OPEN DEFECATION:How we eat, drink our ‘shit’ without knowing, says 80-year-old Ibadan trader

‘Shit’ in the open is a huge challenge in the country. About 24 per cent practice this according to findings from the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey. The practice contaminates water, food supplies and makes it one of the most deadly issues the nation faces nowadays. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at efforts to get 47 million Nigerians to use the toilet and end open defecation in 2025



Alhaja Suliat Ogunbola, 80, is one of the aged traders at Ogbere Idi Osan Market in Ona Ara Local Government Area of Oyo State. Ogunbola is in pains, though not as a result of her old age. She is unhappy because the environment where she ekes out a living looks more like a slum. And beneath the relentlessly slummy surface of the market lies a kind of moral discomfort. The drainage ditches are smelly and blocked with faeces, which she said, often overflows when the rains come, into shops and pathways, such that the vicinity is wholly composed of human waste.

Ogunbola described it not only as an eyesore but a shame to find human faeces litter such a public place. She told Saturday Telegraph that she, like the other women in the market, are willing to use toilet facilities and save themselves the agony of spending the money they don’t even have in treating all manners of diseases in hospitals.

It is because we can’t find a decent toilet to use, she said, that makes them resort to their old ways of defecating without qualms. Ogunbola said: “No bi our fault. Yes, we have toilets in this market, but no water to flush after use.

That is the reason why we now use our bowls which we empty at a more convenient time in the derelict public toilet at the other end (pointing to the location) of the market where we don’t pay any money. “Who does not want to use a decent toilet? Let the government provide a more decent one and make sure there is water supply to prevent us from contracting disease while trying to defecate. Don’t forget we are women and could easily contract disease from dilapidated toilets. Some of us urinate anywhere we can find a space and get infected in the process.

This way flies feast on our faeces and bring them back to our foods and water. My son, we eat and drink our ‘shit’ in this market without knowing.”She pleaded that the state or local government should come to their aid and do the right thing to save them from dying prematurely. Another trader, a 70-year-old widow, Felicia Akindele, also expressed worry over the spate of open defecation in the market. The traders who spoke to Saturday Telegraph during a visit to the market recently, said the development poses hazard to their health and businesses.

“It is obvious that more toilets need to be built to cater for our needs and that of our customers and I think this has been a major challenge for us,” Akindele, who equally lamented scarcity of water for usage in the available toilets, said. However, the only good toilet in the market was built by private initiative.

It supposed to be a decent convenience but for lack of water in its compartments to flush after use. The borehole within the vicinity which should serve the toilets has broken down and those charged with maintenance of the facility seemed unperturbed about it. For Ogunbola, “we had been forced to improvise on the water scarcity by bringing water along from home every day for our convenience.

I found this routine very tough to do at my age but it is still better for me than to risk my health.” A few other traders said they had to also make do with their bowls to avoid direct use of the toilets. “I use a bowl for my convenience and then pour the waste into the toilet thereafter.

The three functioning toilets at the market cater for over 200 traders, in addition to customers, which is not even gender-sensitive,” another, who declined to give her name, said. Yet, Abimbola Oderinde, a principal environmental health officer in the local government, who was sighted at the market, told Saturday Telegraph that her office was pleased with the health condition in the market. According to her, “we do sensitise the traders on the need to maintain hygiene at all times and they adhere.

She however, blamed some of the traders she said, flouts the rules to defecate in the open market. This reporter visited the market as part of a two-day media dialogue hosted in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital by the federal ministry of information’s child rights bureau in collaboration with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the theme “Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet campaign”. Strange as the testimonies may sound, they represent typical scenarios in several communities, as poor living conditions and the dearth of sanitation facilities are peculiar features of many neighbourhoods across the country.

A major outcome of the lack of sanitation facilities is open defection which, according to Chisoma Okpara, Chief scientific officer and acting coordinator for the clean Nigeria campaign, usually provokes the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, particularly among the children. But Ogbere Idi Osan’s Market is not alone in this mess.

At the Kosofe-Ketu community a few days ago, a young man dashed out of his room with clenched teeth, pulled open his zippers, took a quick look to his right and left, retired to a small bush by the school building, and dropped off lumps of smelly faeces. His action surprised no one, for it is a tradition of sort in this part of the mega city. In virtually every open space in and around the neighbourhood, heaps of faeces literally jostle for space with human beings.

From the homes, they are wrapped up in newspapers and launched from windows, scattering into a spatter mess. It piles the streets as though they are articles of ornament. Yet, no one seems to bother about it. “This is how we do it here.

You can hardly find a toilet in most homes and where you find one, it is untidy; not good for any decent use. Most times, what you find is a makeshift toilet in which wooden plank platform are constructed with buckets under it.

