Philip Jakpor reclined in his chair, his fingers drumming lightly on the wooden table inside his Lagos office.
”Lagos has an economy that is in billions of dollars annually, so Lagos has no basis to say there is no money to fund the water sector,” said Mr Jakpor, 42, an activist who works with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
Since 2014, the cloud of privatisation has been hanging over the Lagos State water sector, a move the government said would increase water supply to Lagos’ more than 21 million residents.
Although the state government rakes in an average of N300 billion (about $9.8 million) annually in revenue – the highest in the country and nearly 40 per cent of the entire revenue by the 36 states – it has continually maintained that it cannot shoulder the water burden of the state alone.
In early 2015, the government unveiled a $3.5 billion master plan to increase potable water from 210 million gallons per day (mgd) at the time to 745 mgd by 2020. The plan hinged on the introduction of a public-private partnership to inject fresh, private capital into the efficient management of government-owned assets in the water sector.
The plan came amidst protests by civil society activists and labour unionists who worry that water privatisation would price the ”free gift of nature” beyond the city’s ordinary people.
”When we say it is a free gift of nature, we are not saying that people cannot pay, people should be able to pay what is so reasonable that even the poorest of the poor can afford it,” said Mr Jakpor.
Birthing a campaign
In 2014, and with the state government hell-bent on pushing through their privatization plans, ERA/FoEN launched the ‘Our water, Our Right’ campaign, a grassroots-heavy initiative that amplifies the voice of community people.
To strengthen the impact of their advocacy, ERA/FoEN solicited the support of other civil society groups, labour unions, community people, as well as international nongovernmental organisations.
The alliance with international groups was as strategic as it was an avenue to apply international pressure on Lagos government officials.
According to Mr Jakpor, the international pressure ‘’paid off bountifully.’’
First, 23 members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus issued a letter of solidarity to the ‘Our Water, Our Right’ campaign, linking the struggle against water privatization in Lagos to that of people in the U.S. cities of Flint and Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The support of the U.S. officials was quickly followed by a letter from the United Nations Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation criticising the government for failing to provide adequate access to drinking water.
Locally, groups like the Joint Action Front, Nigerian Labour Congress, and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) joined ERA/FoEN in regular public protests across the city denouncing the water privatization moves.
‘’This whole battle is about economic dynamics,’’ said Achike Chude, vice chairman of Joint Action Front.
“It is about the attitude of some people to profit to the detriment of the rest of the people in the environment. That is what this whole thing is about.”
Privatisation or PPP
Lagos has two major waterworks at Iju and Adiyan, providing a combined supply of 115mgd for the over 20 million residents, according to information on LWC’s website.
Expansion of other waterworks – micro and mini waterworks – spread across the state has been ongoing for years, but provision of tap water is still limited to a minute fraction of the population.
The corporation says its current installed capacity is 210 million gallons per day, whereas the actual water demand in Lagos is 540 million gallons per day.
By the year 2020, according to Shayo Holloway, the former managing director of the corporation, water demand is expected to be 733 million gallons per day, while the water production will be 745 million gallons per day.
“The need to bridge the gap has necessitated the involvement of the private sector by way of injecting more capital to improve efficiency of existing state-owned assets,” Mr Holloway said in 2015.