Ending Open Defecation – a panel of experts give their openion
Following a recent conference on Ending Open Defecation in Urban Slums organised by HipCity Innovation Centre in Abuja. HopeSpring Water’s Bolu Olorunfemi canvassed opinion from experts and professionals in WASH, on how open defecation can be reduced or completely eradicated in Nigeria.
Possible solution suggested by experts and WASH professionals varies from technological solution to better funding and increased provision of toilet facilities.
“Nigeria to Mark 59th Independence as Open Defecation Capital of the World” – Temple Oraeki, Nigeria Country Director of Hope Spring Water, a WASH Advocate and WASH Consultant
In October 2019, while India will be marking the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi by celebrating their successful liberation from Open defecation menace; Nigeria will be marking her 59th independence by taking over the baton as the open defecation capital of the world. This is an inevitable situation that Nigerians saw coming, but how long Nigeria will remain in that position, is a question that requires collective response backed by giant strides and pragmatic actions. Is Nigeria ready for such?
The statistics are stark and the trend is unassuming. As I type this, somewhere in Nigeria, there’s a girl running down to the bush to answer natures call; there’s a woman in the market, squatting behind her shop to ease herself; there is a boy in a motor park who cannot afford to pay for public toilet and would utilize the drainage as his convenience; there’s a man who is conveniently making use of his toilet but when he flushes, the faeces are channelled directly into rivers used by his neighbours as a source of drinking water. These are all varying scenarios obtainable in different parts of Nigeria, and according to the recent Joint Monitoring Report by WHO and UNICEF, about 38 million Nigerians are involved in this practice of open defecation. From the various scenarios depicted, it is obvious that even people who have and use toilets, also practice open defecation, when the drainage and rivers are the containment of such facilities.
These practices have become the norm for most Nigerians, especially in some rural communities, where its a cultural practice to defecate in the open, even when there’s a toilet provided. Water scarcity have also exacerbated the practice of open defecation in Nigeria. In many homes and public places where there are toilets but no water, the people also resort to open defecation.
The negative impacts of open defecation cuts across all facets of life (from health, economy, to social) and it’s a clog in the wheel of development. According to UNICEF, Nigeria loses about NGN455 billion yearly as a result of open defecation; On a yearly basis, over 100,000 children do not live to see their 5th birthday, while several others suffer from stunted growth due to poor sanitation. As worrisome as these statistics are, it will be more disturbing when you take into account, the number of women and girls who are been sexually and physically abused, daily, as a result of open defecation practices.
Nigeria faces an uphill task of bringing these 38 million Nigerians, to not just own a toilet but also use the toilet. The task is not is not just about ensuring toilet facilities are in place but also triggering behavioural change amongst the populace, to use the toilet. This might not be daunting when you compare the figures to the over 550 million Indians who were once notable for such practice in 2014.
Theres no doubt that there are one or two things to learn from the India Swaach Bharat Mission, which succesfully reduced open defecation practices in India. However, a cut-and-paste technique might not give Nigeria, a similar result. It is important to note that the success of India’s mission is largely hinged on its tie to Mahatma Gandhi. Do we need a Nigerian Gandhi? How can Nigeria find the needle in a haystack?
The federal government in partnership with development partners have realized the decay and rot
brought about by open defecation practices in Nigeria and have swung into action to launch the “Clean Nigeria; Use the Toilet” Campaign. The Clean Nigeria campaign is an ambitious behavior-change campaign with a strong citizen engagement component. The campaign is a national movement hinged on policy advocacy, public advocacy, and private sector engagement.
As ambitious as this campaign might seem, its success is hinged on grassroots involvement and
participation. About 10 Local Government Areas (LGAs), out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria, have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Improving and leveraging on what is currently working (best practice) in states with LGAs and communities certified as ODF, is one way to reduce the number of Nigerians practicing open defecation, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. The private sector are key stakeholders in the quest to end open defecation in Nigeria. Banks, FMCG companies, and other multilnational organizations should be engaged to make provision of toilets as part of their CSR projects.
On the other hand, SMEs and start-ups should be incentivized to indulge in public toilet business, while the government enhance and strengthen structures that will implement laws prohibiting open
defecation. The media also have a key role to play, especially in facilitating behaviour change through amplifying key sanitation messages.
We can only achieve an ODF Nigeria through synergy, leaving no one behind and discarding the silo mentality. In silo, we can only achieve little but working in synergy, we will make huge impact.
dimensional poverty; increasing hunger, absence or lack of basic utilities such as
decent housing, access to clean water, access to decent toilets etc. Though most of
these poverty features characterize rural and remote villages, the quest for better living
have led to a mass exodus of people from rural communities to urban centers.
Unfortunately, the search for an urban better living due to irresponsible governance,
poor planning and corruption have led to even greater poverty and inequality to deal
with in the urban communities.
Culturally, most of our rural communities have practiced open defecation for decades
due to low level of knowledge on the harmful effects of open defecation to the
environment, humans and other members of the ecosystems. While this practice can be
forgiven for rural dwellers, it is inexcusable for urban cities/dwellers where its most
expected to have governance attention and better awareness on zero tolerance for
open defecation. The contrast here is that our cities are not faring any better than our
rural communities and statistics from the Federal Ministry of water resources clearly
reveals that only 10 LGAs out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria are open-defecation free.
