Members of the civil society and dozens of community people chanted solidarity songs and danced to Afrobeat king, Fela’s music, as they marched across Lagos metropolis Wednesday in protest of a continued government plan to privatize the state owned Water Corporation.
The protesters said despite their petitions and public advocacy, the “body language” of government officials conveyed a message that they were going ahead with the plan.
They also said they were angry with statements attributed to Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, that water privatization was the only way out of the state’s water crisis.
“On the 6th of June, the Speaker publicly addressed the press and said the only solution to water problem in Lagos is to privatize it. It was published in the newspaper,” said Subair Muali. Chairman, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Lagos Council.
“On the 12th of July, we wrote a letter to this House (of Assembly) and this House invited us to a meeting. The meeting was chaired by Dayo Fafunmi (Ifako-Ijaiye 1), the chairman of the committee on Environment and he told us that they will look into our agitation and demand. We said no to any form of privatization in Lagos.
“But in his speech and his character, we saw that the issue of selling the water in the name of PPP, which is another form of privatization, is still in their blood. We now said if that is the case, we want to publicly tell Honourable Speaker today that we the masses and the Lagos workers said no to privatization of water in Lagos State.”
Since the last quarter of 2014, civil society groups had continued to mount pressure on the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC), to back-pedal on its alleged plans to privatize public water supply in the state.
There had been ongoing talks between the LWC and the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, on designing a water scheme for the state.
In January 2015, the World Bank announced that it was terminating the discussions with the LWC.
The LWC had, however, continued to insist that it was only seeking partnerships with private companies to optimize water supply to Lagos residents.
Speaking at an event to mark the Lagos House of Assembly’s one year in office on June 9, Mr. Obasa had said privatization was the way out of the state’s water crisis.
“If you want clean water and to stop people from digging borehole, you must privatize the agency (Lagos Water Corporation),” Mr. Obasa was quoted as saying.
“Foreign partners want to come in and this is at a cost. Then come to think of the dangers of sinking boreholes. So what we are trying to do now is to create the conducive environment for the foreign investors to come in.”
The protesters, led by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth International, included key representatives of Public Services International (PSI), the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Peace and Development Project (PEDEP), as well as community representatives from Agege, Shomolu, Epe, Ikorodu and Ketu.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, a Director at the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said Mr. Obasa’s statement was “ill advised.”
“Since October 2015 we have made representations,” Mr. Oluwafemi said.
“During the campaigns, we sent correspondence to the current governor, Governor Ambode, about our aversion to privatization of Lagos water and we have been very articulate in telling them what needs to be done, because we are not saying no to water privatization, we are saying there is a solution.
“We were shocked that the Speaker of the House that is supposed to represent the people now came out and said the only solution is to support corporate profit.”
Betty Abah, Executive Director at Cee-Hope, appealed to the state government to halt the planned privatization adding that Lagosians ought to have free access to water.
“If the road we travel on is privatized in the form of toll gates, water should at least be free. If we do not speak now one day they will privatize the air that we breathe.”
The protesters had drafted a two-point petition addressed to Mr. Obasa demanding a public statement informing his constituents about his commitment to protect Lagos water from PPP water privatisation scheme as well as propose and develop a comprehensive plan for achieving universal access to clean water in the state.
They were also armed with a petition to the lawmakers demanding a rejection of “all forms of water privatization and commodification,” revision of all water sector laws prmoting PPP, and making adequate budgetary provisions to the water sector.
However, when they arrived the Lagos State House of Assembly, security officials shut the gate, prompting them to block vehicular movement entering or exiting the Complex.
It took the intervention of a lawmaker, Segun Olulade, for the gates to be opened.
“They’ve opened the gates eventually and that is to tell you we are in a democratic government,” Mr. Muali told the crowd.
“We are no more in the era of military whereby we the masses that put them there, we want to tell them our no and our yes and somebody locked the gate. That is why we said ‘You lock the gate, we block the road. One-one.”
Responding, Mr. Olulade said the lawmakers would look into all the matters raised in the petitions.
“We have received your petition, and I want to assure you, though we are on recess, that this petition will receive urgent and positive attention,” said Mr. Olulade (Epe Constituency 2).
“I also want to assure you that your House will forever stand with the people of Lagos State. We are your voice. Your pain is our pain, your gain is our own gain. We believe in you.”