Water is a universal human right. However, across the world and even in Nigeria, there have been attempts to privatise water access. Community members, civil society organisations (CSOs) and unionists say that if this succeeds, these attempts will do more harm than good.

Water everywhere, little to drink

Just like the right to life, right to free speech, right to association, there is also the human right to water and sanitation.

It is a principle that says clean drinking water and sanitation are a universal human right since they are of high importance in sustaining every person’s life. On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared it to be a human right.

It has also been said that water is life. It goes without saying that water is essential to life. However, the reality for many people in developing countries is that access to clean water is a problem. Even though water covers about 70 per cent of the earth’s surface, only 3 per cent is fresh water.

According to UNICEF, four billion people — almost two-thirds of the world’s population —  experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year.

Over two billion people live in countries where water supply is inadequate.

Also, half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025.

Water woes, not just statistics

The above statistics by UNICEF may seem far-fetched to those who live in the developed world or those in developing countries who have the means to provide water supply on their own.

However, even within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital water issues are a grim reality.

Wumba is a community in the Apo District of the FCT. Apo is bounded by Guzape to the north east, Lokogoma to the south west, Gaduwa to the west and Gudu to the north. Through the Apo Roundabout, the Murtala Mohammed Expressway connects to Garki and Asokoro.

With upscale estates surrounding them, the people of Wumba live a contrasting lifestyle. Running water in homes is a luxury here. Local wells, a few private-owned boreholes, and the stream are their sources of water. Access to water from local wells and the stream is free. Borehole water is sold by individuals to community members and water fetchers called ‘mai ruwa’

Francisca Nor, a resident of Wumba says water from the wells is not really good enough for bathing, “but we are still using it to bathe and wash.”

She told Nigerian Tribune that “borehole water comes at N20 per bucket. We use this borehole water to cook and some drink it. We buy ‘pure water’ to drink at N200 per bag.”

Mrs Nor who has been in the community for nine years, said, “In dry season, the water from wells is scarce. Sometimes there is no electricity supply to pump water from boreholes.

“The dry season lasts three to four months and we suffer water scarcity that period.

“From November to January dry season, the cost of water is almost the same as food.”

The mother of seven told Nigerian Tribune that she spends N600 daily on water for household use.

This would translate to N18,000 monthly, more than half of the federal minimum wage of N30,0000!

This amount, Mrs Nor noted, is apart from the cost of ‘pure water’ for drinking.

In the case of Happiness Praisejah, also a resident of Wumba for eight years, she said, “It has been a difficult time for us getting water because some people will dig their wells and will not allow you fetch water from them. Others will allow it. But when you fetch it, you find some particles in the water. When you boil it you find some white substance like salt or mud.”

She added that, “We find it difficult using this water to cook or even bathe so it will not generate skin disease for us.”

As an alternative, she said she buys from water fetchers. “A truck costs N400, that is 12 20-litre containers.

“It used to be N200, but because of the scarcity of water and no electricity supply, they had to increase it to N400.”

Happiness said to meet her family’s water needs she depends on two trucks of water costing N800 daily.

“When you calculate N800 daily you see how difficult it is to cope. I don’t know what else to do.”

She appealed to the authorities to provide public water supply to every street or household. “Whatever government can do, we need help,” she said.

Agbowo is a community opposite Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, in Oyo State. Usually, when a university is sited in area, rapid development comes to that location. And although Agbowo has witnessed rapid growth due to the student population, its water situation leaves much to be desired.

Major Rasaki Salawu (rtd) has been a resident of Agbowo since 1967.

He narrates to Nigerian Tribune an experience that he said took place 22 years ago in Agbowo. He spoke of a time when contractors visited his community to lay water pipes that passed through his community. The water pipe laying project, he said, left the community roads in bad shape while the taps are still dry.

He stated that, “The contractor, unknown to the community whether local or foreign but then claiming to be from African Development Bank, carried out the digging by the roadsides from Asejire Water Works.

“The pipes which were almost four feet in diameter passed through nooks and crannies of our narrow roads.”

He said that explosives were used in creating pathways for the pipes where there were rocks. These explosions, he said, affected buildings in our area in Agbowo.

Sadly, “up till date, there is no drop of water from these pipes to cater for those who suffered untold hardship!”