With rising rural-urban migration, figures from the UN HABITAT confirmed by the
Nigerian Population Commission, suggests that over 50% of Nigerians who move from
rural communities to urban cities live in Urban slums and informal settlement, where
access to sanitation and water is scarce. From cursory observations, young urban
dwellers remit monies back to their rural relatives and parents to not only support native
homes but also build infrastructures like better housing with toilet facilities while they
manage in squalor slums settlement where open-defecation is prevalent. Thus, our
focus of engagement should be addressing issues of open defecation in urban slum
cities which is on the rise with the assurance that solutions when deployed will curb the
The provision of adequate sanitation facilities in urban slum settlement, is closely tied to
land security. For instance, in a city like Abuja where all lands are vested on the Federal
Government and allocations are only given to accredited developers and individuals
who are able to meet set requirements which of course doesn’t come cheap for the
average Nigerian. Many Indigenous Abuja people due to lack of tenure security are
constructing homes with inferior materials with no adequate sanitary facilities due to fear
of demolition and eviction. The case for Abuja isn’t too different from other cities like
Lagos where cost of housing is expensive and not affordable.
The begging question is; how do we tackle urban sanitation to end open defecation; the
answer isn’t far-fetched. Our government must recognize and accept their shortfalls in
providing decent and adequate accommodation for all as enshrined under the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN General
Assembly in 1948 and promote participatory slum upgrade programmes to ensure that
every settlement irrespective of its status either informal or formal have basic sanitary
infrastructures that is centrally managed by municipal government.
Our government must invest in rehabilitating and expanding urban sanitation
infrastructures and services to keep pace with growing demand and population growth.
Government and local council managers should recognize that the worst sanitary
conditions are found in poor areas such as slums. While government prioritizes toilet
construction for public places such as motor-parks, highways and public recreational
parks and leaves individuals/households with the responsibility of providing toilets for
themselves, it must be said that poor households largely slum dwellers are constrained
by certain issues relating to cost of connecting their sewer to the central sewer (this is
unavailable in most states and the FCT), land tenure security (fear of eviction), limited
land space and low priority given to sanitation by people. To address this; government
must have an integrated plan to subsidize sanitation cost for these groups of persons.
Corporate organizations, religious groups, trade associations and CSOs must drive
campaigns and actual deployment of sustainable community sanitation infrastructures;
tailored towards engendering attitudinal change and innovations in poor communities.
Government must open up opportunities for private investment in sanitation and
eliminate the monopoly of some individuals within the sector such that almost every one
can invest in the sanitation market while delivering basic services. By so doing, not only
is the government increasing sanitation in communities, but is also creating new
markets and budding new jobs for the rising unemployed Nigerian youths.
Government must embark on the renovation of dilapidated infrastructures while also
constructing new public toilet at every 2 kilometers within the city centers. These toilets
must also meet basic sanitary conditions and should attract a minimum maintenance
cost from users to ensure their sustainability.
Lastly, weak governance and overlapping responsibilities among agencies of
governments has to be checked to ensure that every actor lives up to their
responsibilities and mandate. Institutional capacities of these agencies must be
strengthened, with key actors jointly planning and implementing their roles such that
they are complimentary of each other; promoting efficiency and effectiveness in service
provision instead of having silo and duplicated performances. For success to be
achieved, local governance structures in slums and other hot spot areas (e.g motor-
parks) must be strengthened to enforce sanctions on erring members of their
communities and government must understand that if Nigeria must sustain its pursuit to
end open-defecation, there also has to be sustained investment in the WASH sector.
Private commercial centres belonging to institutions such as banks and telecommunication giants on the other hand tend to have their Water Sanitation and Hygiene practices top notch. They could be role models showing the direction that the WASH culture of the public sector should follow in Nigeria. The culture of efficiency in the private sector is exemplified in the practice of designating officers to manage toilets and in the accountability of private sector toilet management.
To tackle open defecation, government in states like Kwara, have to revive the collapsed municipal water supply system, and ensure that it prevents the sort of corruption of the 90s, that allowed funds meant for water supply in the state, to be diverted.
Apart from tackling corruption, efficiency in public service is a major foundation on which eradication of open defecation has to be hinged. The Nigeria Population Commission and the National Bureau of Statistics have to demonstrate efficiency by making the number of existing households and public buildings available, and they should enhance such data with the identity of buildings without toilet facilities . Building regulatory policies which exist in urban centres must be extended to non state capitals and enforced, when and where such policy exists.
There is also a need to fashion policies that target nomads and the homeless who inevitable contribute significantly to open defecation in Nigeria, and also criminalise open defecation in state capitals with the intent of extending the policy to other urban settlements, and across the nation, gradually.
The National Orientation Agency of the Federal Ministry of Information need to be as active in Nigeria as it was during the military regime to effect behavioural change among the public through the re-introduction of WASH centered jingles and folk songs targeted at various ethnic groups and nomadic communities, over the radio. TV advertisements for adults, cartoon programs for children, and other programs need to be designed for the different demography within the population and distributed over the traditional and the new media, on a large scale. Federal, State and Local Governments, are all duty-bound, to pick up most of the bill in public interest. Government has to encourage the private sector to be part of the drive to eradicating open defecation, by investing in mobile toilet commerce, by being part of the mass orientation program as Corporate Social Responsibility and by sharing experience of effective “close” defecation culture, with the public sector.
Mubarak Oladosu is a BOT member of Hope Spring Water Charity and a volunteer at the Charity.
I think the solution to ending open defecation lies with al all of us. And of course government at every level have an important part to pay. Local governments can help by building more toilets in their locality. State government can help the local government by funding toilets, where the local government is not able to fund it. And the federal government, perhaps through the ministry of health and or environment should set provision of public toilet targets for each state. And make the funding available to build the toilets.
Owners of shops and other facilities could be incentivised to allow the use of their toilet facilities by non customers. That would go someway to helping people caught short to use such facility instead of the streets.