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Investigation: Open defecation rife amongst top universities in northwest Nigeria




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By Elijah AKOJI

As part of the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR’s reporting on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, this report takes a detailed look at the unsanitary conditions of toilets facilities in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (ABU), Usman Danfodio University Sokoto (UDUS), Bayero University Kano (BUK), Federal University Dutsinma Katsina (FUDMA) and Federal University Dutse (FUD). 

LIFE in most tertiary institutions in northwest Nigeria is quite unbearable for students, due to the level of discomfort and poor sanitary conditions of public toilets in their hostels, The ICIR can authoritatively report. Students in these institutions have had to endure life-threatening health conditions caused by poor sanitary infrastructure in their hostels. 

Charity Johnson, a 300 level student of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria has fallen victim to what she describes as ‘toilet infection’ countless times.

Toilet infections sometimes referred to as toilet disease is discomfort females experience, comprising burning, itching and unpleasant or foul odour and discharge from the private part. The condition is named toilet infection because most victims experience discomfort after the use of an unclean toilet.

Johnson, who resides in Umar Suleiman Hostel, says the infection did not only cost her health but also affected her finances and studies.


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“It was a sad experience for me after falling victim due to toilet infection several times, I was practically living with constant itching and discomforting odour from my private part, whenever I use the toilet,” Johnson said.

Open defecation

Sights of toilets in Umar Suleiman Hostel will leave anyone speechless and irritated as the dirty toilets do not just lack running water, they are also unfit for human use.

The broken water closets (WC), the obvious change of colour of the hitherto white porcelain toilet bowls to dirty brown due to leftover urine and faeces are telltale signs of their unsanitary conditions. With these toilets not well maintained, students indulge in open defecating in bushes, kiosks, and other allied structures or buildings in the university.

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“Most girls defecate and urinate in plastic or rubber containers, then empty it into the toilet to avoid contracting infections. Even at that, the toilet is not a place to even visit for any reason, but it’s our only option,” Johnson said.

Unlike Johnson, Maryam Omotosho, a 300 level student who resides in Ribadu Hostel, said the poor state of her hostel’s toilets came to her as a shock when she first resumed as a fresher in the university.

“I couldn’t not hide my frustration and pain at the state of the toilet in the hostel when I first got into the university. Two of my roommates are currently treating infections they said they got from using the toilet. One has gone home and the other is currently at the clinic to see the doctor,” Omotosho said.

She also disclosed that she has treated several toilet-related diseases which had her consuming several antibiotics and her studies dealt a huge blow.

Open defecation

Regarding unsanitary toilet conditions in ABU, the male hostel fare worse. The living conditions in Danfodio Hostel can be likened to the squalid conditions in most refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Nigeria.

The broken tiles and toilet bowls, as well as the unavailability of water in the hostel, are enough to leave the toilet in such a deplorable condition. The toilet facility in the hostel is old and dilapidated and in need of reconstruction. In another instance, a number of toilets partitioned with plywood are in poor shape with clay-coloured faeces and a swarm of flies competing for space.

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The poor state of infrastructure in the hostel explains why it comes cheap at N7,500 per annum for bed space, students who spoke with this newspaper disclosed.  Kefas Amos, a resident of the hostel, said the state of the toilet facilities has made it inevitable for him to practice open defecation.

“It is more comfortable for me to defecate inside the bush along the post-graduate school to avoid contracting any disease or foul smell of the school’s toilets.”

Despite fee collections and enormous internally generated revenue (IGR), including subventions from the federal government amounting to billions of naira, sanitary conditions of toilets across hostels in Ahmadu Bello University is appalling.

Note that between 2016 to 2020, records from the federal budget show that ABU has received a total of N80bn as allocation from the government, while findings across the different budget lines also reveal that in 2016 N200,000,000 was budgeted for the renovation of students hostel and N184,199,469 was also budgeted for the construction and furnishing of one storey male student hostel in 2017. Also, in 2019, N40,622,018 was budgeted for the roofing, plastering, and general finishing of the two-storey student hostel, while N56,224,1598 was budgeted in 2020 for the rehabilitation of Ramat/ICSA hostel in the school.

Students are to be blamed says deputy medical director, ABU Health Centre

Responding to questions regarding neglect across toilets in hostels in the school, the deputy medical director, ABU Health Centre, Dr. Yahaya Abdulateef, says students should be held responsible for contracting toilet infections.

“There is no such infection as toilet infection in community medicine. Infection can be contacted from different places particularly for the ladies. Some of them even contract this same infection sexually and they come to blame the toilet or the health centre for not attending to them well. Some even use soap to wash their private part, which can also expose them to infections, all of these are what they are supposed to consider.

“Health is of paramount concern to us here and to ensure a healthy environment, the school is spending a lot of money in the maintenance of toilets across the hostels, and the school management has recruited a lot of casual cleaners who clean these toilets daily.