The sight of such is quite disgusting. For all these, we consider it convenient and comfortable doing it in the open, and since it suits us, it should not be anybody’s headache,” said an elderly man, who declined to give his name.

He added: “This practice is common in this community, especially in places where toilet facilities are a luxury. When nature calls, everyone responds differently.” The old man’s excitement, many believe, is simply a collective adaptation to extreme hardship. He, like many others in the Kosofe community, were born and bred in that ghetto.

Though, he and his likes seem to have a fascination for defecating in public places and in bushes, they are not alone in this act and Kosofe is definitely not an isolated case. It is a common practice in the city of Lagos.

But, such behaviour, according to some, clearly portrays the level of helplessness and frustration in most Nigerian communities. Many of the families living in Nigeria, especially in villages, do so at a heightened risk of hygiene-related diseases. This is due to poor infrastructure and inadequate toilets.

As a result, open defecation is very common, with many families regularly using river banks as open air toilets. These highly unhygienic practices put the communities at a high-level of risk in relation to a range of water borne diseases. Many families are simply unable to build functioning toilets due to a lack of resources and knowledge on safe hygiene practices.

Incidentally, lack of safe water, according to Bioye Ogunjobi, WASH specialist for UNICEF Nigeria, has contributed to this menace in recent time. This may be the reason wh y he harped on improving access to potable water and toilet facilities which, he believes will largely reduce open defecation. Curbing this nuisance will, he further said, check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life.

Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by igno by some Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari has keyed into the campaign “Clean Nigeria, Use the Toilet”, to end open defecation in the country by 2025.

Buhari is said to be prepared to launch the campaign at a date yet to be announced. This follows the disturbing report of Nigeria being listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world. The country, according to reports, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the former Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in this inglorious index.

The former minister observed that the country was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas. The President had in November 2018 launched National Action Plan for Revitalising WASH, where he also declared a state of emergency on water and sanitation sector in Nigeria, an important aspect of the plan is for the country to be open defecation free.

The National Plan of Action is a significant political milestone towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and decent sanitation by 2030. Adamu said Nigeria has developed a road map, 2016-2025, to end open defecation. He added that out of the 774 local government areas, only 13 are open defecation free.

He said: “13 out of 774 local governments is very dismal but it is work in progress. But we have also made some progress as 20 to 21,000 communities in the country today are open defecation free. The problem is we still have 47 million people practicing open defecation and Nigeria has been moving up the ladder since 2012 from being number four or five in the world to having the ranking of number two.

“India is number one but India has been working to end open defecation, in the last four years they have taken over 500 million out of open defecation. And India plans to declare itself open defecation free by October. Once that happens, Nigeria will become the number one country in the world that practices open defecation.

You will all agree with me that this is an honour we do not want to have.” The World Bank’s recent statistics, according to reports, show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health have not been heeded, according to experts.

The aggregate opinion is that the environment suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time. This, experts said, leads to build-up of filth.

The load of microbes, they also said, can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to both aquatic life and humans. But there are known solutions to tackle the menace.

To overcome this problem, the government needs to invest more in WASH. UNICEF has said that about N95 billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advised that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.

Besides, the government’s Open Defecation-Free Roadmap, experts said, should be more than a plan to eliminate the nuisance by 2025, it should, according to them, also put into consideration the N234 billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.

The experts also recommend that the 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. And that bill should be initiated to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. Available statistics revealed that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria.

The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report has also shown that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

The link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous. According to Nigeria WASH Poverty Diagnostics Report, the country’s sanitation sector is in a critical condition. The report shows that the economic growth of Nigeria, which has an estimated population of over 180 million, has not translated into rapid poverty reduction.

This may the reason why Adamu warned at the National Council on Water Resources meeting, held in Abuja between November 13 and 15, 2018, that if India would be able to exit from its number one position in the list of countries with poor sanitation and open defecation by November, it would be a “national shame” for Nigeria not to do the same. “I have been to India, the country has been adequately mobilised on issues of sanitation and open defecation.

It is, therefore, a civic responsibility for all of us,” he said. Four years ago, only 40 per cent of Indians were using toilets but now, over 95 per cent of them are practising full sanitation practices. “The Indians have not only stopped to defecate in the open, they are also recycling their waste into usable products; they have experienced a lot of transformation within these years. “The Indians have built over 80 million toilets; we need this kind of quantum leap in our country.

Very soon, wherever you go in the world, you would hear that Nigeria is number one in open defecation and that is a national shame, which we must not allow to happen. Though the federal government would soon enter into a technical cooperation with India to salvage the Nigerian situation,” he added.

