The campaign for water justice in Lagos, Nigeria and beyond
Lagos: A powerful epicenter of today’s water justice movement
The city of Lagos, located on Nigeria’s southwestern coast, is one of the continent’s largest economies. It’s been called the “gateway to Africa”: what happens in Lagos often sets the precedent for other cities across the African continent. For water privatizers and their backers like the World Bank, the 21 million Lagos residents and their need for clean, safe water represent millions of dollars in profit—and an opportunity to push water privatization throughout Africa.
But for over four years, the Our Water, Our Right coalition has been successfully upholding the human right to water in Lagos by staving off World-Bank-backed water privatization schemes. Together, we have mobilized thousands of Lagos residents, with a focus on women’s leadership, to organize for a democratic and public water solution.
Victories in Lagos
Corporate Accountability and ERA first caught wind of the threat to privatize the Lagos water system more than five years ago. At that time, according to a leading water industry publication, the head of the water utility was confident privatization could move “very, very fast” because there were “no political constraints.” That’s when we leapt into action with ERA, strategizing together to develop a campaign that’s racked up tremendous wins. Every time private water interests and their backers in government have taken steps toward privatizing the water system, we have held the line.
Here’s what we’ve made possible, together:
The World Bank walked away from an advisory contract to set up privatization in Lagos.
ERA’s grassroots organizing has built what Akinbode Oluwafemi of ERA has called “the most powerful grassroots movement in Nigeria since the democracy movement,” which ended its military dictatorship. ERA’s rallies and marches routinely galvanize hundreds of people.
Hard-hitting media coverage from the Guardian to BuzzFeed News has raised international visibility of the campaign and forced Veolia and the Lagos government to respond.
We moved members of U.S. Congress to weigh in with public support for the Lagos campaign—not once, but twice.
U.N. Special Rapporteurs have also taken stands on this issue. The Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, has issued three public statements affirming the importance of the human right to water in Lagos. And in 2019, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, issued a statement examining the dangers of so-called “public private partnerships” when it comes to ensuring the human right to water, especially for low-income communities.
The coalition released the groundbreaking report: “Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative roadmap for water sector.” It lays out a vision for how Lagos can solve its water crisis, with specific recommendations and action steps for the Lagos government.
The campaign has turned water privatization into a toxic political issue. Multiple pro-privatization public officials have fallen from grace—from officials in charge of the water system to, most recently, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who lost his primary in a surprise upset.
We stopped five water privatization projects being advanced by public officials—some slated to be finalized in just one month. The campaign mobilized enormous grassroots pressure in Lagos, as well as international outcry from the media to members of U.S. Congress, that stopped these projects in their tracks.
What’s next: Building power across Africa
In January 2019, the coalition convened a summit and strategy session with movement leaders and activists, public officials, policy experts, academics, and funders from around the world. The outcome was a three-pronged strategy to expand the campaign across Africa:
- Win in Lagos, securing democratically controlled systems that provide water for all.
- Expand the campaign by promoting a national Nigerian bill on the human right to water and launching statewide campaigns to replicate the successful Lagos model.
- Ramp up coordination across Africa to advance the human right to water. Successful regional coordination will focus on preventing privatization, promoting women’s leadership and access to water, and exposing the abuses of private water corporations and their backers such as the World Bank.
This campaign is building the momentum of the water justice movement. It is winning and has a clear pathway forward. And it is happening across borders and across differences, through a shared set of values and strategies.
This is what it looks like to advance the human right to water and stop privatization. Join us!
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About the coalition
The Our Water, Our Right coalition was launched in 2014 by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA), in deep partnership with Corporate Accountability. Today, the coalition is made up of dozens of groups in Lagos. ERA heads the coalition and supports the African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWWASHNet), while Corporate Accountability continues to play a lead role as a strategy partner and supporting organization. We help mobilize international pressure and garner hard-hitting U.S.-based and international media that moves the dial. Other key organizations include AUPCTRE, Transnational Institute, and Public Services International.
This campaign, built on a two-decades-long partnership between Corporate Accountability and ERA, has become a model for the way an international organization like Corporate Accountability can partner with a powerhouse national organization in the Global South to jointly strategize. We take our lead from ERA’s strategic campaigning and expertise on what the campaign on the ground needs. Together with our members, we make a huge impact.