School children in Abuja, the federal capital territory of Nigeria, still defecate in the open field because there are no functional toilet facilities within the school premises. Seun DUROJAIYE visited some of the schools in the Abuja communities and brought this report.
By Seun DUROJAIYE (@seunduro1)
IT was break time at L.E.A School Chukuku, when a young girl, Blessing Udeh, hurried towards a building in the school premises, squatted and urinated on the floor. Within minutes, over four students had followed suit, each picking different spots around the same building, originally designed to be a pit latrine but now abandoned.
L.E.A School Chukuku, located in the Gwagwalada-Kuje axis of the Federal Capital Territory, has a population of 1,049 students with more girls than boys. Though the school has several blocks of classrooms, there are no functional toilets for the students to use.
There are three toilets in the school. One is reserved for teachers. Of the other two meant for students, one is kept under lock and key due to lack of water, while the only accessible toilet, a pit latrine, is in unusable condition.
Therefore, students can only do their business on the floor within the school premises, and, if need be, walk further into a nearby bush to defecate.
For young female students who have started menstruating, the condition is more awful. One of them, Dorcas, 13, who is in grade 6, told this reporter that there is no provision for sanitary towels and therefore she uses a rag during her period. And when she is pressed in school, she arms herself with a sheet of paper, secures a spot in the bush nearby and does her business. There is usually no water available to clean up, as there is no borehole or water reservoir in the school.
“I use rag during my menses and anytime I want to use the toilet, I go into the bush,” Dorcas said shyly. On several occasions, she has had to leave the school premises for home so she can clean up, a journey of about 25 minutes. Therefore, she sometimes misses classes, especially when in her period. When nature comes calling, all students in L.E.A Chukuku, like Dorcas, either take to the bush or go home.
“We give them tips on how to manage the situation when defecating in the bush. We tell them to be careful and ask them to watch the spots in the bushes they use and we always advice them to wear their shoes so they don’t catch infections,” says Margaret Achine, acting headmistress (administration) of L.E.A Chukuku.
With over a thousand students under her, Achine works hard everyday to ensure her students get good education and stay safe while in school. She said the children find it difficult to use the toilets because of the bad state they are in as some villagers contribute to the deplorable condition of the school toilet.
According to Achine, some locals gain access to the school premises, misuse the toilets and leave them messy. She says it is more worrying that the school has no healthcare facilities to handle infections that might arise from children’s exposure to the unhygienic environment.
“The school doesn’t have a clinic, we only have a first aid box which we use in assisting the students when they get injured but when there is any issue that we can’t treat with the first aid box, we take them to the clinic in the area.” said Achine, when asked how sick children are cared for in the school.
With no access to water or functional toilets, learning is not as easy and is mostly hindered. Other times, lack of toilet facilities not only impedes education but exposes children to diseases that can cause irreparable damage or, in a case of inadequate healthcare, even death.
The reality is no different for students of L.E.A School Kwaita Tsoho, another public school located in Abaji Area Council, Abuja.
The school, established in September 1993, comprises of two blocks of classrooms that accommodate 220 pupils.
The two blocks of classrooms, already dilapidated, sit on a vast portion of land. The roofs have caved in, letting rainfall directly into the classrooms, creating a pool of mosquito-ridden water.
A structure built to serve as a toilet lacks facilities and is filled with bushes, broken tiles, and stands as a hub for reptiles.
“The school has no toilets. Pupils, teachers and non-teaching staff use the bush for urinating and ‘shitting’; therefore, the compound is polluted,” said Saidu Saliu, headmaster of L.E.A School Kwaita Tsoho.
Due to lack of toilet facilities, exposure to faeces and use of indiscriminate water, Saliu has watched his pupils fall ill on many occasions, causing them to miss school to battle for their lives.
“Actually, children fall sick often due to the polluted compound and exposure to faeces they easily catch cough and we have had cases of cholera,” Saliu said.
Just like L.E.A School, Chukuku, L.E.A School Kwaita Tsoho has no clinic. In fact, when children fall sick, they are rushed to the primary healthcare centre in Kwaita Hausa, a 30-minute drive by car on a long length of untarred road. By foot, it could take more than an hour, depending on how fast a person walks.