“On our part, we have several committees that give us feedback on the condition of toilets in the hostels. We, however, make use of their recommendations to ensure a healthy environment for both the students and staff,” Yahaya said.

Cleaners lament poor remuneration

Asmau Jibril, heads the cleaning department at Umar Suleiman Hostel. She lamented that the school management is fond of neglecting them, adding that cleaners do not get paid regularly.

“I spend N4,000 monthly as my transport fare and I earn N11,000 as salary. As I speak with you, I have not been paid for two months and even during the pandemic we were owed for five months and they only managed to pay three months backlog recently.”

Students who spoke with this newspaper corroborated Jubril’s assertions, alleging that most cleaners prefer to run errands for them than clean the toilets due to lack of working tools, especially cleaning agents.

Open defecation popular in Usman Danfodio University 

In Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto (UDUS), open defecation is like a culture due to the dilapidated nature of toilet facilities in the institution. Although students say they pay a hugely subsidized amount of N10,000 per annum as rent, many decried the living conditions and state of facilities in their hostels.

Open defecation

With over N2 billion as IGR and N4 billion annual allocation from the federal allocation, the shortage of clean and improved toilet facilities in the university is acute. Jubril Aminu Hostel numbered from blocks A to H is located close to the academic core area of the institution. The three-storey building with annexes has 60 rooms in each block and was designed to accommodate 440 students but that is no longer the case as each block now accommodates over 600 students.

The four toilets at each wing of the hostel on each floor of the building are obviously old with an overwhelming stench from a combination of urine and feaces, leaving the poorly maintained toilet facilities in an appalling condition.

Muhammad Adamu, a 400 level student who stays in one of the blocks in the hostel laments how unpleasant and unlivable the hostel has been for students.

“Our toilet is not just bad; it is very bad. It irritates me whenever I have to use it. Most times, I defecate in a polythene bag and then empty it inside the toilet since there is hardly water available. I sometimes leave it like that or use little water to flush.

“The lack of water in the toilet is one of the major causes of poor and dirty state of the toilet. If one struggles to get a bucket of water, he will have to reserve it to cook and bath and you know in using the toilet, one needs plenty of water and that can only happen when there is constant running water in the bathroom,” Muhammad pointed out.

Also, another hostel in the university, Zamfara Hostel, where Abdulafatai Amina and over 10 other students reside in a room, is notorious for acute shortage of functional toilets.

“My room is next to the toilet. Out of the four toilets in the hostel, only two in my wing is operational. I am fed up with staying in the hostel, irrespective of the insecurity challenge we hear daily happening around town. For the sake of my health, I am going to rent an apartment next session where I can have access to water and a good toilet,” Amina stated.

“I have contracted diseases more than once, and it was not an easy experience for me. Taking antibiotics can be very frustrating and tiring,” she added.

Open defecation

Muslims are particularly affected. Due to the unsanitary nature of the toilets, Muslim students take comfort in performing ablution in their rooms whenever they want to pray.

Even the cleaners decried neglect by the school management. Maimuna Ali, one of the cleaners laments: “We work Monday to Saturday. Most of us come from a far distance, we clean and wash, but surprisingly, our health means nothing to the school authority. We have no facemasks, detergents or disinfectants to help reduce the smell or kill the germs we are also exposed to are insufficient,” Ali said.

Addressing these concerns, the Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Mode Muhammed took this reporter through the school’s plan in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (access to clean water and sanitation) and ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation, saying that it is the student that lack maintenance culture.

“It is always shocking to hear that toilets in the hostels are in bad conditions. No doubt, the number of students using the toilet is much, that is not an excuse anyway, the students are really careless about maintenance.

“Most of these toilets have been rehabilitated and as a school, we take sanitation of our environment seriously. So we have recruited people who do the cleaning. No sensible school will be happy to have students make use of dilapidated toilets. Students are the problem, they handle the school property poorly,” Mode said.

Bayero University’s hostel of dirt

Situated beside the Petro-chemical Engineering Department and the popular business centre referred to as Coke Village in the main campus, Ramat Hall is one the most prominent female hostels in Bayero University Kano, BUK.

Bayero UniversityThe two-storey building hostel with over 80 rooms meant to accommodate four students each, houses approximately 500 students is in its worst and dilapidated condition.

A visit to the hostel will discourage anyone from using the toilet as the smell of urine and feases, which litters the toilet increases induces the fear of an outbreak of diseases.

The lack of running water in Ramat Hostel toilet, forces student to use alternative measures such as openly defecating in the bush or defecating in polythene bags before emptying it into the toilet bowl.

Confidence Yakubu, a resident of Ramat Hostel, is currently in level 500. She said she has treated toilet diseases several times due to her frequent use of the toilet in her hostel.

