Sunday Magazine

Saving environment from open defecation

•   Cholera, other epidemics loom nationwide, say experts

•   UNICEF: 39 million Nigerians indulge in the act

•   90% of households consume faeces-contaminated water –NBS

 

 

Lagos State and Nigeria may be at high risk of an outbreak of serious epidemic if nothing is done urgently beyond the country’s traditional approaches to arresting the practice of Open Defecation (OD) in the environment. The practice has become a pain in the neck and also earned Nigeria the 3rd position among the countries of the world where OD has become customary. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

 

“Driver come and take us out of this place…it is risky here. You didn’t say anything and deserted us here.” These were some expressions of frustration exhibited by some passengers in a commercial Coaster bus which plies Mile 12–First gate route.

 

The driver had pulled over to answer the call of nature by the roadside, where he openly defecated. The driver had taken off from Mile – 12 Market in Ketu and headed for Mazamaza- First Gate, when nature came calling. He was a few seconds away to the last bus-stop but couldn’t help it as he parked on the main road to ease himself.

 

The distance between where he parked and final bus-stop was less than a minute drive but he had to park between Durba Road and Mazamaza Bus-stop along Orile- Badagary Expressway. Meanwhile, as the call was mounting pressure on him, he was speeding down, perhaps, to get to a safe place to help himself out.

 

This abnormal speeding necessitated comments from passengers. Trust Lagosians! Suddenly, the driver parked without a word and reached out to a half gallon of water behind his seat, perchance, to clean up after, as many would do, and fled into shrubs covering land by sewage discharging centre.

 

Not everyone knew what was happening until passengers started chattering on top of their voices in fear of blasting horns from heavy trucks speeding down the road.

 

“It was a call of nature. The driver couldn’t hold it again,” a passenger, who possibly observed his movement, giggled.

“We don’t know your plan ooo! Come and take us to a safe place,” the passengers continued screaming in fear but that didn’t change anything as the driver was busy sweating profusely at the open air toilet. At this point, a gentleman, who perhaps, has had such experience, quipped,

 

“Don’t mind them. They have not seen anything. They don’t travel. If they do, they will know how far. If they were in his shoes, they would do the same. “Consider the distance between the first gate and here, yet he couldn’t hold on to it. That showed he had been in pains.

 

Ordinarily, he would have taken us to the bus-stop first,” he added. While the debate was raging on, the driver resurfaced, sweating profusely and uttering not a word.

 

He quietly turned on the engine of the vehicle and drove off. Ironically, the driver may have calculated and concluded that there was no public toilet at the Festac First Gate, where he could help himself and decided to defecate on the open where he found slight covering.

 

This is what an average Nigerian goes through on a daily basis due to paucity or near absence of toilet facilities in the public where they are needed. This has a way of making Nigerians uncultured and uncivilised as a man who is pressed beyond control is not ashamed to roll down his trousers anywhere and defecate.

 

No one can prevent this call of nature or determine when the call comes. Of course, those 68 million homeless Nigerians are no more ashamed to roll down their pants anywhere.

Rather passersby are the ones, who turn their noses off in irritation. Thus, the giant of Africa became 3rd in the world, and first in Africa, to become a country with the highest rate of open defecation with 39 million people involved in the act after Pakistan, which came 2nd with 41 million and Indonesia with its1st position with 54 million people. United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) recently ranked Nigeria third globally in the Open Defecation.

The global body said onethird of the country’s population practices this act and for Nigeria to get an Open Defecation Free (ODF) certificate, something drastic should be done beyond traditional approach to avert looming epidemics too. By the way, OD is the practice whereby people go out into fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water or other open spaces rather than use the toilet to defecate or pass bodily waste. UNICEF’s Chief of Water,

Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Nigeria, Mr. Zaid Jurji recently said in Katsina State that the situation of sanitation in Nigeria is alarming, saying that Nigeria as a heavyweight country, not only in Africa but also worldwide, shouldn’t widely practice OD. “A strong country like Nigeria shouldn’t have OD practiced indiscriminately,” he added.

Sequel to this revelation, Sunday Telegraph observed that realising the Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that everyone has access to a household toilet by 2030 in Nigeria is near impracticable especially with 68 million homeless Nigerians.