Saliu said children in the school have no option than to drink from the stream, just like the rest of the residents of the community. “When students use the bush, the faeces gets washed into the stream in the community and students drink from it because there is no enough borehole for us to use in the village.”
The situation is worse during the rainy season. The classrooms also get flooded and students are forced to remain home. On days they can make it to school, the classrooms are not functional and they create a makeshift class; where benches are arranged under a tree in the school premises.
Stories of students’ lack of access to decent toilets is reproduced also in L.E.A School Kuchiko Layout, another public school located in Bwari area council of Abuja. Not fewer than 120 pupils are crowded in three blocks of classrooms, but the school has no single toilet.
“Our pupils have no option than to us the bush.” said Florence Joshua Omoboja, headteacher of L.E.A School Kuchiko layout. And, like students in other schools visited by this reporter, students are also exposed to the threat of snakebites.
“Some of the students often run back from the bush when they come across reptiles,” said Mrs. Omoboja.
“When the students go to the back of the classroom to urinate of excrete, a lot of them complain that the place is smelling and at times, it makes them vomit. Some of them complain of stomach pains. Sometimes, a lot of the students are asked to go home during school hours so they can use the toilet. When they walk home, it takes a lot of time before they can return to classes.” continued Omoboja.
Since its establishment in 2016, the school population has grown to 120, but supported only by 21 teachers, all of who also have no choice but to report to the bush whenever they are pressed.
Teaching and learning become more difficult during the rainy season. “Everywhere gets muddy. And for the students to go into the bushes during that time is very difficult. At the end of the day, we have to encourage the students to manage themselves because holding urine for too long causes stomach ache,” Omoboja said, showing visible concern for the students under her care and the teachers, under her leadership.
Open defecation affects rights to sanitation and education, though outdoor defecation is still prevalent in third world countries, the situation is worse in Nigeria.
Records show that about 673 million people globally practiced open defecation in 2019.
This is down from about 892 million people, or 12 percent of the global population, who practiced open defecation in 2016.
In that year, seventy-six percent (678 million) of the 892 million people practicing open defecation in the world live in just seven countries, and Nigeria is one of them. Besides this, Nigeria has the worst open defecation record only behind India.
About 123 million people don’t have access to decent toilets and 47 million people practice open defecation on a daily basis in the country. In fact, the problem of open defecation is closely linked to poor sanitation and inadequate water supply in Nigeria and due to poor water supply and sanitation, citizens, especially children, are exposed to alarming rates of diseases.
According to Water Aid, a charity organisation established in 1981, which focuses on developing solutions to help provide water, toilets and hygiene to people, Nigeria loses 59,500 children, under age five, every year due to poor water and sanitation.
These figures hold true in 2019, nine years after the United Nations General Assembly recognised right to sanitation as a human right.
The World Health Organisation’s data also shows that diarrhea is the second largest killer of children under age five in Nigeria and it is reported that 88 per cent of diarrhea cases are attributable to factors originating from poor management of human feces.
Poor water and sanitation, and lack of toilet facilities in most communities, schools and public places promote an open defecation culture and pose dangerous health risks and, in many cases, death. This problem also contributes to low student enrolment in schools.
UNICEF has reported that 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, and 61 percent aged between 6-11 attend primary schools, the rest stay away – lack of basic facilities in schools is partly the reason why schools are not attractive to pupils, several studies have found.
In the communities where L.E.A School, Chukuku, Kwaita Tsoho and Kuchiko are located, the healthcare centre is far away, and the facility is ill-equipped.
At Primary Health Centre (PHC) Kwaita Hausa, the only community health facility catering to people leaving in Kwaita Hausa, Sabo and Tsoho – where L.E.A School Kwaita Tsoho is located, diarrhea and vomiting are frequently reported.
“We attend to nothing less than 15 students in a week and most of the cases are diarrhea and vomiting,” said Kaura Alhassan, a community health worker at PHC Kwaita Hausa. Alhassan who has been working in the health facility for a decade told Legit.ng that diarrhea and vomiting cases brought to the centre are linked to children drinking unclean water and constant practice of open defecation.