“For my own safety, I have my plastic container (POW) where I defecate. I will never try to use the toilet again. It almost cost me my life as I have to treat toilet infections for months. It nearly affected my studies.”

In Umaru Musa Yar’adua Hostel, the entire toilets are locked and out of use. The toilet became unusable barely two years after they were built. However, a temporary block of four toilets and bathrooms was constructed as an alternative for over 200 students who use the hostel, including Abdulmaleek Rilwan, who said they are inadequate and students have to join a long queue on a daily basis before using them.

Others who are running out of time for lectures or other engagements rush into the nearby bush to defecate.

Rilwan said: “I don’t stress myself joining the queue every morning when I know if I try it, I will be late for my lecturers. I usually go behind the Faculty of Law. There is this big rock there where I defecate regularly. I just think it’s safer for me and reduces the stress of taking turns while waiting for people to come out of the toilet that you will walk several minutes to get to outside the hostel.”

Dangote Hostel is another nightmare for students at BUK, where the toilets are best described as a forgotten pit filled with nylons. Yunusa Dauda, a level 500 level student, resides at Dangote Hostel and cannot do without agonizing about stepping out at night to ease himself.

“Because of the dirty and bad look of the WC, most students now defecate on the floor of the toilet which I have stepped on several times. So, I started going to defecate in the bush. Its really sad that we don’t have a good and conducive toilet to use as university students, what a shame.”

The same situation was observed in Sa’adu Zunguru and Idris Garba hostels.

Sadiq Ahmad, a resident of Sa’adu Zunguru Hostel, explained why students are forced to indulge in open defecation.

“Irrespective of the number of the people using the toilet, I feel the school has not been supplying enough cleaning agents to cleaners. How do you expect a toilet to be clean without water?  Sometimes, visit the toilet and see how unclean it is I am sure you won’t be able to eat for days after seeing the stinking look of the dilapidated facility,” Ahmad said.

The administrators of Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Sa’adu Zunguru hostels, Abdulrasheed Yakasai, and Tijjani Balarebe respectively, narrate why some toilets are not operational, years after construction.

“Umar Musa Yar’adua Hostel toilet has not been in use for up to two years after it was constructed. When we realized that it was already getting damaged with a whole lot of things not working, students because of that, litter the bathrooms with unflushed urine and faeces. Since water was also not running, we were instructed to lock the toilets,” Yakasai and Balarebe reiterated.

School management feigns ignorance 

Management of Bayero University feigned ignorance of the situation claiming they have employed enough cleaners to clean toilets in the school.

“We have enough cleaners who on daily basis take care of all the toilet. So I am not sure there is any toilet in any of the hostels across the different campuses in a dilapidated condition.

“It is the responsibility of the cleaners to notify the school management when any of the facility is going bad. We all have our job descriptions to attend to. I have not received any complaint of death or sickness contracted from the toilet,” said Prof. Shamsudden Umar, Dean Student’s Affairs, Bayero University, Kano.

Umar claims that there is a constant water supply across all the hostels in the school. “We practice proper sanitation here and we don’t compromise on that. We also renovate the hostels and toilets regularly,” he said.

Evidence on ground shows the contrary. According to Abdulrasheed Yakasai, hostel administrator of Sa’adu Zunguru hostel, none of the hostels in Bayero University, Kano has been renovated in recent times. The last real renovation of all the hostels and toilets was in the last seven years despite the continuous increase of hostel fees.

Public toilet neglect in Federal University Dutsinma

Established in 2011, Federal University Dutsinma (FUD) is yet to complete the female hostel on its main campus. Female students temporarily occupy Isah Kaita College of Education girl’s hostel, a state government-owned institutions which is few kilometers away from the university.

As students lament the distance they have to walk, pitifully, they still have to use a dilapidated toilet with broken flusher and dirty walls, which have no trace of tiles, thereby risking the health of the students.

Munira Isah is currently in 400 level and she resorted to defecating in the bush after reoccurring visits to the hospital because of infections she claimed was due to the poor toilet conditions.

Other residents like Felicia Denis and Temilade Damilola, who cannot bear the bitter experience of contracting infections, said they are contemplating residing outside of the school campus the next session.

Despite these challenges, the outgoing Dean Student Affairs, at Federal University Dutsinma, Dr. Mamman Mutaka says the institution is better than others.

“As you have seen, the female hostel is near completion. There has been some delay in the release of funds, and until the fund is approved for the final completion, other resources can’t be used to complete it, although it is near completion, as we are just fixing the beds.”

“I am not certain when they will be moving into the hostel but once it is fully completed, students will have to occupy it. We have created a temporary hostel for female students which is far better than allowing them to begin to pay huge rent around, pending completion, they will have to continue to stay there.

Answering questions on the high population to toilets ratio in Isah Kaita Hall, Mutaka said “the school management is doing its best to help manage the situation and make the hostel a habitable place for students.”