There is a total disconnect in policies to adequately manage waste, punish offenders, coupled with landlord’s insensitivity. It was learnt that most landlords in Nigeria built houses, school hostels, plazas, and event centres among others without provision of enough decent toilet facilities.

Yet the government is not saying anything. Some schools in Nigeria do not have enough toilet facilities and both the teachers and the students rely on open defecation.

Investigations revealed that a lot of tenants don’t know their rights in Nigeria and one wonders why lease-holders pay for offices without toilets in shopping complexes. In Port Harcourt, for instance, it is a novelty.

You shouldn’t be surprised to read; that many shop owners defecate inside their shops, in bags, and dispose of them secretly. You can imagine this horrific job for garbage collectors, who will mistake contents in bags for straws only to grab muck. In addition, many others urinate inside buckets and in their shops. ‘

Shot-put or flying carpet,’ as they may call the act, is happening in our higher institutions today. A journey through Abuleado Junction along Mile 2 – Badagry road to Barracks will say it all about the menace of this open defecation in the state, as one must hold one’s  breathe until one passes that long stretch. “It’s horrible. It’s bad. You can’t breathe freely while travelling on the Mile 2 – Badagry route.

 

The stench starts coming from Durbar Junction but the worst spot is Abuleado junction. Oh my goodness. You can’t breathe and if by chance you are stuck in that routine holdup, you will mercy for yourself,” says Sola Badro, who was travelling to Seme Border to buy wares.

 

She continued: “People doing this are not ashamed of anything as you see them perch on the barricade on the other side of disused road.

 

You know that there is construction going on here, so that part of the road is not in use. So they climb on them and start defecating. Male and females are involved in this practice.

 

“But the truth must be told, we do not have enough public toilets in Lagos. In fact, there is nothing like a public toilet on this axis. I ply this route always, so I can tell you for sure.

 

People are used to defecating on the road side whenever they are pressed. “The drivers, the conductors as well as the passengers who may appeal to the driver to stop them for defecation when they are pressed are not spared. Everybody is guilty of this, if you call it an offence. I have done it and will still do it anytime I am stuck that I can’t hold it anymore.”

 

Of course, Lagos Island is not an exception as Ebute-Ero water is where almost all the traders who ply their businesses at the Ebutte-Ero market and those at the motor parks and mechanic workshop around there defecate in the body of CSM Lagoon, perching on the lagoon embankment. During Sunday Telegraph’s visits to the Lagoon from Ebute-Ero stretch to CMS,

 

 

 

 

 

people were seen hanging on the edge of the barricade and defecating inside the water. The practice was seen to be more serious in the early hours of the morning and noon day. Even the Ebute-Ero ferry park also made a makeshift wooden toilet where people go in to urinate and defecate, all inside the Lagoon.

 

It was done with woods and zinc but the under has opening in such that the fecal waste will find its way into the water, the same water where fishing takes place a few distance away. “We do not have any toilet here and that is the only place we can defecate,”

 

Segun Ajasin, an automobile mechanic under one of the bridges said, though Sunday Ugwu, a trader said they have toilets in the plaza but the facility is not enough.

 

At Victoria Island, Lagos, where people believe that there will be more sense of decency and decorum because it’s largely regarded as a high brow area, the same practice takes place with ease.

 

Mrs. Meye Iphy said: “Open defecation is practiced everywhere in Nigeria and in Lagos. I used to think that it only exists around the slum until I stepped on, a wet feces. It was so disgusting. Well dressed and going for an engagement to behold such a mess. It was bad. The government needs to do something about this.”

 

Again, visit to some tertiary institutions in Lagos revealed that many students’ hostels do not have decent or enough toilets to cater for the increasing number of students in the school, and this pushes some of them to defecate and urinate in their rooms and dispose of the environment.

 

Oh, you will sympathise with those farmers whose farmlands shared a common boundary with some school hostels in the country. In some situations, there is an over use of few available facilities and when the facilities are messed up, they resort to nearby bushes. Mr. Jehu Udoh, who attended his tertiary education in one of the schools in town, said, “While I was an undergraduate, I once visited a friend at another University and I had to pass a night.

