The Our Water Our Right Coalition has opposed plans by the Lagos State government to put the control of the state’s water infrastructures in the hands of three multinationals – Veolia, Metito and Abengoa, said to be remotely linked to the World Bank.
The multinational corporations are to manage the Adiyan II water project and supply water to millions of Lagosians.
At a press conference jointly organized by the groups on Monday, the activists warned the Lagos state government not enter into any form of agreement with the companies as it contravened the right of Lagosians to water.
The activists said they have cause to raise alarm five months after compelling the Lagos government to discard anti-people sections from the Lagos Environment Law, as the state was now aggressively pushing towards a Public Private Partnership with the active support and direction of the World Bank.
The briefing, convened by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, had in attendance several groups including Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Committee for Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), Child Health Organisation, Center for Dignity, Committee for Women Initiative, Africa Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWASHNET), and Climate Aid Initiative.
Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi said the three companies pencilled by the Lagos government to take control of Adiyan II have issues bothering on human rights abuse in countries they operate. For instance, Veolia is implicated in lead poisoning cases in Pennsylvania and Michigan where residents continue to grapple with lead contamination crisis.
Oluwafemi explained that in Michigan, Veolia erroneously told city officials that the water was safe, leaving thousands of children vulnerable to continued lead poisoning while in Paris water tariffs under Veolia purview were 25-30% higher than appropriate which made the Paris city officials to remunicipalise its water system. The same company created crisis in Nagpur India and Romania, where it was said to have bribed officials more than €12 million to secure contracts in Bucharest.
He revealed Metito, after coming into operation as a private company in Kigali, embarked on a restructuring exercise that led to hundreds of job losses for workers who were members of the water union. It barred new workers from unionizing and also sponsored a yellow union within the water sector to cripple the water union.
The ERA/FoEN boss revealed that Abengoa – a Spanish multinational – was one of the corporations behind Bolivian privatization scheme that sparked widespread protests known as the “Cochabamba Water War” where it is said that the World Bank pressured the Bolivian government to privatize Cochabamba’s water system by making it a condition for receiving a loan extension in the late 1990s. The privatization deal sparked protests that captured the world’s attention and exposed the danger of turning over control of water to profit-driven corporations.
After months of protesters taking to the streets, the Bolivian government was forced to terminate the disastrous privatization contract.
‘’Friends, with companies with such track record in cahoots with the Lagos government it is evident that the Lagos government is deliberately walking into a trap that will enslave Lagos citizens for generations,’’ Oluwafemi said.
He said Lagosians find it puzzling when the Managing Director of the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC), Mumuni Badmus revealed that the state government was already in a PPP arrangement with the World Bank to supply water meters to 18,000 Lagos homes for a start, in disregard of Lagos citizens who have overwhelmingly rejected privatisation in any guise.
Vicky Urenma of Child Health Organisation said women would be at the receiving end of any form of water privatization or the deliberate attempt to worsen poverty through water meters under the PPP arrangement. She said that women reject it and will continue rejecting it.
Achike Chude of the Justice and Development Commission (JDPC) insisted that the purpose of governance is all about the people and found it absurd that the Lagos government is embarking on PPP in the water sector even when citizens outrightly rejected it and marched on the streets to express their opposition to it.
He said: “If the Lagos state government says it has no money to fund water projects is it the poor people that have money to do so? This is utterly objectionable. Privatising a common good that water represents is evil?”
The group then advised the Lagos government to adopt innovative solutions that will compel big water consumers to pay more and urged the state government to listen to the people.