34 Million Nigerians Defecate Openly… Who Cares?

Last wednesday was World Toilet Day, which is marked annually to bring into focus the plight of millions of people who do not have access to decent toilets. In Nigeria, the day came and went with hardly any official ceremony, leaving only a handful of civil society organisations to commemorate the day. Yet, as Abiose Adelaja Adams reports, the statistics of nigerians, especially women and children, who still do not have access to good sanitation, including toilet facilities, are alarming. About 34 million Nigerians defecate in the open, a situation that particularly leaves women vulnerable to attacks, even rape.

There are at least 3,000 people living in various wooden shanties erected on top of water at Makoko, a popular slum in Lagos mainland.

None of these people have access to any decent toilet, water and sanitation. Gary Ashena, a Ghanaian who has lived in the community for up to five years told to our reporter that somehow, residents find a way of dealing with that call of nature.

“We find our way around it here. We can’t wait for the government to do it for us.”

According to him, in his five years in the community, he has not seen even one single pit latrine seen in anybody’s house, not to talk of a water closet toilet.

So how exactly do they respond to the call of nature?

A semblance of a pit latrine is built in wooden cubicles with hollows underneath. It is built in such a way that the faeces empties directly into the lagoon, while the water waves from the Atlantic ocean washes it away into the larger water body.

However, in some parts of the community, it was observed that the lagoon water had become stagnant, as a result the faeces emptying into the water accumulated.  Giant, greenish, houseflies, were seen humming as they meander on the excreta.

Meanwhile the stench emanating from the area forces passers-by to hold their breath as they walk past. Avoiding the mess, some of the inhabitants of this area defecate in the open into old newspapers or polythene bags and ‘short put’ the unwanted cargo right into the open lagoon.

The situation in Makoko mirrors a lack of access to decent toilets faced by millions of Nigerians.  According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, 122 million Nigerians presently do not have access to improved sanitation, while 34 million practice open defecation.

In another report by the World Health Organisation, WHO, Nigeria ranks 5th amongst countries where open defecation is practiced, after India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia.

The executive director of the Bread of Life Development Foundation, an NGO which works on sanitation issues, Babatope Babalobi, said expressed dismay at the situation.

“It is a big shame that in the 21st century, up to 105 million Nigerians still don’t have access to safe toilets and out of this figure, 34 million Nigerians practice open defecation.”

Commenting on the occasion of the World Toilet Day celebrated every November 19, he added: “And even more deplorable and unacceptable is the fact that at the existing rate of progress, as reported by a recent UNDP Human Development Index Report, Nigeria may not meet the sanitation Millennium Development Goal, MDG, target until 2076.”

MDG target for sanitation is to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015. In Nigeria, this means 70 percent of the population must have access by 2015. However, currently, the country is not on track to meet this target as 28 percent still lack access.

The ideal standard is for every home to have safe toilet and for every public place to have an accessible safe toilet within 500 meters, and every institution, school, company, and office have a safe toilet that is accessible to all categories of users including the physically challenged.

But the situation is not so in Nigeria. It is very common to see people squatting under flyovers defecating into canals, along bush paths, market places or even facing the wall to urinate.

The Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, in March 2014 had banned open urination and defecation,referring to it as indiscipline and a breach of the state’s environmental sanitation laws. But the practice still continues.

A long distance bus driver, whose bus terminus is at the Ojota bus garage, Ikeja, Lagos, Salaudeen Arisekola, queries the state government’s expectations of residents when it has not provided necessary infrastructure to take care of their needs.

“When government says KAI (Kick Against Indiscipline) people should arrest people for urinating in public, did they provide public toilets?” he queried.

Pointing to the park, he added, “In this place we are the one providing our toilets.”

In most of the bus terminus or parks which www.icirnigeria.org visited, the bus operators have an association which provides toilet services for the public for a fee. A case in point is the Ijora garage, where we met Al-Mustapha Mohammed, a 35 year old man from northern Nigeria, who runs a toilet service.