“Their only source of water is the river and some use well water and they are not treated sources. The people also defecate openly and during the rainy season, the human waste gets flushed into the river and they drink the water and before you know, they catch all manner of infections and get diarrhea,” said Alhassan.
While the healthcare centre tries to provide treatment for children brought in, they cannot control what happens when parents don’t bring their children to be treated due to poverty and, in some cases, the children die. “People are dying in this area due to untreated diarrhea cases,” said Alhassan.
“This is a rural community. Not everyone has money to come to the health centre. So, parents prefer to provide home remedies for children who suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. And some children die because they don’t get the necessary medical attention,” Alhassan said.
Poor sanitation is estimated to cause 432, 000 diarrhea deaths annually and is also a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis (blood in the urine/stool), and trachoma, WHO has reported.
The negative impact of open defecation can be measured from the fact that one gram of faeces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cyst and 100 parasite eggs and pathogens. When ingested, through drinking water as in most cases, they pose dangerous health risks.
When this happens, the only viable solution is having access to quality healthcare facilities, which can arrest the diseases by treating patients. PHC Kwaita Hausa cannot diagnose some diseases because of capacity issues.
“We don’t have the facilities but If there is an outbreak of any case, we usually notify the LGA, that is the disease notification centre unit and they come up and collect the specimen for lab confirmation,” Alhassan added.
Experts state that poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and exacerbates stunting. Similarly, in Primary Health Centre (PHC) Kuchiko – the only health centre close to L.E.A School, Kuchiko layout, the community health care worker, Mrs. Sarah Danladi said most cases they treat in students, in the community are diarrhea and vomiting.
“Most cases we treat in students are diarrhea and vomiting. We also treat malaria and schistosomiasis (urine in blood) and most of these cases are linked to open defecation,” said Danladi. She said the stream, which is the only source of water in the community, is often polluted by human waste. Residents drink the water, use it to cook, or bathe, which eventually cause them to be sick, she told Legit.ng.
“In a year, we can treat two cases of schistosomiasis and if we don’t have the drugs, we refer them to the general hospital. For diarrhea and vomiting, we get many cases. In a month we can treat up to 10 cases.” How huge is the problem?
According to the WHO, poor sanitation and open defecation practices kill more children every year than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.
The Northcentral region comprising of six states including; Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau and the Federal Capital Territory, record the most prevalence of open defecation at 59.9 percent, according to UNICEF data.
The Southwest region made up of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo states follow second with 28.0 percent rate open defecation practice, while Southeast region comprising of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo at 22.4 percent.
Southsouth region made up of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states records 17.9 percent. While Northeast region comprising Adamawa, Taraba, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi and Gombe follows next with 21.8 percent, and North-west comprising Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara at 10.3 percent.
With 47 million Nigerians reported to be practicing open defecation in the country, the possibility of Nigeria achieving an open defecation free country by 2025, in line with the sustainable development goals appears bleak.
According to UNICEF, achieving an open defecation free Nigeria would require constructing nearly 20 million household toilets and 43,000 toilets in schools, health centres and public places and it will require an average annual investment of about N100 billion (approximately 75 per cent household investment; 25 per cent government contribution).
In the last three years (2017,2018,2019), according to the national budget, the Nigerian government has taken on projects that seem to address the problem of outdoor defecation.
In 2017, the Federal Ministry of Education was allocated a total of N30 million for projects that address open defecation. In the same year, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources was allocated a total of N2 billion to embark on projects designed to curb open defecation, improve poor water, sanitation and hygiene, mostly through advocacy. Some of the projects were carried over till 2018, with most ongoing and more money allocated to its achievement.
In 2018, the water ministry was allocated a total of N1.6 billion for projects seeking to address poor sanitation and hygiene, according to the national budget.
