Lagos Nigeria Water Bill Could Criminalize Drinking Water For Millions

“If government has failed to provide water for us, they do not have the right to take away our efforts to provide for ourselves. Do they want us to die?”

A large body of water might be surrounding Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, but in a cruel twist of fate, millions of its residents do not have access to clean drinking water. In fact, it won’t be wrong to classify it as a major water crisis, as about 90 percent of the population relies on local vendors and borehole wells to sustain itself.

Even the other 10 percent that is able to use the utility water might not be able to do so for much longer, considering the entire system is in shambles and the taps are running dry.

Since the government has been unable to provide a feasible solution to their problem, some 19 million people are forced to either fetch water from lakes and rivers or pay ridiculous sums of money to the water mafia to purchase water in unhygienic cans, bottles and cellophane bags.

However, it turns out they might not be able to do that for much longer as well.

Last month, the Lagos State House Assembly passed the Lagos Environment Bill to “overhaul the state’s environmental, waste management and handling practices.” The bill also includes a provision to criminalize “the abstraction of water from natural sources if conducted without the approval from the authorities.”

To put it simply, if someone obtains drinking water from a river or drills a borehole well for survival, they would be subject to pay a fine equivalent to $310, which is outrageous considering the minimum wage in Lagos is approximately $60.

“When the State fails to provide adequate access to drinking water, no one should be criminalized or fined for fetching water from lakes, rivers, or any other natural sources,” said Léo Heller, the United Nations expert on the human rights to water and sanitation. “Legal measures by the government to regulate access to water are an important step to ensure that drinking water is safe. However, when only 10 percent of the population are connected to piped networks and the rest of the population rely on natural water sources for drinking water, a blanket prohibition of accessing natural water sources is not the way forward.”

The Nigerian authorities claim the bill would not affect citizens who procure water for personal use, but activists believe the broad language of the regulation could threaten the basic human right of millions of people.

“One of our rights as citizens is to live, to have good water to drink, good environment,” remarked Agnes Sessi, president of the African Women Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Network. “If government has failed to provide water for us, they do not have the right to take away our efforts to provide for ourselves. Do they want us to die?”

Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria’s Akinbode Oluwafemi believes it is “a conspiracy against the people.” 

While the U.N. has asked the government to reconsider the regulation, the Nigerian authorities believe it is a step in the right direction.

“I am delighted that our bill has been signed into law. Under this initiative we have worked collectively to make laws that will result in historic environmental victories,” commented Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode. “Our major environmental laws are outdated and do not address our present-day challenges. We exist in a world where the protection and preservation of public health and the environment have evolved and are primarily driven by data. We cannot compete if our laws are based on obsolete information.”

According to a 2015 report by London-based nonprofit WaterAid, the shortage of running water and poor sanitation led to about 73,000 deaths in Nigeria – nearly 19 times more people than terrorist group Boko Haram killed in that period.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Afolabi Sotunde 

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