September 10, 2019

Ending open defecation: Whither Nigeria in the campaign?

Ending open defecation: Whither Nigeria in the campaign?

Open defecation

By Chioma Obinna

As early as 7:00 AM, the small path leading to one of the rivers in Umuanro community was busy with people going in and out.  There were  men, women, children and adolescents.

From the look of things, about 75 per cent of them were on the same mission – to defecate wherever was available – in the river or nearby bushes,  but not in a toilet.


*Once upon a time: Open defecation 

To these community members, such is a way of life. This practice is not associated with Umuanro area of Imo State alone.  It is  common practice in communities across Nigeria even in urban areas.  Many riverine communities are  guilty of the act.

Doing it in the waters, uncompleted buildings, railways, motor parks, schools, football fields and roads among others is nothing new. In the megacity of Lagos, it is commonplace.

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From the slums of Makoko, Maracana, Amukoko, Itire, Badiya, Ketu, Agege, Oyingbo, Ajegunle, Ijeshatedo, Mushin, Iwaya, Somolu, Ikorodu, to Bariga, open defecation thrives.

It was like the tip of an iceberg when a middle-aged woman hawking rice in a locally fabricated canoe right by the middle of the canal in Makoko opened up on the issue.

Right next to her parked canoe was a makeshift toilet built on the canal without a septic tank. All the faeces go into the water.

“We live and defecate here. Years back, some areas were provided with mobile toilets, but I cannot tell what actually happened to them. People went back to the old practice of defecating in the waters.

Some constructed wooden makeshifts with a hole on the floor where the faeces will pass into the same Lagoon from where we fetch water for washing and other things.

“We will be happy if the State government can give us the mobile toilets again, this will help  reduce open defecation in this place. We eat, defecate, bathe, sleep and do most of our businesses on this canal,” said Bola, a female food vendor.

In Makoko, a community with a population of about 150,000,majority of the residents are fishermen or wood sellers. Although there is water everywhere, the people lack access to safe water. Their tales open a can of worms.

The poor sanitation in the community is believed to have led to  recent  views of presence of the wild polio virus in the area. Residents in Maracana, Ajegunle area of Lagos, suffer similar fate.

They lack access to improved latrines. Open defecation is a way of life.  School pupils are not spared as they are forced to defecate in makeshifts close to the Lagoon adjacent to their school compound. These makeshift toilets are far from what UNICEF describes as improved latrines.

Also, from Pako Aguda Bus Stop down to Sanya local market, majority of the houses have no toilet facilities.

The canal is the common toilet, Some houses with toilet facilities channel the sewage directly into the canal.  With this kind of set up, health watchers are of the view that the path to ending open defecation is still far and Nigeria’s target to achieve Open Defecation Free, ODF, status by 2025 may remain a  dream.

These scenarios aptly describe the common trend among Nigerians and communities across the federation.

Today, open defecation is a major public health concern In Nigeria.  Although access to clean sanitation facilities have improved from what it used to be in the past due to increased funding and efforts of UNICEF, the European Union, and other international agencies, Nigeria is still behind India as the second highest country in open defecation in the world and ranks first in Africa. Statistics show that 122,000 Nigerians including 87,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, malaria and other preventable sanitation-related ailments.

According to the 2018 Water Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey, 24.4 per cent of Nigeria’s population, put at 47 million people, practise open defecation.

The report also revealed that 32 million Nigerians still use an unimproved toilet with almost 80 million people needing support for an improved latrine/toilet.

At the regional level, the survey found that 10.3 per cent of people living in North West practice open defecation; 17.9 per cent in South South; 21.8 per cent in the North East; 53.9 per cent in North Central; 22.4 per cent in South East and 28.0 per cent in South West practising open defecation.

Sadly, without proper sanitation facilities, these Nigerians have no choice than to defecate in open and unsafe places, leading to various health hazards and safety problems, especially for women and children.

However, there are fears that India which ranks first worldwide may exit the position by October, 2019 following her in-country efforts which began in 2014, to stop 623million of its population from defecating in the open. Information available showed that India has successfully built over 80 million toilets and may have attained 94 per cent success in her nationwide campaign against open defecation.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s emergency declaration in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, sector, many challenges to the attainment open defecation free by 2025 abounds.  These range from funding, behavioural changes and lack of facilities abound.

According to the WASH, Specialist, UNICEF, Bioye Ogunjobi, Nigeria needs an additional 2 million toilets from 2019 to 2025 annually to attain universal Basic Sanitation.

Regretting that Nigeria  lags behind in provision of toilet facilities , he said the country is currently delivering about 100,000 toilets annually, which  is like a drop in the ocean.

Ogunjobi said only 13 out of the 774 Local Government Areas,LGAs, in Nigeria are certified open defecation free.

According to him, while Nigeria needs an estimated N959 billion to end open defecation by 2025, the country loses N455 billion annually to poor sanitation.

Health watchers are of the view that ending open defecation in Nigeria can mop up this economic loss if there is enough investment and sustained awareness about the dangers of the practice to human health.

However, with the country’s launch of a national campaign: “Clean Nigeria: Use The Toilet,” to attain open defecation free by 2025, one of the greatest hurdles to cross, is changing the mindset or traditional belief most Nigerians have about defecating in the bushes and open places.

As you read this article, thousands are defecating  in the open across communities in Nigeria. Open places like bushes, farms, highways, roads, railways, motor parks, forests and canals, treetops, and waters are not spared.

Despite the campagn messages of the Federal Government’s “Clean Nigeria: Use The Toilet”, many Nigerians, especially, rural dwellers claimed they feel more comfortable doing it in the open than using the toilets.  It is a commonplace to find little children defecating at every corner.

In the views of the Acting Coordinator, “Clean Nigeria, Use The Toilet Campaign”, Mrs. Chizoma Opara, structures are already being put in place to achieve their target by 2025.

Opara who noted that she was among the Nigerian team that went to India recently, noted that : “If  India was able to move about 400 million people in 2018 from the 550 million people practicing open defecation, that is about 38 per cent of their population in 2014, we can achieve more.”

To free Nigeria and Nigerians from open defecation,, concerned health watchers say political will is required in terms of funding and friendly policies that will ensure everyNigerian has access to improved toilets and other sanitation facilities.