Again, in 2019, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources was allocated N1.4 billion for projects relating to water, hygiene and sanitation – a path towards curbing open defecation. Also, in 2019, the federal ministries of Education and Environment were allocated N128.7 million and N33 million respectively. Notwithstanding, funds spent on intervention projects are inadequate and still fall under the 25 percent requirement prescribed by UNICEF.
Also, the number of schools in Nigeria that are still without functional toilets and access to water show that the allocations are inadequate.
Water is important to keeping a hygienic environment. But with the majority of Nigerians, especially those living in rural communities lacking access to safe and sufficient water, the battle against open defecation seems hopeless.
The Federal Ministry of Water Resources is the agency with the mandate “to develop and implement policies, projects and programmes that will enable sustainable access to safe and sufficient water to meet the social, cultural, environmental and economic development needs of all Nigerians.”
However, many communities and schools in Nigeria still lack access to safe and sufficient water in 2019.
On November 20, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an executive order to end open defecation in Nigerian by 2025.
Executive Order 009, was established under the Federal Ministry of Water Resources’ “Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat.”
According to the executive order, the secretariat is authorised to, on behalf of the President, ensure “that all public places including schools, hotels, fuel stations, places of worship, market places, hospitals and offices have accessible toilets and latrines within their premises”.
The President’s pronouncement is a clear departure from the earlier statement of Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Hussein Adamu. While speaking in a brief interview with Legit.ng weeks earlier, the minister confirmed that most monies released to the ministry to curb open defecation are meant for awareness campaigns. He said the government is only looking to promote the culture of toilet use, hence the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet Campaign launched on November 19, 2019.
When asked whether the government is set to contribute 25 percent of N100 billion needed to curb open defecation as prescribed by UNICEF, the minister said: “The dialogues and the then-upcoming campaign lunch are incurring cost. The government is not going to build household toilets for people except maybe in some public places and schools but our focus is to educate people about the dangers of open defecation, which is why we have launched the Clean Nigeria campaign.”
The minister’s response suggests that the government would rather fund public campaigns rather than provide toilets that are functional in all public schools and communities in the country. But the challenge with spending money on intangible projects such as advocacy and campaigns is that such expenditures are hard to monitor and leave little room for transparency and accountability.
More so, if the ministry decided to embark on building toilets in public places such as schools, markets etcetera, it is unlikely it would meet its target because only 58 percent of 2017 budget (N25.2 billion) of its N43.5 billion capital allocation was released.
In 2018, only 43.8 percent (N24 billion) of its N54.8 billion capital allocation was released and less than half of that (N12.4 billion) was eventually utilised. For 2019, as of November 15, only 33.8 percent of its N31 billion capital allocation has been released. This trend only shows that the government’s commitment to end open defecation is more of a promise on paper.
Experts have linked open defecation to diseases that affect and kill millions of people in Nigeria. According to UNICEF, poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and exacerbates stunting. In fact, poor sanitation reduces human well-being, social and economic development.
In a study carried out by the Department of Community Medicine, Niger Delta University, Morufu Raimi, stated that Nigeria loses 1.3 per cent of the national GDP – N455 billion – annually due to poor sanitation. Connected Development (CODE) is one of the local NGOs that have mapped cases of sanitation and open defecation in many rural communities in Nigeria. The organisation has found that over 60 million don’t have access to toilet facilities.
“This means people are openly defecating,” said Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive of CODE. He told Legit.ng in an interview about a community in Bwari Area Council called Shere that has existed for over 200 years but does not have access to clean, potable drinking water, they only have a stream as their source of water supply.
“This community also has a Federal Government Girls’ College and they don’t have toilet facilities and water. When girls are menstruating, it means that they are likely to miss three-five days of basic education. Also, when girls try to go out to use toilets outside their school premises, they are likely to get attacked and raped,” said Lawal.
Lawal said when his organisation visited Bwari Area Council and went to the primary health care centre most of the sicknesses were from water-borne diseases because community members do not have access to potable water.
“What it means is that when they go to the stream and drink the water, they get contaminated. This tells you that if we tackle issues of water, sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria probably 50 percent of diseases will be curtailed,” Hamzat concluded.
This investigation is supported by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and International Centre for Investigative Reporting, (ICIR).