SPECIAL REPORT: Why open defecation is prevalent across Nigeria

Man defecating in an open drainage
Man defecating in an open drainage

“Driver, abeg park, somebody want to poopoo,” a passenger yelled above the music blaring from the bus radio.

“Oh, why naah,” the bus driver responded indignantly.

“Why the person no do am for Lokoja when we stop. I don’t like this ooo. I have been stopping too much sef,” the driver identified as Ade added.

He had initially ignored the passenger, until he was forced to pull to the roadside after Gwagwalada, a town in the Federal Capital Territory.

The commercial bus was on its way from Ibadan to Abuja. It had stopped about four times during the journey for passengers either to urinate or defecate. This, they did in the bush by the roadside.

Open defecation is not just a practice by commuters on the road, it is common within cities and towns in Nigeria.

It is done by roadsides, in bushes and at dumpsites whenever nature calls because public toilets are a rare sight in the country.

Although Nigeria perennially fights infectious diseases, it ignores simple and cheaper preventive measures against the spread of diseases. So, in spite of the obvious health hazards, the authorities pay scant attention to discouraging open defecation.

Public Toilets In Abuja!

Lack of public toilets is one of the reasons people resort to open defecation in many parts of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

Despite the city being, arguably, the most modern in Nigeria, there are only a few public toilets. So, faeces are not unusual sights under bridges, in uncompleted buildings and by roadsides even in the smartest parts of the city.

Abdul, a taxi driver in the city, said people defecate in bushes or open spaces because the city does not have the facilities they can otherwise use.

“It is not easy to hold am for body,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in Pidgin English.

“You must let it out, if not you go mess yourself up. See as this city fine, no public toilet wey you fit quickly park use.”

To access a public toilet in Abuja, he said, one has to enter a bank hall, hotel, major eatery, market or a major park. “That one na long thing for shit,” he said, explaining why people simply do it wherever they consider safe from gaping eyes.

“Go market, you go pay to enter market, still find parking space and pay to use toilet. For wetin? Better enter bush quickly do am.”

Another commercial driver, Taju Ayobami, said most people realise excreting in public places is unsightly and harmful to health, but are forced to do it because of absence of public toilets in the city.

Mr Ayobami said he usually goes to banks or eateries when pressed while on the road.

“That is one of the reasons why I try to dress decently. Whenever I am pressed, I walk into any of the banks or eateries around wherever I am and use their toilets. They always allow us.”

However, he confessed to sometimes excreting in polythene bags and disposing it in dustbins on the streets or in the bush.

“When you work late and the banks and eateries have closed. Those late hours are not safe to be looking for where to excrete. What I do is park in a safe place, go to the back seat and do it in a nylon and throw it away. I always have water and nylon bags in my car just because of that,” he said, laughing.

There are no mobile toilets in Abuja the city centre. Toilets are only available in some gardens, major markets and motor parks. For the major markets and motor parks, one has to pay to use them.

A shop owner in Zone 2, who simply identified himself as Emeka, told PREMIUM TIMES many traders in the area use the bush near their plaza.

“There are toilets in most plazas but the people here are more than the facilities. Most times water is not running and the place is not well kept. There is also the fear of contacting toilet diseases and other infections; that is why people prefer the bush.

“If there are public toilets you can pay a small sum like N50 to use, I am sure people will use them, knowing people are there to always keep them clean.” he said.

Lagos And Open Defecation

Despite the state having mobile public toilets and other infrastructure, as well as presence of law enforcement officials to curb open defecation, many residents still do so.

Open defecation is one the major impediments to the growth of Lagos into a mega city.

In Ikorodu, Oshodi, Bariga, Akoka, Okokomaiko, Mushin, Iba, Iyana Ipaja and Agege- Pen Cinema, a common culture among residents is the use of dumpsites, drainage or canals as public toilets.

Though there are mobile or fixed structure public toilets around for use on payment of charges as low as N50, people seem to prefer open defecation.

“We dey piss and sh*t at that end but SARS (a police unit) dey catch person o. We no get money to dey use public toilet. Nah only rich people dey use am,” Tunde Rotimi told PREMIUM TIMES, pointing at an abandoned building surrounded by a heap of refuse along the railway at Oshodi.

“Oga, just urinate inside the gutter behind the vehicle,” Taiwo Johnson, a security man at a mall in Bariga said when the reporter asked to use a public toilet.

“You can see the middle of the road, the heap of dirt. Homeless people, beggars live around it and they defecate here at night or early in the morning,” Ade Martins who lives in Okokomaiko said.

A tea vendor in the area, Yusuf Ibrahim, admits to defecating in public spaces when the operators of a public toilets there have closed.

“My work is mainly at night, I sell to passengers,” he said.

A betting shop operator at Agege, Wale Shina, said the public toilet in the area was demolished to pave way for the construction of a police station.

“They want the spot to construct the new Agege Railway Police Station, I just look for any place nobody can see me, that is where I do it,” he said about toilet.

Opeyemi Peters sells used clothes in the area. She said even before the demolition of the toilet, she never patronised it because of the N50 charge.

“I just look for a bush and stand up.” She said.

However, Seun Adetunji, a taxi driver at Akoka taxi garage, said there is a public toilet in the facility “because we don’t want people to mess up the environment.

“We have a toilet here for the taxi drivers and they are patronising it well. Even outsiders come to use it as well.”

At the garage is also a small structure made of aluminium roofing sheet over a drainage beside the public toilet for those who just want to urinate.

“Some outsider use our urination spot for defecation and we don’t know until it starts smelling,” Isa Shittu, one of the taxi drivers said.

