Photo Credit: Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
Today, we celebrate World Water Day with a powerful victory in Lagos, Nigeria. When a draconian bill threatened to impede water access for millions of people across Lagos, the organizers at Environmental Rights Action (ERA), with the help of our members like you, jumped into action. Their quick organizing and the international wave of support we helped build ensured a huge victory along the path to protecting the human right to water. This victory demonstrates the immense power of people to demand — and secure — access to the most basic of human rights: water.
This win adds to the impressive victories ERA has secured over the past two years in challenging privatization proponents. With the support of Corporate Accountability International members, ERA has organized thousands of people across Lagos to take to the streets, made water privatization a hot-button issue in the press and among NGOs and lawmakers, and even authored a book to guide decision-makers by describing the vision for a water solution and offering concrete policy solutions.
Just last month, this recent victory didn’t seem so certain. Pro-privatization decision-makers suddenly came out of a recess to push through an inhumane so-called “environmental” bill.
Criminalizing water access
The draft bill criminalized taking water from streams and cracked down on sourcing and distributing water from wells, bagged water, and other water collection methods that most people in Lagos rely on for survival. People could be imprisoned for six weeks for sharing water or removing water from a stream! And if this weren’t enough, the bill also paved the way for privatization by guaranteeing privatizers would be paid before any other government bills.
Politicians not only drafted one of the most egregious environmental bills we’ve ever seen and rushed it through the political process, they also dared to try to keep the bill a secret. Legislators shared the 190-page draft of the bill just one day before a public hearing.
ERA secured a copy of the bill and immediately sprang into action. Organizers mobilized a rally overnight to take place outside of the last-minute public hearing to protest and draw attention to the dangerous provisions. Not only did they turn up the heat outside of the meeting, but ERA also analyzed the despicable bill and dissected the most draconian provisions line-by-line on the House floor — much to the surprise of the politicians.
As ERA led the opposition on the ground in Nigeria, Corporate Accountability International focused on rallying international attention. We contacted the U.N. expert on the human right to water, who immediately put out a press release condemning the bill. The press release was followed by a wave of coverage including this interview with Akinbode Aluwafemi, the deputy director of ERA, on Africa Independent Television — the largest private TV network in Nigeria.
Despite all the public outrage ERA generated, the House disregarded the typical law-making process. It passed the bill in a blink of an eye — and then dismissed for recess without releasing the final text of the bill.
But we and ERA knew it wasn’t over. There was still a chance to pressure the governor of Lagos to not enforce the worst parts of the bill — if they were still in the text.
Members like you raced to support the campaign: more than 8,000 people took action, letting Lagos politicians know that the world was watching.
We also secured dozens of articles — from local Lagos media to Humanosphere and Huffington Post. This pressure turned out to be instrumental in providing ERA with the international support they needed to send a message to the governor of Lagos.
At last, more than two weeks after the bill was signed into law, the governor of Lagos released the final version. ERA organizers scoured the bill, and then shared the news with us.
All of the anti-people and anti-water-access provisions were eliminated! The water distribution methods that millions of people in Lagos rely on will not be criminalized, and payments to privatizers will not be prioritized over other needs.
The power of people prevailed. Whoops of excitement rang out from our Campaign Headquarters in Boston to ERA’s office in Lagos!
Today, the movement for public water continues in Lagos. Over 1,000 people from across the city are marching today and demonstrating the tremendous power of organizing. They are marching to celebrate this enormous victory and to demand a truly democratic water system that is made for people, not profits. ERA is joined in spirit by many more thousands of supporters and our members across the globe.
Thank you to all of our members and allies for their immense support in this victory. Now on to the next one.