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Sanwo-olu Discontinue Privatization/PPP in Lagos Water Sector

Speech by Philip Jakpor, Head Media & Campaigns, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) at a press briefing to alert on conflicting reports on PPP water projects in Lagos 

Gentlemen and ladies of the press,

The Our Water Our Right Coalition as you already know, is a network of civil society organisations, labour unions, community activists and faith-based groups, all unified in the belief that our water is our common heritage and therefore it must not be commodified.

Some very disconcerting news that has reached us after the Stakeholder Dialogue on the Lagos water crisis that we organised on October 8 made it imperative to quickly call on you again to join forces with us to stop the forces of privatization that are again massing against our people. At the Dialogue we had anticipated that the Lagos governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwolu would come ready to unveil his administration’s plans for the water sector. The invitation was equally extended to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources as well as to the Managing Director of the Lagos Water Corporation, Engr. Mumuni Badmus. Unfortunately the government only sent representatives who spoke about the interest of the current administration in invigorating the water sector but stopped short of the precise details that Lagosians demanded. Two weeks after, we have just learnt that the current administration may not be different after-all and may have decided to toe the path of previous administrations that were dead set on foisting the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model of water privatization on Lagos citizens.

On October 17, Global Water Intelligence magazine – a high value business information for the private water industry published updated details about the water privatization plans of the Lagos government which showed that, despite the aversion of Lagos citizens the Adiyan II and Igbonla privatizations are said to be imminent.  This is in addition to other major waterworks being rounded up for privatization by the year 2022.

It is important to make it explicitly clear that if the two privatization contracts are signed, it will mean corporate grab and control of one-third of Lagos water by the 2023 target of the Lagos government and by the contractual agreements, these corporations would control our water for two decades or more.

We also learnt that the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) will soon release a Strategic Business Plan for the period 2019 – 2024 which has the support of the Lagos State Government yet, did not allow the crucial mass of Lagos citizens to make their input or take their concerns into consideration.

There are also plans to cut “non-revenue water” by half by 2023. This means that the government will crack down on those who may be informally connected to the water system following government failure to provide them clean tap water in their residence.

This raises many serious questions and concerns, including why we Lagosians continuously have to find out about the fate of our water from industry trade journals rather than from our own government.

Doors flung open for privatisers

The latest GWI shows that Lagos state government has awarded the 100 million gallon/day Igbonla project to Brio Resources Technologies and Acuamed. In 2018 this same project was listed as a water treatment plant in GWI but described as a desalination plant by Brio Resources Technologies.

The GWI reports that LWC hopes to reach a financial closure on Igbonla by end of 2019. The project managers are a consortium of Brio Resources and Spanish corporation. Acuamed which has been tied up in an international corruption scandal. Acuamed was recently under investigation by the Spanish government and the European Union’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) over allegations of corruption. Several executives of the company were arrested in 2016 in relation to the allegations. In April 2017, the Spanish Parliament even called for reform and eventual replacement of Acuamed following the scandal.

The EU’s OLAF launched a case to coordinate with Spanish investigators because of the alleged use of EU funds in the alleged corruption scandal.

It is surprising and indeed distressing to know that the Lagos Government intends to do business with this kind of corporation.

More privatisers with dirty records

In the GWI publication the 70 million gallon/day Adiyan II PPP which has a 25-year contract length also raises suspicion. Under status, it noted that, The Preferred Bidder had been selected and is awaiting Lagos State Government approval. The report also noted that the LWC hopes to award the contract by end of 2019. The preferred bidder has not yet been named publicly — spurring further concern.

Previously, the shortlisted firms for this project included a consortium comprising the discredited Visionscape Water Solutions Limited aligned with Metito. Others are AG Gold Trust Nigeria Limited, Veolia/Shoreline Group and Abegoa and Naston & Partners.

As we all know, the waste management sector was practically handed over to Visionscape in 2017 when the Lagos government paved the way for the company to take-over waste management under a PPP arrangement after it introduced a bill that merged all waste management agencies in the state into one.

Nearly one year into its operations, the streets of Lagos were replete with uncollected waste littering major roads and front of residences in inner streets. Most residents were on an endless wait for their refuse to be evacuated, to no avail. The situation nearly degenerated into a major epidemic until the Lagos State House of Assembly sacked the company from refuse management.

Veolia played a major role in the Flint and Pittsburgh lead in water crisis in the United States. Till date it has failed to take responsibility for its role in the exposure of  residents in the two cities to dangerously high levels of lead, which can impact the people for generations to come. In Flint, between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead and in Pittsburgh the city is grappling with a lead crisis while Veolia walked away with $1million USD.

What Do Lagosians Want?

What we want is contained in the way forward document – Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for Water Sector which was presented to the previous administration and re-presented to the current administration at the Stakeholder Dialogue. The solutions must be within the framework of broad public participation in developing plans to achieve universal access to clean water in Lagos.

Governor Sanwolu’s administration must  hearken to the demands of Lagos citizens that it uphold the human right to water as an obligation of the government, representing the people. He must live up to his campaign promise to be a governor for the people of Lagos, not vested interests.

Lagos citizens and the Our Water Our Right Coalition have said it time and again that the PPP water privatization success story marketed by the World Bank Group is a myth. We have equally cited monumental PPP failures in Nagpur, Manila and across Asia and Africa. Our worry however is that the World Bank and its private arm – International Finance Corporation (IFC) continue to market this failure and deny engaging in behind the curtain talks with the governments including Lagos State.

Until we called out the IFC on its advisory contract with the Lagos government in 2014 the WB private arm was in denial. 

Information in the current GWI that the LWC named the IFC as a “potential investor”, despite the World Bank’s unequivocal denial of the IFC’s involvement or plans for the Lagos water sector when civil society met with them in Abuja on February 1 this year is very disturbing. The model the World Bank and IFC are promoting was even spoken against by dozens of members of the US Congress on two occasions in the recent past.  Yesterday, Tuesday October 22, the Our Water Our Right Coalition again briefed the US Congress on this new development in Washington DC, bringing the attention of the world to Lagos once again.

We are using this medium to ask Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to discontinue the toxic PPP legacy of his predecessors which Lagosians have resoundingly rejected through petitions, public protests and a Solutions document.

Our other demands are:

  • Halt PPP/privatisation of Lagos water infrastructure to transnational corporations like Veolia, Metito, Abengoa
  • Disclosure of all IFC and World Bank activity and discussions with Lagos government officials regarding water, including formal and informal advisory roles.
  • The Lagos government builds the political will to prioritize water for the people, through a comprehensive plan that invests public funds in the water infrastructure necessary to provide universal water access, which will create jobs, improve public health, and invigorate the Lagos economy.
  • Increased budgetary allocation to the water sector
  • Institution of Water Trust Fund that will expand public financing of the water sector

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