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Monday, September 25, 2023

When a World Bank visit stoked an anti-privatisation campaign

Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), alleges that the visit of World Bank Executive Directors to the country is to promote privatisation, particular in the water sector. Under the aegis of the Our Water Our Right Coalition, he calls on the populace to resist the move

Akinbode Oluwafemi
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN)

We are concerned with the World Bank invasion of Nigeria and Lagos in particular. Earlier this week we received reports of World Bank Executives’ visit to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, as part of a host of engagements supposedly to study the challenges and expectations of their partners in West Africa.

Ten executive directors of the bank from different countries came for this visit. They are from Switzerland, France, Italy, Nordic, Peru, Germany and South Africa (representing Angola, Nigeria and South Africa). Others are from Burkina Faso (representing Francophone sub-Saharan Africa), Zimbabwe (representing Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa), United Kingdom and Indonesia.

On Wednesday, May 9, 2018 when the team visited Governor Ambode, he is credited as saying that the various budget support initiatives of the bank in the water sector in Lagos had supposedly resulted in “stronger ties with the institution” and urged the bank to plough more funds into water and other key projects in the state.

The Ambode administration continues to present Lagos as a state ready for any form of private investment and water remains one of the sectors that it is pushing for investors to take control of.

This is very disturbing.

Since 2014 we have challenged attempts at the commodification of Lagos water by the Lagos State government through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model now being vigorously pursued across the globe by the World Bank.

We unearthed the secret advisory contract between the World Bank’s private arm – International Finance Corporation (IFC) – and the Lagos government which the IFC walked away from due to popular resistance that we spearheaded along with our global partners in the struggle to keep our water from for-profit corporations.

We have shown through well-documented researches that the PPP and other privatisation models that the World Bank wants to foist on us through their heartless partners in government have failed in every continent that they were introduced. Water privatisation models promoted by the World Bank through its private arm – IFC failed in Beunos Aires, Cochabamba, Paris, Manila, Delhi, Tanzania, Cameroun, Ghana, and more recently in Gabon.

We had equally urged the Lagos State Government to invest some of the huge revenue it rakes in monthly in sustainably funding its water infrastructure, including rehabilitation of existing waterworks spread across the state.


World Bank behind the scenes

Beginning in 2017 the World Bank rolled out a vision to promote privatisation, leveraging on crowding in the private sector. Its priority now seems tailored to changing policies and regulations to promote private finance. This may have informed the decision of the Lagos government in February 2017 to introduce the comprehensive environment law which was laced with anti-people sections including the criminalisation of boreholes and wells to pave way for privatisers to take over the sector.  Faulty argument of the Lagos government is that Lagos has the resource which is water, the people which it believes must pay, and so-called investors that it woos with promises of money to be made in the state water sector.

The Our Water Our Right Coalition had to organise public protests culminating in the march on Alausa secretariat in 2017 which forced the government to expunge the wicked sections from the law.

Unfortunately, it is still promoting the World Bank new approach which prescribes private investment for projects then PPP and only if the two fail will public finance be an option.

The visit of the huge number of World Bank executives to Nigeria and particularly Lagos may actually be a smokescreen because it was kept away from civil society and other critical stakeholders whom it fears will raise red flags. The visit may actually be a signal it wants to move forward with new projects in Lagos focusing on privatisation and PPP.

As we have said time and again, around the globe, the World Bank private arm – IFC has been advising governments, conducting corporate bidding processes, designing complex and lopsided water privatisation contracts, dictating arbitration terms, and is part-owner of water corporations that win the contracts it designs and recommends, all while aggressively marketing the PPP model to be replicated around the world.

Not only do we see these activities as undermining democratic water governance, they also constitute an inherent conflict of interest within the IFC’s activities in the water sector as has been observed from in different countries.

In Manila and Ghana World Bank corporate partners attempted to privatise and profit from water. Poor service, limited ace,ss and chronic quality problems forced the Ghanian government not to renew a bank-backed contract for a private corporation to manage the country’s water.

Despite its 60-day disclosure policy, the Lagos advisory contract which it walked away from after much pressure in 2015 was not disclosed on the bank’s website and was hidden from civil society.


We reiterate our NO to water privatisation

We believe that the visit of the World Bank team to Nigeria and particularly Lagos is a whitewash. As anticipated, critical stakeholders like civil society and the public have been kept in the dark on the critical reasons behind the visit and the banks’ poster projects.

  • The Our Water Our Right Coalition uses this medium to reiterate our call
  • No to the ongoing wholesale privatisation of Nigeria and privatisation of our water
  • The federal and state governments, particularly Lagos should reject contracts designed by, involving, or influenced by the IFC, which operates to maximise private profit, among others.
  • Lagos and other states of the federation can fund water sustainably if they build the political will to prioritise water for the people and come up with a comprehensive plan that invests in the water infrastructure necessary to provide universal water access, create jobs, and improve public health
  • Government at all levels must integrate broad public participation in developing plans to achieve universal access to clean water and uphold the human right to water as an obligation of the government, representing the people.

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