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‘Illegal’ Sack of 400 Staff of Lagos Water Corporation Angers NLC, CSOs; MGT Accused of N19.5bn Fraud

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Lagos Water Corporation

Groups lament state of Lagos Water despite spending N19.5bn on water project contracts since 2007…Demand immediate reinstatement of dismissed employees

The summary disengagement of 400 staff of Lagos State Water Corporation (LWC) has accentuated the sundry allegations of anti-labour practices, misconducts and pervasive graft, said to have led to the continuous closure of public waterworks and taps in many neighbourhood in Lagos.

LWC had in a circular on 15th April, 2024, announced the disengagement of 400 employees, citing an effort to reorganize the corporation’s structure in the face of financial and operational challenges, as the reason for the development.

The corporation said the workforce streamlining was necessary due to ongoing water scarcity in the state, despite significant infrastructure efforts.

But the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI), and the Joint Action Front (JAF) while jointly rejecting the recent disengagement of the 400 staff, described the action of the LWC as a rude shock particularly at a time when citizens of the country are battling with severe economic challenges.

Rising from a virtual emergency press briefing Monday, the groups said the sudden disengagement of the 400 staff was unfair and illegal, breaching Section 20 of the Labour Law which explicitly requires an employer to notify the trade union or workers’ representative of the reasons for and the extent of redundancy before terminating the employment of its staff on account of redundancy.

Blaming “successive corrupt management imposed on the LWC by the Lagos State Government”, Labour and CSOs insisted that the “responsibility for the rot in the LWC should be placed rightly where it belongs.”

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One of the staff affected by the decision, Mr Bello Olalekan told journalists that the disengaged staff also suffered police harassment just as they were being handed dismissal letters. “On the 15th of April when we resumed work on Monday, we were assembled at the (LWC) head office and informed that we were going to take (sack) letter. They came with mobile police who barricaded the whole place and watched whether we were going to foment trouble.” said Olalekan, who joined the LWC as a grade-level 4 employee and rose to grade-level 12 before his dismissal from LWC employment.

AUPCTRE, an arm of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), stated that the disengagement of the 400 staff was a well-orchestrated plan, especially with reports making rounds that the Lagos State Government was purportedly planning to privatize the water corporation. The LWC had in recent years incurred the wrath of CSOs and stakeholders in the water sector over the parlous state of water infrastructure in the state amid constant accusations of mismanagement, coupled with the push to privatize Lagos water by the state government.

The groups were puzzled by the Lagos government’s silence regarding the massive amount of money invested in the water corporation without any visible progress.

Briefing journalists, the National President of AUPCTRE and the Vice President of NLC, Comrade Benjamin Anthony, claimed the Lagos state government has expended about N19.5 billion on the state’s Water Corporation since the start of 2007, noting that no one has been able to question how the funds were used with no recourse for accountability.

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He revealed that “before the latest disengagement exercise, in November 2023 about 450 contract workers engaged by the former management to complement the work of the permanent staffers were also booted out unceremoniously.

“It may interest you to know that in March 2024 the staff strength of the LWC was 588. With this illegal action there are only about 200 staff remaining. So how do they manage the entire waterworks in Lagos?”

Anthony further informed that in the year 2007, “the Lagos State Government voted N4 billion for the construction of Otta-Ikosi waterworks. In the year 2010 N3 billion was expended on the construction of an Independent Power Plant (IPP) which also included an additional N180 million expended monthly on fueling the IPP. Can you imagine that? The facility only worked for 3 years.

“In the year 2018 about N897m was released by the Lagos State government for rehabilitation of Iju and Adiyan Waterworks. What is the status of the two projects? Failed. Who are the contractors and how were they selected? This had nothing to do with staff.

“Same 2018 the sum of N789m was released by the Lagos State Government for the rehabilitation of mini and micro waterworks across Lagos. Which contractors got the contracts and how were they selected? Why is there no water in the localities where the mini and micro waterworks are sited today? None of the projects are working. Does it have anything to do with staff? No.

“Between 2022 and now a whooping N2.7bn was voted by the Lagos State Government and expended on the rehabilitation of Ishasi waterworks supervised by Mr. Governor. No result.

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“The budget for the purchase of chemicals for the year 2023 was N950 million yet there was nothing to show in terms of water production that year.

“The sum of N315 million was paid as 50% advance payment to the contractor for the supply of liquid alum in October 2023 which is yet to be supplied as of today. The budget for chemicals in 2024 is N1.2 billion and we can confidently but sadly inform you that production of water since the beginning of the year has been nil.”

While threatening to take drastic steps over the mass sack, the groups demanded the “unconditional reinstatement of all disengaged staff of the LWC. Arbitrary mass dismissals that run afoul of the law are a dangerous precedent of impunity that we will never accept.

“Probe into all the water contracts awarded in Lagos since 2007, blacklisting of identified contractors, and recoup all monies diverted

“A halt to the ongoing privatization plans of water in Lagos. We have ample evidence that in virtually all cities where this same model was experimented, it led to rate hikes, poor quality service, shut-offs for the most vulnerable people in communities who cannot pay, lay-offs for workers as we are now witnessing, and other consequences that erode the universal access to water that the United Nations (UN) advocates.

“Terminate all partnerships and any collaboration that aims to foist water privatization in Lagos.”

By ‘Dotun Akintomide

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