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Why open defecation persists in Abuja




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It’s three years to 2025, the timeline Nigeria set to end open defecation but the problem still persists. Although there are public toilets around major markets and parks in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja for use as low as N30, many still prefer open defecation. Mustapha Usman reports. 

The busy roads and drainage that connect Karu and Nyanya serve as a restroom for those who ply the road at night, and likewise, during the day, many people stop their cars to defecate. This applies to many shop owners within the axis too.

Babatunde Jimoh walked some metres away from the car park towards the bridge to empty his bowel; he had just driven people down from Dei-dei, a suburb in the FCT, to Nyanya, another suburb.

Babatunde said although there’s a toilet in his garage, it doesn’t come without charge.

“People in the garage mostly use this place to piss because they can’t pay N50 almost every time. But I can assure you that we don’t stool here. It’s those who sleep around the bridge that stool here”, he told The ICIR.

A driver, Babatunde and another passerby emptying their bowels at an area close to Nyanya bridge. Photo Credit: Mustapha Usman

Findings by The ICIR show that lack of public toilets, ignorance, poverty, and mismanagement are militating factors hindering ending open defecation.

According to a phone repairer under Dei-dei bridge, Nurudeen Abdullah, poverty and ignorance are one of the biggest reasons why people around the bridge engaged in open defecation.

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Nurudeen Abdullah told The ICIR that, it’s hard to pay as much as N30-N50 for urinating or peeing when one hasn’t even gotten money to eat.

“As you can see, I am educated. I lost my job a few months back, and I need to take care of my family. I know it’s unhealthy to stay close to this ‘dirty’ gutter where people litter around with faeces and urines but I have to take care of my family,” he told The ICIR.

Nurudeen is like a metre away from a dirty gutter that has been substituted for a public toilet in the area. The place reeks of the stench odour of urine, with flies constantly buzzing.

On Sunday, 22 May 2022, a young man who identified himself as Adam was spotted defecating around 2 pm under the Nyanya bridge; when this reporter asked if he was aware of the health implications, he replied with a “No”.

He said the gutter, the pavement or the bridge columns are his go-to spot when he is pressed.  He doesn’t think his actions are wrong. Many others, like Adam, have converted such areas into a place for defecation. It is often littered with human faeces, among other refuse.

Daylight defecation in gutters and under bridge pavement mars Dei-dei motor park and market. Photo: Mustapha Usman.
A young man after defecating at the gutter around Dei-dei Park. photo: Mustapha Usman.

A trader, Bola Iya Alagbo said they sometimes contribute to clear the refuse and clean the area; however, this is only a temporary solution as many people still don’t make use of the toilet because of the distance and or cost for some others.

“The only toilet closer to this place is still a km away, and that’s always been hard on passersby. Some traders, though, prefer going to the bush rather than the toilet,” she explained.

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The reporter went to the two available toilets in Dei-dei market and motor parks. The area was buzzing with flies and stench.

The unhygienic nature of mobile toilets in Dei-dei promotes open defecation. Photo: Mustapha Usman

A POS vendor at the park, Mercy, told The ICIR that the toilet official charges N30-N50 per usage despite the unhygienic environment and mismanagement.

“Dirt, mismanagement and the fee are factors making people choose open places than the toilet”, she explained.

She added that it’s not also comfortable for ladies.

The situation is not different in Utako Market, another central part in Abuja metropolis where people shop for foodstuff, fruits, electronic, clothing, etc.  A visit to the market show that the toilet hygiene situation is also poor. Leakages, grime, and stagnant water could be seen at the back of the building.

The situation of the only available public toilet in Utako Market is a major reason why traders choose to defecate in bush and open places. Photo: Mustapha Usman

A trader who plaits hair close to the building told The ICIR that the lack of proper management has been causing fetid odour around the place. Although she would have preferred not to use it but didn’t have an option as that’s the only available toilet close to her place.

“It’s serious here. The stagnant water causes lots of unhealthy smells, but we don’t have an option. We have to sell market to live,” she said.

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She added that they have tried speaking with the person in charge, but nothing has been done.

N10, 000 ‘fine’ pays off in Wuse Market but in Jabi People defy the Order

One of the Wuse market’s public toilets. PC: Mustapha Usman

Over the last few years, open defecation has drastically reduced in Wuse Market and park. This success can be partly attributed to the availability of toilets and also strict enforcement of use.

According to Nnochiri Maxwell, who sells fabrics and clothing materials, open defecation is a punishable offence that attracts a N10, 000  fine when caught.

Nnochiri said the act has reduced the way people engage in open defecation, especially in the daylight, stating that he also used open places until he saw some people caught and fined N10, 000.

“Apart from the fact that the mobile toilets are good enough to do anything, a fine of N10,000 helps a lot in reducing open defecation in this market,”  he said.

Another cotton trader, Adeyemi Maxwell said he walks the distance to use the toilet because it is well maintained.