He lamented that there is “no alternative means nor exigency plan to compensate those concerned or to fix the damages. It was their personal funds used to cover the gutters dug and the abandoned debris.”

Nigerian Tribune notes that the African Development Bank financed one Ibadan Water Supply II Project.

The project started in March 1992. It was reportedly completed in October 2003.

The borrower and guarantor of the project was the Federal Government of Nigeria. The beneficiary and executor of the project was the Water Corporation of Oyo State (WCOS).

One of the covenants/conditions to be fulfilled (which however was not met) during the implementation of the project was the “full privatisation of WCOS in 1997 if performance during monitoring was satisfactory.”

A history of privatisation

Lagos is bounded by water, ranging from the Lagos Lagoon to the Gulf of Guinea. However, it continues to be extremely difficult to provide enough drinkable water to its more than 21 million citizens. According to the Lagos State Water Supply Master Plan, the city’s daily water consumption is expected to be 540 million gallons per day (MGD), but the Lagos State Water Corporation’s (LSWC) production is put at 210 MGD. All facets of daily life in Lagos have been impacted by the state’s acute water deficit, especially for those with limited financial resources. Public health and sanitation have been impacted by the terrible condition. Additionally, the high expense of obtaining water has made life in Lagos more difficult for locals.

In October 2016, a non-governmental organisation called Environmental Rights Action (ERA) produced a publication titled ‘Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for Water Sector’ under the Our Water, Our Right Africa Campaign.

In the publication, it was noted that according to the LSWC’s Master Water Supply Plan, Lagos has 180 km of transmission mains and 5 2215 km of distribution mains, with fewer than 200,000 connections. Mains installed in 1910, 1943, and 1962 are old and damaged, and do not carry adequate supplies for the dramatically increasing population in the areas they serve.

However, according to the report, Lagos State has pursued policies since the 1980s that have failed to replace ageing infrastructure.

“These policies have been encouraged by the World Bank and adopted by some Lagos officials,” the report notes.

World Bank influence on water policies

The ERA report states that, “The World Bank Group has exercised influence over water policy and projects in Nigeria for several decades, consistently promoting water PPPs and other privatisation models, even as its own research has shown a high failure rate for privatisation projects in the water sector. World Bank Group projects in Lagos have encouraged PPPs and other forms of privatisation, contributing to the stagnation and deterioration of Lagos’ water infrastructure by inhibiting the adoption of other, more effective policies.”

Some of these World Bank interventions at Lagos State and national level include:

“In 1988 and 1999, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), advised the Lagos state government to “reform” the water sector and 11 privatise Lagos State Water Corporation.

“Beginning in 2002, the World Bank funded the first National Urban Water Sector Reform 12 Project, which encouraged water privatisation in the form of a PPP. Although this project failed, some of its central recommendations were included in the 13 2004 Water Law.

“More recently, the Second National Urban Water Sector Reform Project (2NUWSRP), a World Bank-funded US$220 million water delivery infrastructure project in Lagos and Cross River states, included US$7.75 million toward securing a private sector contract for the operation of Lagos water treatment works.

This goal was dropped in 2015 when, after increasing civil society outcry against a PPP in Lagos, the World Bank decided it was ‘not the 15 intention of this project to continue with (the PPP) anymore’.”yes

Water Bill

In June 2022, a controversial bill called the Water Bill was re-presented to the Federal House of Representatives by Sada Soli, a member of the House of Representatives from Katsina.

This executive bill was first brought to the House in 2018 and was rejected by the eighth assembly, following widespread outrage.

This water bill seeks to bring all water resources (surface and underground) under the control of the Federal Government. It proposes licences for the use of water including a requirement that  all landlords must obtain a driller permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.

It was therefore shocking to see the bill re-presented again this year in a surreptitious manner.

According to Nigerian Tribune’s findings, the re-presentation of the bill this year took place at a time when most members were away from the House for various reasons.

A source at the National Assembly who wants anonymity told Nigerian Tribune that “We had to inform the members of the house who in turn started calling each other to return and attend to the bill.”

The re-presented bill has passed first reading. However, the source added that close vigilance is being accorded to the movement of the bill by concerned stakeholders in the House, especially now that many members are pre-occupied with their re-election campaigns.