 

At a point, I was pressed and needed to use the toilet. “So, my friend took me to their toilet. Lo and behold, the toilet bowl was half filled with faeces and I went back. My friend persuaded me to no avail to squat and defecate like others but I couldn’t,” he said.

According to him, the cleaner had gone for the day and would not come to clean it until the next day. But he had no other option than to seek a bush within the campus to defecate. In the morning, unfortunately, the call of nature called again, and he went to answer the call at the same toilet, believing that it would have been cleared, but it was not.

 

“On getting there the following morning, the bowl that I met half filled, was now filled to the brim. I wonder the kind of people who did those nasty things. At a close look, I discovered that people put tissue paper on top of the feces and drop theirs too,” he said. At this time, he was taken to an abandoned uncompleted building where he defecated. This place was designated Open Defecation point for those, who couldn’t stand what Udoh saw.

 

According to UNICEF, fecal waste not properly disposed leads to diseases like polio, cholera and outbreak of other water borne diseases. According to the Managing Director of Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), Mr. Gimba Ya’ukumo, the 68 million Nigerians, who are homeless and equally toiletless, contributed to this practice.

 

An environmentalist and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS), University of Ibadan, Dr. Oladapo Okareh, said Nigerians should be given proper re-orientation on dangers of OD, saying that the practice could lead to outbreak of diseases like cholera and diarrhea.

 

“Open defecation constitutes a major public health problem. It’s a public menace because it easily leads to an outbreak of communicable diseases like cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, intestinal infections, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis,” he added. Also, a public health expert at the Nnamdi Azikwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH) Nnewi, Anambra State,

 

Mrs. Joy Anichebe, said cholera is a deadly disease and could kill a child within one hour of the ailment, saying the way out proper awareness creation on the dangers of OD. Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Obiora at Epe General Hospital, Epe, Lagos State, said: “Water supplies can become contaminated with such fecal matters; we all know that human faces contain bacteria and germs which consequently contaminate drinking water.

 

Governments at all levels should increase public awareness on the health risk of the practice.” She noted that many people in the cities channel their sewage to the canal even as people lay their water pipeline in the same canal, stating when there is a leakage in the pipe, the feces in the canal contaminates the water.

 

More so, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report carried out in 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in collaboration with UNICEF, revealed that 90 per cent of households in Nigeria consume faces-contaminated water and other impure substances.

 

According to a UNIC’s Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Mrs. Maureen Zubie- Okolo, the water and sanitation situation in the country is worrisome; water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea, had been the leading cause of hospital admissions, especially among under-five children.

“Although 64.1 per cent of Nigerians had access to improved drinking water sources, North-East states were, however, lagging behind with 52.4 per cent, while South-West states top the chart with 87.3 percent of its residents having access to improved water sources,” she said.

 

Despite these warnings, some residents find it fun engaging in the act, saying it’s peaceful and refreshing. An Abuja-based public analyst and social commentator, Simon Abah, said he was once offered a bucket to urinate in a friend’s office in Port Harcourt when he got pressed but couldn’t, rather he resorted to a nearby gutter, in a narrow street.

 

He said, “Imagine my experience at Elekahia Housing Estate. From time to time, I went to the shopping centre in the estate to bend my elbow. When you get pressed, you have to do it in the gutter because there are no rooms to do so.

 

“Surprisingly, the shopping centre in Elekahia Housing Estate built in the 1980s has two structures, originally built to be used as toilets to serve shop owners. No one bothered to make it functional; there are no fittings, seats, pipes etc. It is now used instead to pack things.

 

“Shop owners and visitors urinate openly. I offered to help but I was asked to apply, which I did. Close to one year, the status remained the same until the officer in charge couldn’t find my application which was sent for verification.

 

“These fellows, government officials, landlords would continually piss in the wind while citizens are fraternally denied basic necessities. You need to go to villages and see Nigerians defecating close to water bodies that they drink from, because there are no provisions for toilets.

 

“Would we ever grow beyond this point? Why are landlords allowed to build homes with only one toilet for families of more than 20 people and shops/offices without toilets everywhere?”

Way out Government should take up the challenge of constructing public toilets where they are needed and enforce the landlords to always build enough toilets for their tenants in the commercial and private buildings to end the menace.

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