As the world marks “Toilet Day” on Saturday, open defecation remains a challenge to the social and health development in Nigeria.
Open Defecation according to the World Health Organization “is the practice of defecating in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water and other spaces.”
Health officials have over time described the practice as a risk to children’s nutrition and community health as faecal contamination of the environment is contributing to illnesses in children and death.
In November 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector with the launch of a national campaign tagged “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” as the pacesetter for the total eradication of open defecation by 2025.
With less than 3 years to the target time, available statistics portray the country as being still far from achieving the goal.
Meanwhile, the Target 6.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals highlights the elimination of open Defecation as a means of improving the health, nutrition and productivity of developing countries’ populations such as Nigeria’s.
In the 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS 6 Report, all states in the South West Region of Nigeria, except Lagos, have a higher open defecation rate than the National percentage of 22.2% of the population.
The MICS/NICS household survey report is a collaborative effort between the National Bureau of Statistics, UNICEF and other development agencies to provide data for assessing the situation of children and women in Nigeria.
It was officially launched in August 2022.
A medical Practitioner Doctor Akin Sodipo said “defecating openly affects both the perpetrator and others in the community.
He said that several diseases could be contracted through the act. “There is a risk of diseases gotten from what is taken through the mouth and number one of them is Cholera.” Dr. Sodipo stated.
He explained that flies from the waste can perch on food and drinks and also the body waste can contaminate water sources. He added that someone can contract Hepatitis ‘A’ infection from parts of the faeces of an infected, that get to the mouth, which he described as a very dangerous disease too.
Apart from its health implications, Dr.Sodipo described open Defecation as “an eye sore that does not befit any noble community.”
According to the MICS report, the percentage of the people who defecate openly in Oyo state ranks atop the other 5 states
Although it seems that Oyo state still has some time to meet 2028 set as the deadline for the eradication of all forms of open defecation, the recent MICS report placed the state as number one in the southwest region where open Defecation is being practised.
The report says over 40% of the Oyo state population still defecates in the open while Ekiti state is next with 38.2%. However, Lagos state with the largest population among the 6 southwest states has only 2% of its population still engaging in unhygienic practices.
Oyo state is also reported as being low in other Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) indicators such as the use of sanitation facilities by a little above half of the population;55.9% and only 26.6% of the people have access to hand washing facilities with water and soap.
As part of measures to change the narratives the Oyo State Government in July 2022, launched the open Defecation free roadmap and declared a state of emergency on water, sanitation and Hygiene.
The State’s house of assembly had earlier in September 2021, passed the prohibition of open Defecation bill into law in an effort to stop the unhealthy practice.
The Act makes it “an offence for anyone to defecate in the open or deposit faeces anywhere in the state”.
It further states that “anyone caught and prosecuted is liable to a fine of 5,000naira or an option of non-custodial punishment of one week.”
“The law provided that it is compulsory for house owners and companies to make provisions for toilet facilities”.
It goes further to state that “anyone who fails to comply with the provision of the law is liable on conviction to three months or a fine of 50,000naira or both.”
“The law empowers the Oyo state government to erect public and mobile toilets in strategic locations across the state.”
Unfortunately, the recent MICS survey does not reflect that such punitive measures are in place to deter people from excreting in open spaces.
Perhaps many people seem to be unaware of it, because some residents interviewed in the state capital, Ibadan said they were not aware of such a law, although most of those interviewed decried the unhygienic practice.
One of them Mrs Lade Anifowose said she just heard about the law from our correspondent. She described it as commendable but expressed worries that the law may not be implemented.
“if indeed the government is serious about such law, then the government should put in place public toilets in locations that are easily accessible that people could make use of but we can’t start with laws when we don’t have things put in place that will make such laws meaningful ” She advised.
Another Resident, Mr. Kenny Donald also advised the government to enlighten the public about the dangers inherent in open defecation.
“The law will be very good for us as a state, but because we are used to that (open defecation) and when we want to change what we have been doing, we have to say it again and again.
If they really want to change the culture, it is sensitization first not punishment, give reasons why it is wrong and give us alternatives where people can urinate or defecate “.Mr. Donald submitted.
The Environment Health officers in Oyo state however said they had recorded remarkable progress in the eradication of open defecation in the state.
The Acting director of environmental health services with a Local Community Development Area in Oyo state Mr. Olakunle Amoo dismissed the MICS report saying it is not a true reflection of the current state of open defecation in Oyo state.
“Maybe they have not come back to evaluate because as soon as we received the figure we’ve already swung into action. Let me tell you that the environmental health officers in Oyo state have been going around each of the local governments we have.” Amoo argued.
He maintained that the cases of open Defecation in the state had already reduced as some homes and organizations without toilets now have.
“if they come back to do the evaluation they might see that Oyo state has improved on that figure” He boasted.
He added that “we are making frantic efforts to reduce the menace to the barest minimum”.
Mr. Amoo pointed out that one of the hindrances to achieving zero open defecation in the state was the insufficient number of environmental health personnel. He noted that the present administration, engaged some new officers a few months ago but the International standard number required for the size of Oyo state population is yet to be met.
The environmental health officer said most of the people who engage in open defecation may be ignorant of the dangers inherent in it.
“Through the enlightenment programmes and health education of the community, I think they are now realizing that it is very bad for them to defecate either in the drainage or around the community and that it is very dangerous for their health”.
He called on the government to provide the necessary logistics needed by the environmental health officers to do more, while the media should assist in the public enlightenment.
While suggesting other effective measures that could reduce open defecation Mr. Amoo pleaded with Non-Governmental Organizations and other stakeholders to provide toilets in the markets, motor parks and other public places for the use of the people.
“Even the community can come together and build the toilet, even if at all they cannot afford to have it within their living premises” Mr. Amoo advised.
He agreed that the Act on the prohibition of open defecation will reduce the unhealthy act and encourage members of the public to abide by the law.
“We started from the marketplaces through the enlightenment. When we visit a market we will check if they have toilets if they don’t we call the management of such market and enlighten them to build one to avoid being prosecuted.” He explained.
“We do prosecution; the first step we take when we get to the house without toilets, we give them a notice, and within 21 days they should provide toilets, so after giving them the notice, we will visit the place at least 3 times to ascertain if they have provided the toilet or not.”
He said if after 21 days, nothing was done, the owner of the house will be prosecuted.
Meanwhile, Dr.Sodipo argued that law against open Defecation can only be enforced when there is a provision for alternatives.
“You can only enforce it by giving them options, if the people do not have any toilet or latrine what do you want them to do? The government should rather compel everybody to have a pit latrine at least if not a water system or the government should provide public toilets which they will use. If the government does not provide them and you intend to enforce people not to defecate openly it may not work”, he asserted.
The medical doctor however said “at the same time the citizens should not expect everything from government, no. We should provide for ourselves good toilets to curb open defecation”, he submitted.
The theme of the 2022 World Toilet Day is Sanitation and Ground Water, emphasizing that safely managed sanitation protects groundwater from human waste pollution.
The campaign thereby calls on governments across the globe to work at least four times faster to ensure safe toilets for all by 2030.