Labour, civil society groups petition Lagos gubernatorial candidates over water privatization

A coalition of labour and civil society groups have petitioned the two major gubernatorial aspirants in Lagos State over the government’s alleged plan to privatize the state owned Water Corporation.

In separate letters written to Jimi Agbaje and Akinwunmi Ambode, candidates of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress respectively, the coalition demanded that the aspirants stated their position on water privatization during their campaigns.

“We are deeply worried that the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC), with the support of the World Bank and private water corporations, is pushing very hard for a dangerous privatization of water in Lagos, Africa’s biggest city,” the coalition said in the petition.

“Since 1979, the Lagos State government has obtained loans from the World Bank, French government, and international donor agencies to fund water supply expansion schemes, such as the Iju, Adiyan, Ishasi Waterworks, as well as expansion of distribution networks.

“These loans have run into billions of naira and saddled government with debt that many are still paying back. Nevertheless, the loans have not translated into improved water supply for residents.”

The signatories to the petition include the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Public Services International, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, and Corporate Accountability International.

The groups insisted that partnering with the private sector would not solve the problem of water shortage in Lagos.

They requested the gubernatorial aspirants to publicly oppose public-private partnership scheme being pursued by the government.

“It is critical that the next governor of Lagos address the issue of water access, and it is clear that partnering with the private sector for water management is not the solution,” it said.

Shayo Holloway, the Group Managing Director of the LSWC, had continued to insist that there were no plans to private water supply in Lagos, but a collaboration with the private sector to improve water supply in the state.

According to Mr. Holloway, PPP is not the same as privatization.

However, at a press conference on Monday, the coalition called on the people to resist any move to involve private entities in the state’s water sector.

Monday’s press conference was also held to commemorate this year’s World Water Day, marked on March 22, with the theme ‘Water and Sustainable Development.’

“The whole element of sustainable development, which is actually one of the cardinal principles of environmental rights, is that the human person is the biggest environmental resource,” Akinbode Oluwafemi, Director of Corporate Accountability, ERA/FoEN.

“We need to call the people to resist privatization. For us resistance is advocacy. What we’ve shown is we say no to water privatization. We believe it will price water beyond the reach of our people.

“We believe that when water is privatized, quality can go down. We believe in what is called municipalization of water. The Lagos water should be held in trust by the government for the people.”

Mr. Oluwafemi insisted that water in Lagos can be managed in a sustainable way when the water remain as a public trust.

“When public corporation that is going to abuse those public trust are kept away from the management of our water,” he said.

“We are against a system whereby our government invest on water infrastructure and then they sell them. Or they concede them or sign them as MOU to private pockets who then begin to make money off our people irresponsibly.”

Ade Ajayi, Water Desk Officer at PSI, said that water privatization had failed “woefully” in several places it had been implemented across the world.

“We have been telling government that privatization is not the issue. Even in 2011, we told them in France, Marseille, that what they are doing in Tanzania will fail woefully, that means privatization of water,” said Mr. Ajayi.

“Tanzania is a very big country yet they have only one water system which they call Kawasa. At the end of the privatization, they renamed it Kawasco. What happened? It failed.

“The government in order not to soil its name and to still get voted back withdrew that action. It failed woefully in Dar es Salaam. So what are we talking about?”

Idowu Adelakun, the Lagos State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, called for an overhaul of the management of the LSWC.

“We believe from the labour angle that privatization of water is not the issue. The issue there is total overhauling of the management of the water corporation in Lagos,” said Mr. Adelakun.

“Since the exit of the former MD of Water, Mr. Coker, about seven years ago, the present management led by Engr Holloway has failed woefully. If somebody has worked in a place for about eight years and he has not been able to get things right, I don’t know when he will be able to get it right.”

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