Another public toilet in Wuse Market with preferred standard. It has the prices for every activity on its wall. Photo: Mustapha Usman

“My shop is somewhere far from this place, but I make use of this place anytime I want to use the toilet because of the affordability and how they clean it every time. They charge N20 for peeing, N40 for stooling and N50 for bathing,” Adeyemi said.

The ICIR also observed  “Don’t Urinate. Fine N10, 000″ written on different areas on the walls of the market.

This rule is enforced, as many people interviewed by the reporter confirm.

A wall in Wuse market that carries the punishment for urinating in open places. Photo: Mustapha Usman

At Jabi motor park, the toilets are fairly maintained. However, it has not stopped open defecation. Usman Muazu, a POS vendor, said the three sets of available toilets in the parks are manageable and clean for defecation; he, however, bemoaned how people use open places for defecation. He told The ICIR that many people choose to engage in open defecation at night.

Despite a laid down rule that prohibits the act, different places in the Motor park stink.

Another person who spoke with The ICIR could only use one among the three locations.  she said one has been taken over by ‘thugs’ who have turned it into a smoking spot, and the other is not properly managed.

A public toilet in Jabi motor park filled with people.

“Although some of the toilets here are okay, I can’t stand going to the one beside the park’s gate. The reason is that you will always find people smoking around the place, even in the toilet. And as a female, it’s too dangerous because those people can actually rape or do something bad for me”, she said.

Lack of public toilets promotes open defecation at Berger bus stop

Berger, or Berger bridge or roundabout, is a central location in Abuja as it serves as a bus stop that connects many of the city’s suburbs.

A young man urinating at Berger roundabout area.

A commercial car driver, Samuel Babajide, who plys the route, says he needs to drive a long distance to get a public toilet to use. As there is none within the radius.

“I will urge the government to help us with at least a mobile toilet around here” He said.

Unlike him, Sam Michael couldn’t resist the temptation and would always use the bush very close to where they sit and call for passengers.

“Baba, I don’t have any option than to use that place. There’s no available toilet around here and this really affects us,” Micheal replied.

A woman who sells food close to the location, said she doesn’t care as long as she is able to market her products. Although she agreed that the place stinks, especially when it rains, she wouldn’t mind staying there all day to complete her sales.

“I have to sell my food even though I know it stinks. Especially when it rains. I do hope there’s a public toilet around this place because it’s hard for people like us (female) to urinate in an open place,” she adds.

Worrying Statistics

About 46 million Nigerians are said to practice open defecation making the country the second in the world with such unhealthy practice.

Only India ranked worse than Nigeria in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH NORM) survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In Nigeria, the states with the highest rates of open defecation are Kwara, Plateau, and Ebonyi. Those with the lowest rates are Abia, Zamfara, and Akwa Ibom.

There has, however, been some progress in curbing open defecation.

The Chief of UNICEF Field Office Enugu, Ibrahim Conteh, noted that “There has been some progress on ending open defecation, with 71 out of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas now declared ‘Open Defecation-Free, ODF, up from 18 in 2019.”

Health Implication…

The World Bank Statistics show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience a problem in terms of sanitation and proper waste management.

According to an interview published by howng.com, people who are used to defecating in open places are prone to outbreaks of diseases like Cholera and diarrhoea and should be given proper orientation according to an environmental health expert, a doctor, Oladapo Okareh.

A public toilet in Wuse market. Photo credit: Mustapha

Okareh, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS), University of Ibadan.

“Open defecation constitutes a major public health problem due to rapid urbanisation, lack of public toilets and low level of awareness,” he said.

According to him, open defecation is a public menace because it could easily lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases like cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea, intestinal infections, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis.

He added that open defecation also causes air and water pollution when human faeces are washed away during the rainy season.

Okareh however advised the government at all levels to increase public awareness on the health risk it poses to the populace.

A paper by two lectures in Sokoto state on open defecation also put forward that it can impede public health.

How Feasible is FG Free Open Defecation Policy By 2025?

In November 2018, Nigerian President Buhari declared a state of emergency in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector and launched a national campaign tagged ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ to kick-start the country’s journey towards becoming open defecation-free by 2025.

However, there’s a great concern on whether Nigeria can achieve this goal by 2025, as many states are still doing poorly in advocacy, provision of public toilets and maintaining order in public places.

According to the Monitoring and Evaluation officer of WASH, Rachael Chidimma Obi, only 11 states have responded and declared a state of emergency in line with open defecation.

“The government is not doing much in the sense that with the guidelines established and distributed in a technical assistance programme to the 36 states and the FCT only 11 states have so far responded and declared a state of emergency. I think there is a need for proper coordination of activities as well as synergies from different stakeholders if this must be achieved.

“2025 is just three years away from now. One would not say that this is achievable given the approach and the kind of effort put in place by stakeholders presently. We need reforms and take action on open defecation if this must be achievable. There is also a need for a serious monitoring and evaluation mechanism in place to track the progress of the activities around WASH programs in Nigeria.” She said.

Author profile

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: umustapha@icirnigeria.com. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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