Strengthening the Water Sector Reform Process in Nigeria

March 17, 2019
Challenge The Government of Nigeria has long recognized the challenges facing its water supply and sanitation sector. This includes low access to services, failure of poorly maintained infrastructure, weak capacity and performance of service providers, and the far-reaching impacts of Nigeria’s deep sanitation deficit, such as negative public health effects. In response, the Government prioritized improvement of access to water and sanitation services in its development strategy and the National Transformation Agenda. The Government of Nigeria continues to work towards increasing sustainable access to water services in urban areas, mainly for the poor, by addressing institutional and governance issues. This requires policy and legislative reform in combination with infrastructure investment. Towards a Solution Government officials in the water sector in Nigeria wanted to obtain firsthand information from water-sector practitioners who had successfully conducted reforms. The World Bank responded with a South-South Facility-financed knowledge exchange to bring Nigerian officials together with peers in Colombia and Brazil. The countries had faced similar water sector challenges and had recently implemented reforms that had significantly improved their water sector. Colombia had undergone reforms over the last 15 years, partially with World Bank support, that had significantly improved its water sector. Prior to reforms, Colombia had similar challenges to those experienced by Nigeria, including insufficient service quality and coverage, poorly performing and unregulated service providers, and ineffective cost-recovery and financing. Brazil, which has a similar decentralized federal system of government to that of Nigeria, also had to deal with fast urbanization and large-scale water sector inefficiencies. Both countries have implemented successful water supply and sanitation sector reforms since the 1990s. The scoping and design of the programme benefited from numerous preparatory exchanges, after which two Nigerian delegations of federal and state officials visited Brazil and Colombia for study tours in May 2016 to meet national and local water sector experts. The delegations to Brazil and Colombia were respectively led by the Permanent Secretary and the Director of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR). In total, 20 Nigerian officials participated, including five federal government officials (FMWR and Federal Ministry of Finance) and 15 state government representatives or State Water Agency managers. Study tours began with a half-day introductory session on the situation and history of the host country’s water sector, followed by formal meetings and presentations by key sector institutions, some site visits (facilities, systems) and exchanges with operational staff and mealtime discussion with managers. Each study tour included an intermediary and final brainstorming session (four sessions in total), led by the chief of delegation, with World Bank team and local consultant support to record participant questions, reactions and takeaways. The formal process of Nigerian water sector revitalization and reform started a year later, in mid-2017. The results achieved through this initiative are as follows:
  • New knowledge: Exchange participants gained an understanding of the challenges faced in Colombia’s and Brazil’s water supply and sanitation sectors, and of the medium- to long-term strategies for water sector development, financing and regulation. The Nigerians were able to reflect on the applicability of these solutions to Nigeria’s context, and understand possible changes and reform options to improve the coverage and sustainability of water services.
  • Enhanced skills: The exchange programme enhanced the knowledge and skills of the Nigerian delegation in terms of implementing water sector reforms.
  • Improved consensus: Since the Nigerian knowledge exchange participants work at both the Nigerian federal and state levels, the exchange strengthened the relationship between these government officials. The study tours facilitated brainstorming sessions and promoted consensus between potential state and federal reform champions, creating a coalition of reform- minded officials and contributing to the establishment of reform priorities.
  • Enhanced connectivity: The delegations from the three countries formed a group to continue working together. Several of the study tour participants, in particular State Water Commissioners and State Utility Managers, are now at the forefront of the sector reform debate in Nigeria.
  • New and improved actions: The knowledge gained on sector reforms greatly informed and influenced policy debate and formulation in Nigeria, including those related to clarifying complementarity federal and local government roles, the regulation of utility services, and the design of subsidies and sector financing. The delegates were empowered to champion and mobilize Federal and State Government Water Supply and Sanitation sector reforms. This has informed Nigeria’s national consultations for the development of Nigeria’s Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic, and the Sector Revitalization Action Plan in 2017-2018. The Government of Nigeria has also requested World Bank support to design and establish a new National Water Fund.
Following the study tours, the Government of Nigeria asked the World Bank to develop an updated, evidence- based diagnostic of sector conditions, the Nigeria WASH Poverty Diagnostic, 2017. It also asked the World Bank to support the ensuing Federal -States participatory consultation process for development of a WASH Sector Revitalization Action Plan (approved in April 2018), which included a number of governance and financing recommendations inspired by the Brazilian and Colombian experiences. Key reform areas include:
  • Strengthening of the institutional framework and Federal-State partnership for sector development
  • Establishment of an economic regulator appropriate for Nigeria’s low-capacity context
  • New Water Supply and Sanitation financing schemes, including rules-based awarding of federal concessional loans and State grant incentives
  • Supervision and control of water utilities, including the establishment and building of the capacities of a national regulatory system as a short- to medium- term measure. (Each Nigerian state needs to have a full WSS regulatory system, but these will take longer to establish.)
Countries/Regions involved: Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria Supported by: World Bank South-South Facility Implementing entities: Governments of Brazil, Colombia, and Nigeria, The World Bank Group Project status: Completed Project period: October 2015 – October 2016 Contact: Mr. Laurent Porte, Programme Manager, South-South Facility, World Bank Email:,