The toilet complex comprises 13 small cubicles situated at the back of the stalls inside the Ijora market complex. Ijora- Badia, one of the major bus parks as well as one of the renowned fruits and vegetable markets in Lagos is a high population density area, with most people living in slums. Prostitution, night life and pick pocketing, are vices this area is known for.

Mohammed runs things from the entrance of the toilet. Somewhere close by is a generating set which pumps water into the blue plastic water tank that services the facility.

People were seen fetching water for flushing, bathing and cleaning. He sells a 20 litre bucket of water for N20. He charges various amounts of money based on the services rendered. For defecation, he collects N50; for urination, N30 and for bathing, N30.

He also displayed sponges, tablet soaps, body creams, for sale. The toilet serves market women, shop owners, bus and cab drivers, inhabitants of the shanty community and passengers, who urgently need to answer the call of nature before embarking on their journeys.

Since nightlife is the way of life in this community, Mohammed stays up as late as midnight and resumes early as 4.00 am to serve a mobile population of night crawlers and some Muslims who do early morning ablutions before going to mosque.

“Everybody come here, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, “said Mohammed who adds, “Not government, we do it ourselves.”

Despite this, a lot of the traders and inhabitants are deterred due to cost and still practice open urination and defecation. More so, the sanitary conditions in Mohammed’s commercial toilet cannot be guaranteed.

Health and economic costs

A tropical disease expert at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Wellington Oyibo, observed that there are several diseases one can contract through poor sanitation.

“Cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid, polio myelitis are some of the diseases that can be contacted through water that is contaminated with faeces. We need to tackle sanitation problems as poor hygiene leads to many untold infections,” he said.

According to the UNICEF report, open defecation costs Nigeria some $1billion annually, while the country loses a staggering N455 billion annually to poor sanitation.

In terms of morbidity, diarrhoea caused by ingesting contaminated food or water kills 194,000 Nigerian children every year.

Similarly several outbreaks of cholera have been recorded across the country and polio myelitis is primarily spread through faeces contaminated with the polio virus.

Besides these, there is also the particular case of the effect of open defecation on girls and women. For women, apart from obvious health hazards and lack of privacy when they go out into the open to defecate, they are prone to attacks from men and are known to have fallen victim of rape.

Aptly, the theme of this year’s World Toilet Day celebration is focused on highlighting the threat of sexual violence to which women are exposed when they defecate openly.

Way forward

Babalobi called on government to seize the momentum of this year’s World Toilet Day celebration to declare safe sanitation a right for all Nigerians and work with other arms of government and stakeholders towards progressive realisation of this right at households, community, and institutional levels.



    In a statement released in Lagos, Babalobi appealed to the federal government to honourably fulfill financial commitments for the sanitation sector made at various high level meetings including the World Summit in Johannesburg in 2000, United Nations Assembly, New York in 2010, African Sanitation and Hygiene Conference, eThekwini in 2011, and the Sanitation and Water for All meeting in Washington in 2012.

    “Unless we openly discuss open defecation, we may not be able to put an end to open defecation. Until we stop pretending our personal ‘shit’ is not a problem, and admit there is a challenge in safely managing and disposing of our personal and collective ‘shits’, we may not make headway in accelerating access to safe sanitation for 105million Nigerians who don’t have access to safe toilets, and 35million Nigerians who presently shit/defecate in the open,” he said.

    He observed that several states are yet to adopt the implementation of Community-led Total Sanitation, CLTS, approach for scaling up rural sanitation. He, thus, suggested that a task force group on sanitation should be set up to ensure that every Nigerian village is declared Open Defecation Free, ODF, within the next five years.

    In addition, he urged government to mainstream equity and inclusion issues in all sanitations projects to ensure sanitation facilities are accessible and usage by the 20 million Nigerians who are physically challenged and not able to access conventional sanitation facilities.

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