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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Govt urged to discard controversial National Water Bill, commence fresh process

The Federal Government of Nigeria has been asked to discard the National Water Bill and commence a fresh community-led process and consultation to birth a fresh, water bill at the National Assembly.

National Water Bill
L-R: AUPCTRE National President, Comrade Benjamin Anthony; Sofiri Joab- Peterside, the Keynote speaker; and CAPPA Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi

The central government was also told to respect the wishes of Nigerians expressed through various public forums and public channels including the media by jettisoning the controversial National Water Bill.

These sentiments were expressed in a communique issued at the close of the National Town Hall Meeting on the Water Resources Bill on Monday, September 20, 2021, in Abuja.

Organised by the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Public Services International (PSI) and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), the townhall, according to the promoters, was informed by the need to further heighten engagement by critical stakeholders to reaffirm opposition to the National Water Resources Bill as reports swell about plans for its re-presentation at the House of Representatives.

The welcome address was delivered by Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA, who noted that from the second to the last quarter of year 2020 there was national outcry about the provisions of the Bill and the manner through which its promoters in the Ministry of Water Resources and the National Assembly tried to force it on the nation.

Oluwafemi said that even after the Bill was stepped down, its promoters have continued to push for its representation hence labour and civil society actors would continue mobilising against it till the government listens and institutes a fresh process that will incorporate the inputs and demands of the people.

Solidarity messages were received from notable labour, civil society actors and critical allies including PSI, Joint Action Front (JAF), and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), among others.

The Keynote address titled: “Resource Management Dialogue Within a Federal State Versus National Water Bill”, was delivered by Dr. Sofiri-Joab Peterside of the University of Port Harcourt, who dwelt on how the Nigerian government continues to brush aside the genuine yearnings of Nigerians and, instead, tries to impose neoliberal policies on the citizenry.

Peterside said the unfortunate neoliberal economic paradigm foisted by the World Bank and other capitalist institutions have been bought by the Nigerian government and manifest in Nigeria’s education, electricity, public infrastructure, housing and now water sector, while the same government encourages tax benefits and generous incentives for the private sector operators.

Following robust deliberations and contributions in panel sessions, participants observed thus:

  • Plans to foist the National Water Resources Bill on Nigerians despite opposition from a broad spectrum of Nigerians is reflective of the Nigerian government embrace of neoliberalism and the culture of insensitivity to the genuine needs of Nigerians in the water and other sectors of the economy.
  • The water governance challenge in Nigeria is a manifestation of the power grab character of the Nigerian political elite and their accomplices in all the corridors of power
  • The Federal Ministry of Water Resources is determined to reintroduce the toxic version of the National Water Bill and this smacks of respect for the wishes of Nigerians who have unanimously called for it to be trashed because of its ambiguous, obnoxious, and pro-privatisation clauses.
  • The government at the centre and state governments continue their unacceptable abdication of responsibility in failing to encourage and promote public sector solutions to address the gaping chasm in access to water in communities throughout the federation  
  • The funding gap in the water sector is due largely to vested interests and lack of political will on the part of government, and not because of lacking resources.
  • The acceptance of the privatisation myth, especially the Public Private Partnership by the federal and state governments is the singular most disturbing challenge to access to water, depriving the average Nigerian a basic human right.
  • Comprehensive data on both water infrastructure investment and access is lacking, thereby stifling planning for the now and the future.
  • The World Bank and other capitalist establishments are escalating and assertively promoting privatisation in Nigeria and other African countries and define success of water policies only in terms of revenue to government or profit to corporations rather than universal reasonably priced access.
  • In decision-making when it comes to water resource management, communities, women or the vulnerable in the society are excluded. This category of Nigerians is equally at the receiving end of water crises, scarcities, and seclusion.
  • Privatisation in any guise will exacerbate already existing competition for already scarce water resources and the attendant strife in communities across Nigeria.
  • The plans to solve Nigeria’s water challenges laid out by the “Our Water Our Right” coalition in the document – Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for the Water Sector – have still not been engaged with seriously at federal or state levels.
  • Awareness on the National Water Resources Bill is still low especially in communities that carry the biggest burden of water shortages.

They eventually agreed that:

  • The Nigerian government at all levels must wean themselves of the privatisation and Public Private Partnership (PPP) addiction which has failed across the globe and spurred re-municipalisations especially in the last decade.
  • The Federal Government and all state governments embrace tested and proven public sector solutions in addressing Nigeria’s water challenges. Some suggested solutions are the Public-Public-Partnership model and National Water Trust Fund.
  • There is need for comprehensive data on both water infrastructure investment and access to aid planning for the now and the future.
  • Government should embrace democratic decision-making and democratic control which puts communities first in addressing water shortages. Women, communities, and vulnerable groups should be accorded priority in the plans to guarantee access.
  • The Nigerian governments invest in public infrastructure and embrace democratic, participatory, and transparent management of water investments that fulfil the human right to water through the public sector.
  • Need for sustained legislative engagements to ensure that the will of the people is respected.
  • Need for sustained public enlightenment on dangers inherent in the current National Water Bill and mobilisation of Nigerians at the grassroots and across board to support a new Bill which will address the inequities in the current Bill.
  • In fashioning solutions to the crisis in the water sector, workers welfare and capacitation must be a priority to ensure sustainability of policies to reverse the current water sector woes.
  • Need for more engagement with the media to amplify the challenges in the water sector and deeper understanding of the contentious issues in the National Water Bill.

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