What civil society, unions say about privatisation, water bill

During this year’s 2022 Africa Week of Action Against Water Privatisation, Akinbode Oluwafemi, head of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), issued a statement saying that, “The corporate water behemoths promoting water grabs across the globe have continued to strategise to become well positioned to take over Africa’s water.

“Veolia and Suez have consummated their unholy marriage and are now a single company called Veolia. Their executives continue to expose their plans for Africa which is essentially about how to grab its water resources.

“Their partner, the World Bank, has also been unrelenting in coercing African governments to adopt and implement the much-discredited Public Private Partnership (PPP) model of water privatisation as a criterion for accessing loans.

“In all this, the greatest impacts will be borne by communities that have for generations protected what we can rightfully call their birth right. If these schemes are allowed, the ramifications will be far from pleasant.”

Philip Jakpor, Director of Programmes at CAPPA noted that the proposed water resources bill has raised various concerns in different quarters. These range from concerns that the water resources of the country are being ceded to a particular tribe in the country, or a prohibition of religious and cultural rights that involve water.

He told Nigerian Tribune, “For us at CAPPA, the danger we see in that bill is the fact that it opens the door for privatisation. In fact, it is explicitly stated that the minister will promote public-private partnership with water resources.

“The implication is that surface water, fresh water sources, underground water, our rivers, streams will be open to privatisers to make profit.

“When that happens, the implication is the human right to water will not be a part of the discussion. It will be all about who has the means will have access to water. Who does not have the means will be left out.

“Our position is that the human right to water must be considered. That is, the people who might not be able to afford it must be considered. And there are options to make that happen.”

Some of the options, he said, include creating a water trust, or a graduated form of payment for water usage. Jakpor said, “A certain amount of water should be provided as a right and if you use beyond that you pay.

“There is also the option of pushing the bulk of the cost to corporations that take more from our water table.”

Comrade Waheed Sikiru is the Secretary for Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE). He  told  Nigerian  Tribune  that  union  has  partnered  CAPPA  and  Public Services International (PSI)  in  the  battle  against  water  privatisation  in Nigeria.

According to him, the United Nations has declared that water is life. “That declaration means that water should be available and relatively free,” he said.

“If that is so, no government should think of making profit from water. But what we see is that some states including the Federal Government are trying to make profit from water.”

He said the terms “water outlet,” “sub-letting” and “corporatisation” were being used in government circles to disguise the more familiar term “privatisation.”

The AUPCTRE secretary said, “Corporatisation is the term being used in Ekiti State and Bauchi State.

“What happens is that they get World Bank loans. These projects are assisted by World Bank. They get World Bank loans that translate to billions of naira, and they are jump at it thinking that this will revitalise their water infrastructure.

“But buried within those agreements are certain clauses that you will not like. There are issues that will arise as a result of those clauses.

“There is nowhere these invited bodies have operated in the water sector and succeeded anywhere in the world. We have seen that of Lagos and we vehemently fought against it.”

“In Ekiti State as I speak to you the government said it is not doing privatisation but corporatisation.  What is the meaning of corporatisation? In the dictionary, it means to bring an outlet into private hands.”

Comrade Sikiru said there were concerns that people will lose their jobs eventually if privatisation is allowed to occur.

He said the argument that privatisation is good because it has worked in the telecoms industry is not valid as privatisation has not worked in the power sector.

“It may be good in telecoms, but it is not good in all things. If there are two issues, you don’t treat them the same. There are elements of differences. Water should be relatively free as declared by the United Nations. Do you now compare what should be free with what is basically profit-oriented like telecoms? Every government has a responsibility to provide its citizens with basic amenities and water is one of them.”

As a solution to the water privatisation, the AUPCTRE secretary suggested Public-Public Partnership.

“We have given them the option of Public-Public Partnership instead of Public-Private Partnership. Public-Public Partnership is a situation where the public corporations can align with other government agencies to provide services and not a body that has interest in making profit.

“The sole aim of Public-Private Partnership is profit maximisation. But Public-Public Partnership is service to the people. In this case, they just break even and what they get is used to maintain services and not make profit.”

Comarade Sikiru added that “We have given government a compendium of where this working all over the world including in Britain and in China.

“They say government has no business in doing business but we say government has business in doing business because it is service to the people.”

Source: Nigerian Tribune

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