Rolf Luyendijk, the Executive Director, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), also said that policymakers should take concrete actions to rid the world of more than 800 million open defecators.

He particularly noted that hundreds of millions of schoolchildren had no access to school toilets, with cholera outbreaks resulting in hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year from poor sanitation and hygiene. Luyendijk said apart from considering the data, the call for action from all tiers of government to accelerate progress on sanitation projects globally and nationally was very imperative. He stressed the need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes to absorb more funds.

“Instead of us all chasing the numbers — with scattered and relatively small projects and programmes — I really think that we need to pull together and strengthen the system and absorption capacity to scale up and accelerate programming.

We need to get behind ending open defecation roadmaps; we need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes so that we can absorb more money but we don’t have our own monitoring frameworks,” he said.Open defecation, according to experts, has an economic, social, and health impact on national development.

Nigeria, it is said, loses about 1.3 per cent (N455 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is linked to open defecation. It is also said that more than 100,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhoea; of which 90 per cent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. However, one in four children under five years of age are said to exhibit severe stunting, while one in 10 are wasted, due to frequent episodes of diarrhoea and other WASH-related illnesses.

This frequent episodes of WASH-related diseases cause absence from school or work, as affected people take time off to heal, and some to take care of a sick relative. There is also the issue of poor education outcomes in which reduced school enrolment and attendance due to time lost in search for water and frequent illnesses are rampant. Open defecation equally results in loss of dignity, increased risks of insecurity and violence against women and children. However, the country, experts have said, needs to add two million toilets per year between now and 2025 to achieve the target of Universal Basic Sanitation. Its current delivery of improved toilet is approximately 160,000 per year.

The Nigerian government has made some progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 and eliminating inequalities in the WASH sector. For instance, the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme was formulated and launched in 2016 in direct response to the challenges affecting the rural WASH sector, with the aim of achieving 100 per cent WASH coverage in rural areas.

The “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign to end open defecation is a key initiative that is designed to reach many unserved populations. Sanitation financing mechanism, through the engagement of micro finance institutions, community-based savings and loan schemes, as well as a government pool fund, are also being used to make loans available for households, especially the rural poor, to construct improved toilets. Also, a national Village Level Operation Maintenance (VLOM) strategy for managing water supply facilities in all rural communities in Nigeria has been launched. National guidelines are being drafted by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to appropriately mainstream gender issues in WASH programming in the sector.

The WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping survey disaggregates national WASH data across regions, sub-sectors, and household wealth, gender, literacy and disabilities status. It also explores equity and dignity indicators, such as gender-separate toilets for privacy in public institutions and safety of water systems and toilets for children and people living with disabilities. Other priorities, according to government, are sanitation and hygiene promotion and awareness creation.

It is in her place to also advocate for the provision of WASH services and infrastructure development in rural communities, schools, health care facilities, and across marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Adamu wants to see support sanitation demand creation and supply chain through community engagement, market-based sanitation, and that financing are also priorities while advocating for a strengthened WASH sector policy. He also advocated for institutional environment at the national and subnational levels for better WASH governance and service delivery.

The government, he said, is aiming to supporting the presidential declaration of the state of emergency and the national action plan for the revitalisation of the WASH sector. “What is needed to achieve this is a strong political commitment in leadership at all levels to improve sanitation and increased budgetary allocation.

The programme needs increased support from the media for the dissemination of behaviour change messages, institutional advocacy, and increased coverage of human interest stories on sanitation “There should also be an increased private sector engagement in the WASH sector through business investment and corporate citizenship/ corporate social responsibility as well as sanitation and hygiene awareness creation through branding and promotion,” he said.

However, becoming an open defecation free community does not happen overnight. It takes a process of mobilisation, engagement, and action. The first stage is pre-triggering activities in which officials of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) and local government area WASH department or the State Task Group on Sanitation (STGS) to carry out an advocacy visit to sensitise and mobilise the support of political, traditional and religious leaders and community members.

They seek their support in implementing a Community- Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). There are also the triggering activities. During this phase, CLTS facilitates (LGA WASH Partners and RUWASSA) to engage community members to analyse their sanitation practices and see how open defecation threatens the community. This will ginger the community members to take collective action to develop a Community Action Plan (CAP) to improve sanitation and open defecation. At this stage, sanitation marketing is conducted, with displays of improved latrine options for households to select their preferred choice.

Issues of inclusiveness are also integrated into the CLTS approach to ensure that the needs of all the groups are captured, without leaving anyone behind. For the post triggering activities, the WASH department/unit within the local government area and other local partners follow-up and monitor the CAP. RUWASSA provides supportive monitoring during this period. When the community is able to curb the trend of open defecation, they self-declare that they are now ODF and inform the LGA.

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