By Dallas Onyema
Civil society and grassroots stakeholders in Lagos have demanded that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode make public the controversial new environment law which he signed on March 1, 2017.
The groups insisted that the inaccessibility of the document from the relevant ministries of the Lagos State government two weeks after it was signed has fuelled suspicion that its provisions are anti-people as they had alerted immediately the Lagos House of Assembly passed it.
The law titled: Consolidated Laws on the Management, Protection and Sustainable Development on the Environment in Lagos State and Connected Purposes, was signed by Governor Ambode on March 1st after a contentious public hearing organised by the Lagos House Committee on the Environment on February 9 and its subsequent passage by the House on February 20.
Civil society groups had faulted the Public Hearing on the premise that the 190-page document which espoused the provisions of the law was only made available to the invitees a day before the legislative exercise which made it near impossible for in-depth critique and recommendations. However, only a few CSOs were invited and allowed to present memorandum.
In a statement in Lagos, several groups faulted sections of the law which they describe as “corporate buy-over of Lagos” in the guise of providing services.
Groups that signed the statement include: Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Peace and Development Project (PEDEP), Joint Action Front (JAF), Friends of the Environment, Climate-aid, and Committee for Defense of Human Rights (CDHR).
Others are Africa Women Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWWASHNET), Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Church, Center for Dignity, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), among others.
Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “We are shocked that more than two weeks after the governor signed a law as far-reaching as the new environment law, no one has set eyes on the document or can say what it contains outside what we saw as a draft by the House of Assembly. We have suddenly realized that the greatest threat to our people is when a supposed-democratic government now exists only for big business. We are miffed.”
Oluwafemi explained that the haste with which the Lagos lawmakers organised the public hearing and got the law passed, and the equal speed with which the governor assented to the document is questionable in the face of a near total lack of public input.
Executive Director of PEDEP, Francis Abayomi, expressed his reservations for the law in the following words: “The secrecy surrounding Governor Ambode’s assent to a law as controversial and antithetical to the citizens of Lagos is one that is very disturbing. We are particularly worried that the governor will sign a law that practically wills our right to a free gift of nature which water represents; to private interests whose sole concern is profits. Personally I amshell-shocked.”
Veronica Nwanya, chairperson of AWWASHNET said: “Access to water is a human right that cannot be taken away from the people. This law, not only violates that right. If allowed unchallenged, it will add to the burden that lack of sustained investment in the water sector has unleashed, and worsen the poverty the people suffer. Women and children and even generations yet born will suffer. It is unacceptable.”
The bill passed by the House on February 20 was not made public. However, the draft at the Public Hearing gave too much power to the Lagos Commissioner for Environment, criminalizes sinking of boreholes, and imposes fines and sets prison terms for any Lagos citizen that sells or transports water, among others.
The CSOs therefore demanded that these provisions be jettisoned along with the irrevocable standing order on payments to contractors and concessions in Section 7 of the law. More importantly, they demanded that the governor end the regime of speculations on the law by making it public without further delay.