By Olayinka Oyegbile
For the umpteenth time, Civil Society Groups (CSOs) met in Lagos on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 to restate their vehement opposition to the National Water Bill 2020 before the National Assembly.
The CSOs made up mainly of 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) at a one-day Labour, CSO and Communities’ Consultation said the meeting became necessary as there are plans towards its re-presentation at the House of Representatives.
Many citizens had last year condemned the plan to introduce the Bill which was rejected by the 8th National Assembly. The Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka had in august last year raised his voice against the Bill, saying, if passed into law, it would hand the president “absolute control over the nation’s entire water resources, both over and underground.”
He added that the Bill, “A roundly condemned project, blasted out of sight by public outrage one or two years ago, is being exhumed and sneaked back into service by none other than a failed government, and with the consent of a body of people, supposedly elected to serve as custodians of the rights, freedoms and existential exigencies of millions.”
Prof Peterside delivering his keynote address
At the consultation meeting in Lagos, Executive Director of CAPPA, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, in his welcome address noted that in the entire drama leading to the stepping down of the National Water Bill, solidarity has been key in forcing the hands of government hence the need for groups to continue mobilizing and engaging to ensure that the will of the people stands.
He called on the citizens not to lose their guards as the government was bent on forcing its way through with the Bill.
In his keynote address, Prof Sofiri-Joab Peterside of the University of Port Harcourt, condemned the federal government for the continuous brushing aside of the genuine yearnings of citizens by trying to impose false solutions on the people.
At the end of the consultations, the participants roundly condemned attempts to foist the National Water Resources Bill on Nigerians despite popular opposition, saying this was reflective of a culture of insensitivity of the government to the genuine needs of citizens in the water and other sectors of the economy.
They called on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources not to reintroduce what they called “the toxic version of the National Water Bill” because it smacks of disrespect for the wishes of Nigerians who have unanimously called for it to be trashed because of its ambiguous, obnoxious, and pro-privatisation clauses.
The participants criticised the Federal and state governments over their unacceptable abdication of responsibility by their failure to embrace and encourage public sector solutions to address the yawning gap in access to water.
The participants therefore resolve and called on the government to totally discard the obnoxious National Water Bill and kickstart a fresh community-based process which will entail consultation with citizens from the initial stages through the entire process at the National Assembly.
They called on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to respect the genuine wishes of Nigerians expressed through the media and other public channels and stop its promotion of the toxic National Water Bill and called on Civil society, labour and community groups to continue legislative engagements to ensure that the will of the people is respected.
L-R: Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA Executive Director, Comrade Musa Ukpo, Acting Gen-Sec of AUPCTRE, Aderonke Ige, Associate Director CAPPA, and Comrade Benjamin Anthony, AUPCTRE National President
The participants also called for more public enlightenment on dangers inherent in the current Bill and mobilization of Nigerians across board to support an alternative Bill which will incorporate all the concerns of communities.
There were also solidarity messages from notable labour, civil society actors and critical allies including Comrade Benjamin Anthony, National President of AUPCTRE, Comrade Achike Chude of the Joint Action Front (JAF), Abi Badru of PSI, and Comrade Soweto of the Socialist Democratic Movement.
Among the signatories to the communique of the consultation were the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, Public Services Employees, Joint Action Front and Child Health Organisation.
Others are African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Social Democratic Movement, Network of Lagos Communities Against Water Privatisation, Peace and Development Project, and Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection.