonably priced access;
In decision-making when it comes to water resource management, communities, women or the vulnerable in the society are excluded. This category of Nigerians is equally at the receiving end of water crises, scarcities, and seclusion;
Privatisation in any guise will exacerbate already existing competition for already scarce water resources and the attendant strife in communities across Nigeria;
The plans to solve Nigeria’s water challenges laid out by the Our Water Our Right coalition in the document – Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for the Water Sector have still not been engaged with seriously at federal or state levels;
Awareness on the National Water Resources Bill is still low especially in communities that carry the biggest burden of water shortages.
The rights group then agreed
The Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010 recognizing the human right to water and sanitation and the importance of clean drinking water and sanitation to the realisation of all human rights makes it mandatory for the Nigerian government to remove every obstacle to citizens’ access;
The Nigerian government at all levels must wean themselves of the privatisation and PPP addiction which had failed across the globe and spurred remunicipalisations, especially in the last decade;
The Federal Government discards the obnoxious National Water Bill and kick-start a fresh community-led process and consultation to birth a true and inclusive National Water Bill at the National Assembly;
The Federal Government respects the genuine wishes of Nigerians expressed through various public forums and public channels including the media by jettisoning the toxic National Water Bill;
The Federal Government and all state governments embrace tested and proven public sector solutions in addressing Nigeria’s water challenges. Some suggested solutions are the Public-Public-Partnership model and National Water Trust Fund;
There is need for comprehensive data on both water infrastructure investment and access to aid planning for the now and the future;
Government should embrace democratic decision-making and democratic control which puts communities first in addressing water shortages. Women, communities, and vulnerable groups should be accorded priority in the plans to guarantee access;
The Nigerian governments invest in public infrastructure and embrace democratic, participatory, and transparent management of water investments that fulfil the human right to water through the public sector;
Need for sustained legislative engagements to ensure that the will of the people is respected;
Need for sustained public enlightenment on dangers inherent in the current National Water Bill and mobilization of Nigerians at the grassroots and across board to support a new Bill which will address the inequities in the current Bill;
In fashioning solutions to the crisis in the water sector, workers welfare and capacitation must be a priority to ensure sustainability of policies to reverse the current water sector woes;
Need for more engagement with the media to amplify the challenges in the water sector and deeper understanding of the contentious issues in the National Water Bill.
Besides AUPCTRE and CAPPA, others that signed a communiqué released after the town hall meeting are Public Services Employees, Joint Action Front, Child Health Organisation, African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network.
Democratic Socialist Movement, Network of Lagos Communities Against Water Privatisation, Peace and Development Project, and Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection also signed it.