In West Africa’s largest city, public toilets are messed up, open defecation is the norm

From Challenge, to Iwo road, to communities in Beere and even in commercial areas like Dugbe and Mokola, it is prevalent to find human wastes in streams, bushes, ditches and other open areas in these places. While this practice is rife among people in rural communities, urban settlers have also been found culpable. Saturday Tribune learnt that this practice is common in Beere/Oje area as most of the houses do not have toilets and there are also no public toilets in motor parks close to the area. Our correspondent told a taxi driver at Beere bus stop that he needed to relieve himself. “I have never heard of a public toilet around this area o. you could go back there and find your way to the bush or uncompleted building to do it” he retorted, pointing towards some houses. There is a particular ditch in Mokola, close to the roundabout, where human waste is often deposited, while the water way through Dugbe market is a popular relief center for traders, travelers, as well as residents who do not have toilets in their houses.

It was also discovered that the market at Iwo road has one public toilet which was built by an individual for commercial purpose; the people pay a token of N50 to defecate, N30 to urinate and N100 to bathe. It is a semi-latrine toilet. The market women who spoke to Saturday Tribune claimed that they are comfortable with the service they get from the toilet. They confirmed that there is a government-owned public toilet on the other side of the road but it is not as good as the one inside the market. “This one is not owned by government and it is always clean; there is always water there and the owner employed someone to always clean it. It might not be so fine and classy but it is better than the one built by the government”, said one of the women in the pepper section of the market.


Why we practice open defecation

Foyin, a 21-year-old sales attendant, whose shop is located about 150 meters away from the said toilet told Saturday Tribune that the toilet was too far from her shop, so she does not use it. When queried on how she relieves herself when need be, she confessed to practicing open defecation. She said, “I usually hold it until I get home, but if I cannot, I will cross the road, there is a small bush behind those mechanic people, I will quickly do it in a nylon there and return to my shop.”

When accosted to enquire if there is a public toilet around, a wheel barrow pusher in Dugbe market said he did not know. Before he buzzed off like a fly to attend to a customer, he said “what is public toilet? Me, I throw shot-put o”

Shot-put throwing is a parlance that explains rapping excreta in nylon and throwing it to a bush, ditch or canal. This practice is not limited to illiterates or rural inhabitants alone; it is also common practice among students of tertiary institutions. Some students confessed to Saturday Tribune that they had practiced open defecation at one time or the other, with the justification that there was no toilet around. Esther, a resident of Ibadan, studying at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State confessed that she had practiced open defecation and ‘shot-put’ when there was no water in her hostel. According to Habeeb, a student of University of Ibadan, “it is a bad thing but I may have do it if there are no toilet facilities around.”

Evidently, shortage of toilet facilities and water in places like markets, parks and garages is one of the reasons people practice open defecation. Commemorating the World Toilet Day in November 2019, the Oyo State government promised to put an end to open defecation by providing mobile toilets and water in rural communities in the state. This was said by the Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. Kehinde Ayoola.

However, no mobile toilet has been seen anywhere in Ibadan, not even those areas notorious for open defecation.  Where there is shortage of toilet or inadequate facilities, the practice of open defecation seems pardonable. Speaking with Saturday Tribune, Dr. Adeleye Babarinsa, a community health specialist, said “the reasons open defecation might be practised is when there is no sufficient water or there is no toilet. When the few public toilets are messed up, anybody would do open defecation, even the educated person; you go to the market and there is nowhere for you to ease yourself. These are the things that cause open defecation.”


Health hazards connected to open defecation

  1. Adeleye Babarinsa, who is the president/co-founder, Creating Healthy Community and Kinship (CHECK), condemned the practice of open defecation and also listed the health and environmental risks connected to the practice.

“All over the world, Nigeria tops the list of countries where open defecation is practiced and we are aware that Oyo is among the top states too. At a point, Oyo was number three. One of the health implications of open defecation is that it promotes the spread of diseases that occur by fecal-oral transmission. There are certain diseases that may occur when the contact with the feaces eventually gets to the mouth and some of these contacts might not be direct; it might be by flies that perch on these feces and eventually spread to people. These diseases include diarrhea, cholera, typhoid fever; it could also include worm infestation. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children.

“Open defecation could easily result to environmental pollution or air pollution. The air would not be conducive for breathing. It can also result in death. The health impact is very bad; open defecation is not something we should encourage at all.”

Also speaking on the health hazards of open defecation, a final year medical student of the University of Ibadan and fellow at Young Water Solution, 2019 in Uganda, Segun Ogunleye, said the practice was responsible for most cases of water borne diseases, which affect mostly children.

He said, “These are first hand cases of water borne diseases, because these wastes would contaminate the water and children are the ones mostly hit by the devastating effects of this practice.

“Apart from the fact that it causes burden on the health sector, it is also something shameful that it is still being practiced in Nigeria. On the environmental risks, it makes the environment very inhabitable for people, it also introduces pathogen.”

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrhea is the second largest killer of children below the age of five years in Nigeria, only next to Pneumonia. WHO says that 88% of diarrhea cases are attributable to factors essentially originating from poor management of human excreta. According to a World Bank Report (2012), approximately 121, 800 Nigerians, including 87,000 children under 5 die each year from diarrhea – nearly 90% is directly attributed to water, sanitation and hygiene.

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When asked about the ways to curb open defecation in Oyo State, especially Ibadan, Dr. Babarinsa stated that the state government has plans on paper to curb the practice. He added that if the plans are well implemented, the practice may be nip in the board.

