Poor sanitation and lack of access to water affect the health and education of school children in Nigeria, but this problem is yet to gain the full attention of the government at various levels in Nigeria. Olugbenga ADANIKIN visited a number of schools in South-East and South-West where this problem is acute. Here is his report:
OKONKWO Blessing, 16, attends Olona Mixed-School in Onicha-Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area, Delta State. In the last six years, she has been going to the school on daily basis, armed with a keg of water because the school has no water and the toilet facility is always in unhygienic condition.
Other students either take to the wilds to relieve themselves or use toilets in neighboring houses.
“Yes, since JSS1 we visit the bush to defecate,” Blessing says in affirmation. “There is a toilet but we have to bring water from home to school.”
Hope Okia, 16, another student shared similar concern as her friend, Blessing. Respite comes only when it rains.
“We fetch from those tanks and visit the toilet behind our class,” says Hope pointing to a water tank near the former principal’s office.
Hope who was shy to recount how they cope without water during the dry season said; “We use the bush. It is not dangerous,” she said tacitly.
The ICIR and Public-Private Development Centre (PPDC) found out during a monitoring exercise that there are five water closets in the school lavatories already taken over by weeds, giant spider webs, and animal wastes.
The investigation revealed that most school constituency projects in some South-Eastern do not have proper toilet facilities, and many were poorly done or abandoned since 2015 when the project were commenced.
Oyeniyi Nafisat, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member undertaking her primary assignment in Olona mixed-school shared similar experience as the students.
To prevent toilet infection, Nafisat says she would rather engage in open defecation than to risk using the school’s restroom. She disclosed she has never used the toilet, not even to urinate.
“It is not hygienic,” she said.
Open defecation one of Nigeria’s greatest burden
Poor sanitation and low access to good toilet facilities have remained notable water-related, health problem most common among poor and rural communities in Nigeria. Waterborne diseases, Diarrhoea are evident especially when faeces and animal wastes wash down the streams. But rural dwellers have no other options than to rely on the poor water source for drinking and other domestic purposes.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says ‘Toilet saves lives! Without toilets, deadly diseases spread rapidly.”
But this message is often disregarded while implementing education or health policy in Nigeria.
The UN agency maintains that girls could miss school activities due to shortage of toilets in their schools, mainly during their monthly flows (menstruation). It is estimated that one in three schools globally lacks adequate toilets while 23 per cent of schools do not have a toilet at all.
Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) as of June 2019 highlights further the importance of potable water for proper sanitation. It reports that 2 billion people globally lack access to basic toilet facilities, as a result, forced most people to practice open defecation.
“Inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 432 000 diarrhoeal deaths annually and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma. Poor sanitation also contributes to malnutrition,” the WHO sanitation report adds.
2019 report by UNICEF Nigeria further shows that 47 million Nigerians still defecate openly.
As of 2018, Water Aid Nigeria, a Non-Governmental Organisation revealed that 120 million Nigerians lack access to a decent toilet. It says out of 10 persons, less than three actually have access to a good toilet – a trend that might prevent the country from realising the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG) except deliberate action is taken.
Earlier, in 2016, the federal government through the Ministry of Water Resources with support from the UNICEF designed a roadmap to achieve Open-Defecation-Free (ODF) status by 2025. The goal designed to reduce the trend of open defecation was further endorsed by the National Council on Water Resources.
It includes the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply and Sanitation (PEWASH) programme. However, five years to the target – 2025, not so much has been achieved. Only 24 Local Government Areas (LGAs) from the 774 have achieved ODF status while Nigeria currently ranks top among the global index in open defecation.
It could be recalled that in October 2019, Nigeria beat India to emerge the top global ranking.
Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources subsequently declared Nigeria as the nation with the highest global rate of open defecation. The ranking came after President Muhammadu Buhari declared State of Emergency on water and sanitation. Yet, as of date, Nigeria still grapples with meeting the ODF target except for interventions from Civil Society Organisations (CSO).
Girls, female teachers at risk of toilet infections, kidnapping
In Anambra state, St. Anthony Secondary School, Azia, Ihiala LGA, the sanitation challenge is worse than schools visited in Delta. Located in the midst of a thick bush and close to a river, St. Anthony School has no perimeter fencing except for a tiny rusty gate at its entrance.
A constituency project awarded at N35 million to Pranav Contracting Nigeria Limited to construct new laboratory and other structures remained uncompleted five years after it was awarded. Students are left to openly defecate around the forest walls or compelled to use the old abandoned toilets.
Onyebuagu Margaret, one of the female prefects in the school shared insights on how her friends reportedly got infected with toilet diseases and had to struggle to get a cure. She identified one Chiamaka and Nkiru among those affected. The victim’s parents, she said could not afford to medically treat the girls of the infections, thus had to seek help.
“I have friends who contracted toilet diseases. They complain daily over this and their parents needed to seek help for treatments,” Onyebuagbu told The ICIR.
Although, the two girls mentioned were absent in school during the visit, Onyebuagbu said in video evidence that one of the two girls allegedly suffered staphylococcus. She was later advised to stop using the school toilet.
“We found out that they contracted toilet diseases due to the school toilet. It is so dirty, messy and not just good,” says Onyebuagbu. “We need a befitting water-closet toilet where students can defecate at their comfort.”
Meanwhile, during separate interviews at different locations, heads of schools benefitting from the constituency projects accused contractors of sidelining them in project execution. They argued it was always difficult to ascertain the project components, especially if toilets are incorporated in the approved projects or not.
The bid of quantity for the school constituency projects under review was kept away from the school management.
Usually, needs assessments are conducted by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in partnership with the benefitting schools prior to project execution. Findings are presented to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) at the federal level from where schools projects are awarded and delivered in line with the conducted assessment.
But the principals described such assessments as mere formalities.
They disclosed that most of the projects are substandard, different what is stated in the awarded contracts.
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