Chioma, a mobile facility operator at Oshodi underbridge urged the authorities to increase the number of public toilets and officials preventing open defecation.

Another operator at Brown Street, Oshodi, Rabiu Shehu, said many people use the toilet. He however complained that users mess up the toilet.

“Everybody selling something on this street come here but people no dey use the toilet well at all,” he said.

Shadia Adetunji, the operator of a public toilet at Ikorodu Garage said they increased the fee to N100 because there was no electricity to pump the water used in cleaning the toilet.

Many Schools Without Toilets

Open defecation is the norm in many higher institutions of learning in Nigeria because the toilet facilities are not properly managed.

At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, students prefer to find other means to using the toilets available. The federal university thousands of students and four student hostels. With over 1,000 occupants of the hotels, sanitation facilities are over-stretched.

Victory Ezeokonkwo, the president of Block E male hostel, said due to poor facility management, most of the students defecate in bushes. The 300-level Political Science student said there has been no water in the hostel since his first year in the school.

“I have not seen water in any of the toilet closets since I came to this school. Sometimes it is even difficult to get water for bathing.”

Mr Ezeokonkwo said a toilet is allocated to five rooms, each of which has 20 occupants. Lack of running water, he said, makes the toilets difficult to maintain, coupled with the fact that many students do not know the essence of cleanliness.

The president of Block D hostel, Eberechukwu James, decried the attitude of the staff towards the maintenance of the toilet. The 100-level student of Mathematics said the facilities are usually washed once or at most twice a week.

Mr James said “most students use bushes as their rest rooms. This leads to a smelly environment and this is not good for our health.”

A 400-level Sociology and Anthropology student said to encourage students to use the latrines, the school management should ensure steady supply of water to the hotels.

“The school authorities need to monitor the staff who are employed to clean the facilities to make sure they do their jobs and more toilets facilities need to be constructed,” he said.

Health implications of open defecation

According to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey by UNICEF done in Nigeria, open defecation has remained a challenge both in urban and rural areas.

The survey shows Nigeria has the second highest prevalence of open defecation in the world. According to UNICEF, 25 per cent of Nigerians defecate openly and only three LGAs in the country are open defecation free.

This means that 771 of the 774 local government areas in the country are still grappling with open defection.

The World Health Organisation says open defecation pollutes the environment and causes health problems. It linked it to the high prevalence of water-borne infectious diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and hepatitis A, among others and high child mortality, poor nutrition and poverty in the country.

Also, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in its advisory campaign said open defecation is one of the major causes of cholera in the country.

With the rainy season every year comes an increase in cholera cases across the country. Currently, there is an outbreak of cholera in 12 states.

The situation report of NCDC for week 23, shows that 11,696 suspected cases of Cholera have been recorded across 10 states from January this year.

Government not doing enough

Global health agencies have stressed that Nigeria needs to launch a serious campaign against open defecation so as to attain Goal 6 of the UN sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

For Nigeria to be open defecation free, the World Bank said, the federal government needs to invest about N2.88 trillion ($8.3 billion) to effectively tackle the problem in different part of the country.

Muktar Ibrahim, Head of Information & Outreach Programme Unit, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, admitted that the city has no public toilets at strategic places. He lamented that it is one of the reasons why residents still perform open defecation.

“There is a law against it and FCT is doing a lot to stop open defecation by ensuring that all public places especially, plazas, bank, fuel stations, eateries make their conveniences open for public use.

“Some of these locations lock up their rest rooms so we have been going round to ensure that they have functional toilets that are also open for use.”

Mr Ibrahim said the influx of people into Abuja has overstretched the capacity of the city.

“There is already a committee set up by the FCT administration on the issue of public toilets and they are very keen on providing public toilets in highly populated areas within the FCT.”

“It is a danger to people’s health and the whole world is concerned about the issue of open defecation. India, which is one of the countries with open defecation brought a policy where they give money to people to use the toilet. So it serves as an incentive.”

Simeon Ajueyitsi, HOD Environment Health & Safety Department, AEPB said people defecate openly across the city because of lack of necessary infrastructure.

“It is a pathetic situation because we have what we call infrastructural deficit. The toilets are not adequate.

“We have been on this issue for a long time. Let the government call the private sector to invest on providing these infrastructures. Maybe stationery or moveable toilets, just to make sure our city is clean. The last time we had an event at Eagles Square, the whole place was messed up due to defecation.

“Even a visit to IDP camps, where you have over 3,000 people defecating all over the place. The administration needs to do more to prevent diseases like cholera in the FCT,” he said.

Mr Ajueyitsi complained of overlapping roles and drive for revenue generations by local government councils as part of the reasons for the problems in the city.

He said AEPB is supposed to be in charge, “but as we speak now, we have agitation from AMAC, saying they are in charge.

“The government needs to come out to say, AEPB should be allowed to do this and that. In fact, I believe all environmental health officers should be pull together under the minister’s office. This will ensure everybody does their works and reports to the minister.

“We have had open confrontation on the field, as if it is a personal thing but this is a public thrust. At a time, one of us was detained in Zuba over this issue.” he said.

Meanwhile, in Lagos, provision of adequate facilities and enforcement seem to be lacking.

The Lagos State Ministry of Environment acknowledge that some public toilets are being demolished because of the construction works.

They were however quick to say the demolition of the public facilities should not be excuse for open defecation.

Babatunde Hunpe, Special Adviser to the governor on Environment, in a press release signed by Isaac Awotunde Awobiyi, Director, Public Affairs of the ministry on 20 September, 2017, said “there is no excuse for open urination and defecation.

“We have public toilets all over the state, while eateries and filling stations are compelled by law to keep their toilets neat and make them available to members of the public,” he stated.


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