“One of the things the Oyo State Ministry of Health promised is to make water available in all communities; I have not been to many communities but I want to believe they have started implementing the plans. Another thing they promised to do is to increase the number of mobile toilets that we have around, so that we can have toilets in strategic locations. We hope that we are going to see these things in reality, but we know that Nigeria is a country where we have a lot of things on paper but implementation might be quite slow.”

However, Ogunlana argued that it is a behavioral practice that could be changed through sensitisation and disillusionment.

He said, “I think it is more of a behavioral problem; from my experience, I noticed that people are practicing open defecation for several reasons that include poor town planning, social economic status. However, some told us it was as a result of a myth that having toilet in their house could cause them misfortune.

“According to statistics, Oyo State is the third in Nigeria with the prevalence of open defecation practice. To find out first hand, we went to some communities like Erefin, Beere/Oje area and we saw for ourselves the dirt in those areas in terms of human waste.

“The Nigerian government has declared a state of emergency on open defecation. They have projected to end open defecation by 2025. I think sensitisation would change their mindset; it would have a ripple effect.”


The private sector could relieve the government

Ogunlana, who is an entrepreneur and an advocate of improved sanitation, is the founder and Executive Director of Betterlife Sanitation Solutions. He spoke with Saturday Tribune on the need for the government to provide an enabling environment for private individuals who might want to make business out of sanitation. He called on young people to see an opportunity in the government’s roadmap of ending open defecation by 2025. He opined that the goal may be dim if the government maintains the monopoly of providing toilet facilities to the people.

“I think the youth can tap into this opportunity and make a business out of it. It is our responsibility to be the bridge between the government and people that are affected by the open defecation practice. Government should only provide an enabling environment for people that are willing to proffer solutions to the problems.

“The government could provide funding, reduce the taxes and make the registration process very effortless because getting organizations registered is a big task in this part of the world.

“I also believe that the government can make policies, but before that, there has to be an alternative. You cannot say people should stop defecating in open places when you do not give them alternatives. The number of toilets we need to build for Nigeria to be open defection free is very enormous. For us to get to that level, we need to get as many people as possible to be involved – the private sector. So that we may collectively provide the sanitation facilities for people to use.


We cannot end open defecation alone ­—State government

When asked to comment on the high incidence of open defecation in the state, the Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Kehinde Ayoola, said that there is little the state government could achieve alone.

Although, he argued that it is the responsibility of the local governments to provide public toilets, he stressed that house owners should make provision for toilets when building their houses.

“Do you expect the government to build toilets for people in their houses?” He queried Saturday Tribune.

“There is a regulation and I hope the ministry of land and the town planning people are enforcing it. If you are putting on a structure, you will not get an approval if you don’t make provision for toilet. Government can not provide toilet for people in their homes.

“In environmental management, There is what they call Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it is a study they carry out before a programme is embarked upon. The study will tell you what would be the impact of that project on the environment – the air and water.

“If the project had started already, they do PIA – Post Impact Assessment. Here, we will do the assessment of what impact the lack of toilet has caused. We will then tell them the impact and that they should provide that toilet. It may not be elaborate. Just something that would carry waste and that is put in a way that does not constitute health hazard to the environment.

“The EIA act is compelled by law. It compels an industrialist to comply with the provisions of the act. They would be fined or jailed, whether it is a corporate entity or an individual or both.” He said further.

Ayoola, however noted that the state government was working on partnering with both the Federal Government and the private sector to curb the practice of open defecation.

He also stated that the toilet facilities in public would not be free for the people.

His words, “What the government is doing is that there is a programme called Partnership for Expanded Water Sanitation and Hygiene (PWASH). The Oyo state government is liaising with the federal government to ensure that this programme kicks off here. It involves us committing ourselves with certain amount of money which would be matched by the federal government.

We are doing two major things – 1. Provision of toilet facilities in parks and some rural areas and also water, because when you provide toilet, the major “concometer” is to provide water. That is the main product of PWASH.

“Apart from that, we are also encouraging the local governments, because if you look at the fifth schedule of the 1999 constitution as amended, the responsibility of providing, operating, maintaining and supervising the operation of public toilets lies with local governments, the state government is waking the local governments up to that responsibility.

“Then thirdly, the involvement of the private sector. I have about two letters of expressions of interest from private entities that want to run public toilets on Public Private Partnership (PPP). That tells us that people will have to pay for the use of toilets. If you go to the mall at Dugbe and you’re pressed, you will have to pay.

When asked about the nature of agreement with the private sector, particularly if there would be incentives for the private enterprises, he explained that the private enterprises interested would build and operate the public toilets before passing the ownership to the state government.

“The nature of agreement is an incentive on its own. It is called build, own, operate and transfer. They will use their resources to build it; they own it at that time, then they transfer to us after they had made their money. The government and the private sector will sit down and iron out how the private sector would recoup their money.

“When we talk of the private sector, it is taken for granted that mobile toilets would be part of it.”

Recall that the commissioner himself promised that the state government would provide mobile toilets in public places in the state. When asked if the government would fulfil the promise, he said he was not sure.

“If the government has the funds they will provide it but the experience that government has had in the few months, I have been in this place has been bitter. In a particular market here in Ibadan, toilet was built and a powerful man stopped the people from using it. He converted the toilet to shops and was collecting the money. The government then did not do anything, but we have reclaimed.”

John Pepper (JP) Clark alluded to the physical embodiment of the ancient city of Ibadan when he wrote in his poem: “Ibadan, running splash of gold and rust…” The poem pictures perfectly, the disorderly arrangement of houses and their rusted roofs but beyond these disreputable physical structures, the air breathed by residents of Ibadan is also rusty, despicable and precarious, no thanks to the prevalent practice of open defecation in various parts of the city – the largest in west Africa.



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