At Federal University Dutse, students forced to choose between poor and deadly reptiles

Visiting the toilets in Shekarau Angyu A, B and C halls at the Federal University Dutse (FUD), is a nightmare. The sight of the deplorable state of the toilets, coupled with the lack of running water, has left students helpless, forcing many to embrace open defecation.

Ibrahim Zakari, a resident of the hostel, disclosed in an interview the dangers he is exposed to whenever he goes to answer the call of nature inside the bush.

“On several occasions, I have been close to been bitten by reptiles especially scorpions when I was in 300 level. But I couldn’t stop going to the bush despite the risk, as it is the only available alternative for fear of contracting diseases from the toilets in my hostel.”

 Universities, poorly funded, IGR impact yet to be felt

The Nigerian education sector has been poorly funded in the past years, falling below the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization recommendation.

According to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, two benchmarks were proposed as ‘crucial reference points’ in the education sector. They include, encouraging countries to allocate at least 4% to 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education, and/or allocate at least 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education.

UNESCO says it recommended the budgetary benchmark to enable nations to adequately cater to rising education demands. But Nigeria continues to fall short of the standard. For instance, out of the N13.08 trillion budgeted in 2021, the education sector received N742.5 billion which translates to 5.6 per cent.

Analysis of the cumulative of the entire annual budget for these universities from 2015-2021 showed that Ahmadu Bello University received over N80bn as subvention from the federal government from 2015-2020. Bayero University, Kano, Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, Federal, University Dutsinma, Federal University, Dutse, also received about N20bn, N18bn, N10bn, and N10bn respectively as subvention in the same period.

These investments do not correlate with the realities on the ground, Roland Pius, a financial expert, stated in a telephone interview.

“The ruling class spends fortunes to educate their children abroad, while they give paltry sum to education here. That is why you have universities going on strike every time because the poor lecturers and workers are frustrated. Not a few public universities have conducive hostels and toilets for their students.”

SDG neglected, experts speak 

The poor funding of the educational sector has contributed to the deplorable state of federal institutions with many facilities due for renovation.

Research has shown that investments in improved water and sanitation infrastructure significantly contributes to reduced mortality, ill health, and impacts of water and sanitation-related epidemics and pandemics.

With less than 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the sanitary conditions across Nigeria’s tertiary institutions leave much to be desired.  According to Chukwuma Peters, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) expert and the co-founder, Water for All, valuing water services, drinking water, sanitation, and health services, and the role of water in households, schools, workplaces, and health care facilities are critical.

“I doubt if Nigeria will be able to achieve the SDGs as agreed, with the level of neglect. In the nearest future, if care is not taken, the rate of open defecation across our universities will increase. This will invariably cause more hazards to students since toilets renovation and rehabilitation has become an issue for school authorities despite their annual allocation and IGR.

“The carelessness across most tertiary institutions is appalling. A lot of students are exposed to different kinds of infection and health-related issues, which we all know may have long time consequences on them. School toilets are supposed to be properly maintained and annually renovated,” Chukwuma said.

Physicians speak

Physicians have said that there is nothing like toilet infection, noting that infections that women often assume they picked up through the use of toilets are pelvic inflammatory disease, vagina candidiasis, and other infections.

According to the physicians, most of the infections that are referred to as “toilet infections” are contracted from the poor personal and sexual hygiene of some women as well as exposure to the use of poorly maintained toilets just as the ones on campuses or in the hostels.

Speaking with ICIR, the physicians – Resident Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Dr. Yaku Mustapha; and Resident Family Doctor at the Murtala Muhammad Hospital, Kano State, Dr. Stephen Audu, explained that some of the conditions that women often call toilet infections are contracted through wrong care of the private part.

Mustapha said, “For us, in obstetrics and gynaecology we don’t say toilet infection, it is a street slang. We don’t have anything in the textbooks that is referred to as toilet infection. There is no such terminology.”

“We have other terminologies like when you say someone has vagina candidiasis or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Explaining, Mustapha added that the itching and burning sensations that women experience are usually due to infection in their private part.

“In fungal infection, for instance, the vagina has a normal vagina flora – bacteria – that is naturally there. We have the lactobacillus, which helps to reduce colonization by other colonizers.

“So, lactobacillus is supposed to be predominant in the woman’s genital tract but other things can alter the milieu of that lactobacillus causing a preponderance of other organisms.

“So, when say a woman douches – putting hands inside her private part and washing out everything – both the mucus and things that are naturally there to help curtail infections are destroyed, as the normal vagina flora is disturbed.

“That is why we don’t encourage women to touch their vagina,” Muhammed said.

The doctor also noted that abusing antibiotics and other over-the-counter medications could cause the destruction of the normal flora in the vagina.

* This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.


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