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Campaigners flay ‘hasty’ passage of Lagos environment law

Civil society and grassroots groups’ aversion to the Lagos Environment Bill when it went for Public Hearing on February 9, 2017 not withstanding, the Lagos House of Assembly on Monday, February 20 2017 passed the bill into law and, to the chagrin of the activists, then went on recess

Akinwunmi Ambode, Governor of Lagos State. Photo credit: ecomium.org

A coalition of civil society groups, grassroots campaigners and water unionists have vowed to resist the Lagos State Environment Bill which was passed on Monday, February 20 2017 by the Lagos House of Assembly,  less than two weeks after the groups challenged key sections of the law at a Public Hearing organised by the House Committee on the Environment.

The groups also asked Governor Akinwunmi Ambode not to assent to the bill but, rather, send it back to the House to throw it open again for wider consultations and inputs from Lagos citizens.

The bill, which harmonises and merges eight environment laws in the state into one, is titled, “A Bill for a Law to Consolidate all Laws relating to the Environment for the Management, Protection and Sustainable Development of the Environment in Lagos State and for Connected Purposes.”

Media reports indicate that, after its passage on Monday, Speaker Mudashiru Obasa directed the Clerk of the House, Azeez Sanni, to send a clean copy to Governor Ambode for his signature to make it a law.

The House members had reportedly cut short their six weeks recess to attend to the bill and same week it took the first and second reading and held the public hearing where activists picked holes in the law. The members went on another recess after passing the law.

Activists particularly decried sections of the law that guaranteed payment for contractual services and concessions with an Irrevocable Service Payment Order (ISPO) as the first line charge on the state internally-generated revenue.

“This means if the law is assented to by Governor Ambode, the state will use tax payers money to pay the corporate entities, without fail before considering payment for other services  like salaries, healthcare, education or road construction, no matter how pressing they may be,” stated Philip Jakpor of the Environmental Rights Action/Friend of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

According to him, “the bill also gave too much power to the Lagos Commissioner for Environment, criminalises sinking of boreholes, and imposes fines and sets prison terms for any Lagos citizen that sells or transports water, among others.”

The groups criticising the passage include: ERA/FoEN, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Peace and Development Project (PEDEP), Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-Hope) and Centre for Dignity and African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWWASHN).

ERA/FoEN’s Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “We are too shocked at this clandestine passage by members of the House which was so hurriedly done that it smacks of respect for Lagos residents who are already victims of the Lagos government deliberate withholding of funding to the water sector to pave way for privatisation.

“The hasty convergence and recourse to recess by the lawmakers after passing this law is not only suspect, it is a conspiracy against the people.”

National President of AUPCTRE, Solomon Adelegan, said: “The water privatisation plans of the Lagos government which we have stood against and mobilised against till date is now being imposed on the people using the instrumentality of a law that was not properly debated, and fraught with anti-people sections.

“We will not sit back idly and watch our water infrastructure put in the hands of a few capitalists who have vowed to mortgage our collective future.”

Executive Director of PEDEP, Francis Abayomi, pointed out that Lagos residents will take to the streets and use every peaceful means to resist the environmental law, even as he demanded: “What is the logic behind members of the House passing this obnoxious law and then going on recess immediately as if they are absconding?”

Francis explained that “the environment law as currently passed would burden Lagosians and is the guise to introduce the PPP in the water sector which Lagosians have roundly rejected.’’

Executive Director of CEE-HOPE, Betty Abah, said: “It is disheartening to know that a law concocted by a few capitalists could be so easily passed within two weeks of a Public Hearing. Incredible! We will resist it.”

The group said it had already recommended the solution to the challenges to accessing water in Lagos in a document titled:  “Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for the Water Sector” launched October 2016.

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