Attempts to implement participatory processes are often complicated by realities which make objectives of participation unattainable. Hence, if participation is to mean more than good intentions, it is vital to understand the strategies deployed by international nongovernmental organisations (INGOs) in participatory development. This study employed a qualitative case-study approach to evaluate the participatory processes employed in two WASH projects implemented by WaterAid Nigeria attempting work with Local Government Areas: the Sustainable Total Sanitation project and the HSBC Water programme. WaterAid Nigeria's participatory development approach recognises the responsibility of the various tiers of government for its citizens' wellbeing, especially the need for partnership with the Local Government Area (LGA) towards the delivery of WASH services. The state, as the ‘duty bearer’, is responsible for the provision of WASH services. Thus, both projects centred on government capacity building and community empowerment through the establishment and capacity development of WASH units in LGAs, insistence on counterpart funding and the establishment of water, sanitation and hygiene committees (WASHCOMs). Despite these attempts, findings highlighted the persistence of inefficiencies within the LGA WASH system that rendered partnerships ineffective. At the community level, WASHCOMs were not sustainable. Despite the challenges of implementing partnerships between INGOs and LGAs, such partnership remains a way to improve the provision of WASH services in Nigeria and other low- and middle-income countries. To better work within the participatory model, WASH INGOs should explore how to better use existing LGA arrangements for service delivery. Additionally, the LGA, as a duty bearer, could foster genuine, non-discriminatory spaces for the participation of communities by taking political, socio-economic and cultural differences into account.

  • WaterAid elicited partnership with Local Government Areas (LGAs) in WASH service delivery through the formation of WASH units, capacity building, insistence on counterpart funding and the formation of WASH committees.

  • Various frustrations existed with implementing LGA–international nongovernmental organisation (INGO) partnerships.

  • To more effectively work within the participatory model, WASH INGOs could seek to understand the power dynamics in the LGA system.

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