Neoliberalism, Economic Hitmen and Human Rights to Water


By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje
LAGOS MARH 29TH (NEWSRANGERS)-We have never faced greater threat to the future of Water Rights in Nigeria than now. The federal and sub – national governments across Nigeria are doubling down to privatize water and drumming up support for the sales of water infrastructures to opaque private corporations in the name of private- public sector partnership arrangements.
Sadly, for more than three decades, international organisations like the World Bank and International Finance Corporation have uncompromisingly promoted water privatisation in developing nations like Nigeria. This neoliberal scheme has been promoted in tandem with a number of national governments and the multinational corporations that stand to benefit from increased business opportunities. Furthermore, the aggressive promotion of water privatisation has been underpinned by speculation predicting state failure on management of social good with the popular saying “that Governments has no hands in business”. This has emboldened the World Bank to assert that there is no alternative to water privatisation.
Earlier this year, a National Summit on the Human Right to Water with the theme: Nigeria’s Water Emergency: from Resistance to Real Solutions against Corporate Control was held from 29-30 January 2019 in Abuja. The summit brought to forefront the key issues of the deceitful nature of the Nigerian state and their collaborators on water privatisation with all emerging consequences and repercussion on communities and peoples and the urgent call to intensify pressure on the Federal Government, state governments and the World Bank to back off its pro-privatisation stance in relation to water and infrastructural development in Nigeria.Therefore, we need all hands on deck in 2019 and beyond to battle the mounting campaigns for Private – Public Partnership being orchestrated by the World Bank against citizens right to portable water.
Perhaps the classic book titled: The Confession of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins and Globalisation and its discontent by Joseph Stiglitz captures the back door conspiracy and existential politics of the Breton wood institutions in privatisation of municipal assets in the global south particularly Nigeria where portable water supplies has become a charade. Joseph Stiglitz argued that, “unregulated, borderless markets and transnational “free” trade had produced big winners, namely the very multinational corporations that had set the rules for globalisation, while leaving behind many losers, foremost those in the developing world”.
On the other hand, John Perkins sum up the evils of the development collaborates in this manner: “Economic hit men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planets resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalisation”.
Against this backdrop, the traditional media should partners with civil society, organised labour, activists, and other critical stakeholders of society to build a fearsome wall of force against privatisation; and exploring the multitudes of options to strengthen democratic control of water infrastructure and service delivery. Furthermore, assist to identify new allies and build power to compel the Nigerian parliament to initiate a process for enshrining water as a human right in the Nigerian constitution. Therefore, the media with its social responsibility mandate of criticising government should set the agenda to resist privatisation in the water sector and to help strengthen the Africa Coalition against Water Privatisation and public infrastructure.
From International Human Rights Perspectives and obligations, water is documented as basic human right. Therefore, the human right to water gives the right to everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Additionally, under municipal and customary international law, the state has responsibility to protect its citizens, consequently national and sub – national governments have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of their citizens to clean and safe water without option to commercialisation and privatisation. It is against this background that we should understand the civil society outcry and condemnation against the privatisation of water infrastructure across Nigeria.
Indeed, the current aggressive marketing communication of the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) initiatives and development paradigms led by the World Bank and its partners across the global south especially in Nigeria is myth taken too far. Therefore, the media should champion the movement to resist privatisation in the water sector and to help strengthen the Africa Coalition against Privatisation of social infrastructure.The tall and false claims by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) and their partners like Veolia in India and other countries had failed woefully. To that extent, the clowning around of water privatisation is not sustainable in the medium and long dash. Relatedly, fickleness and contrived irresponsibility of state officials and politicians mystify the unfounded myth of success of Private Corporation management of water as an alternative to public management of water services in Nigeria.
Despondently, there has been the pervasive lack of state capacity to deliver on its mandate on social goods particularly water, including sanitation and the well- being of citizens, access to basic needs and social protection opportunities. The sum total is inequality and socio- economic development takes a downturn. Drawing inspiration from the failure of Private Corporation in the management of water in the India’s state of Nagpur and its experience of remunicipalisation of water facilities from the hands of private corporations will help to sustain the clamour of human rights to water in terms of accessibility and affordability. For the avoidance of doubt, remunicipalisation is conceptualised as the transfer of water services from the buccaneer private corporations to municipal authorities (Public sector).
Going forward, the return of water services to public ownership and management should be pursued with all vigor. Lagos and Delta state that are in the forefront of this evil against the people should begin process of remunicipalisation the urban water sectors and must terminate private operating contracts.
Interestingly, the dominance of the privatisation paradigm is now being challenged in the global North particularly Berlin, Germany and in the global South, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Nagpur, India will continue to be a benchmark in the future and persistent advocacy by communities for Human Right to water, should be considered, as a social and common good and the shortcomings of water privatisation as a national development option by the World Bank and their collaborators is a mirage and existential rape on the commonwealth of the people.
Finally, the urban water sector in Nigeria is at a crossroads and its institutional trajectories remain as uncertain as ever. Therefore, understanding the process of water remunicipalisation as a human right and public good is of high policy relevance particularly for the Buhari’s new cabinet and a sustained agenda to charting trajectories of institutional reform in the urban water sector is critical to the media and civil society.

Orovwuje is Founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos. Tel: 08034745325,orovwuje@yahoo.com

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Posted by on Mar 29 2019. Filed under Features, National. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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