Open defecation: Lagos residents worry over disease outbreak

In this report, SUBAIR MOHAMMED looks at the worsening impacts of open defecation in Lagos and government’s actions at halting it.

INADEQUATE public toilet facilities and poor sanitation are some of the major health concerns among Nigerians as nearly 50 million of the country’s population practise open air defecation, according to the statistics by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

With Nigeria ranking as number one among countries that defecate publicly, open defecation and poor sanitary hygiene pose huge environmental and health burden on people in slums across the country, particularly in Lagos communities where broken sewers, blocked canals and filthy environments expose residents to high risk of contracting infectious diseases.

Out of the 774 local government areas that make up the country, 767 local government areas are affected by open defecation. Of the local districts, 27 local government areas in seven states have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF), as revealed during a panel discussion tagged ‘WASH Matters Hard Talk’ held recently in Abuja. These states listed are Cross River, Jigawa, Benue, Katsina, Bauchi, Osun and Akwa Ibom. Meanwhile, 24.4 per cent of the population, representing 47 million Nigerians, is yet to climb the sanitation ladder.

 

‘Spending N100 to defecate may be too much for  low-income earners’

In shanty communities like Makoko, Ajegunle, Ijora, Oko-Baba and Otumara in Lagos, people excrete in the canal, lagoon, by roadsides and in the bush. Tunde Balogun, chairman, Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Council Development Area (LCDA), warned of another outbreak of COVID-19 infections, noting that 15 out of the 40 areas in Ajeromi Ifelodun are currently battling the menace of open defecation.

“Talk of states with huge burden of open defecation, Lagos State takes the lead. This is because in Ajegunle, there are no public toilet facilities. A large number of people defecate in the open because they don’t have where to excrete when pressed. Ajegunle is heavily populated, but in spite of its growing population, there are a minimum number of public toilets.

“People have to pay to use existing public toilets. Imagine a community where many of the people survive on meager daily earnings, spending N100 to defecate is a big deal for them. Aside this, public schools in Ajeromi Ifelodun also lack toilet facilities. Recently, we visited a public school in Ashafa, and we were shocked by the level of decay in this school.

“This school has no toilet facility for the pupils. There are 26,686 pupils in Ajeromi Ifelodun in 22 primary schools. These children are prone to infectious diseases like cholera, diarrhea and typhoid because of the unhealthy environment where they live, eat and learn. There is filth everywhere. Although the Lagos State government has invested hugely in reconstructing and upgrading primary schools across the state, they need to do more to change the poor infrastructure narration in the affected schools in the LCDA.

“On poor sanitary hygiene, landlords are culpable. With the manner in which they built their houses, you cannot but agree with me that they are responsible for the poor sanitary hygiene in Ajeromi Ifelodun. Many of the residents are poor. I expect the Lagos State government to intervene and acquire the shanties and rebuild them on behalf of the owners. This is for public health and to guard against outbreak of infectious diseases,” Balogun said.

 

defecation
Makoko remains one of the Lagos communities where open defecation is worsening environmental pollution.

‘Residents suffer from infectious diseases due to inhalation of poisonous substances’

Highlighting the challenges of poor sanitary condition in Oko-Baba community, a woodworker simply identified as Okechukwu said some of them suffer from infectious diseases through inhaling poisonous substances oozing out of the lagoon.

“The level of degradation in our environment is worrisome. We are exposed daily to harmful odour from marijuana and faeces from individuals who excrete on the logs of wood at the lagoon. The stench from open defecation is attaining an alarming proportion because for reasons best known to them, more and more people neglect the public toilet to defecate in the open.

“This has nothing to do with the absence of public toilets. There are toilet facilities all around us where you only need to pay N50 to ease yourself but no, they prefer the lagoon without considering the effect of such harmful practice on the health of others,” Okechukwu said.

In his 40 years working at a saw mill, a sexagenarian, Pa Alani Ajao, believes it is a rare privilege for him to be in sound health as many of his contemporaries are either nursing chronic cough or have gone blind.

He said: “Many of the operators end up blind. For some of them that have been on the job for a very long time, they develop eye problems and occasionally, cough. The air is contaminated with different kinds of substances and stench. You see people defecating openly and polluting the air. The young ones smoke marijuana with impunity. This not only affects their health, it affects our health.”

 

‘There are public toilets everywhere; why would anyone defecate in the open?’

One year ago, precisely on November 27, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an executive order aimed at bringing to an end open defecation by the year 2025. A community head in Makoko area of Lagos State, High Chief Raymond Olaiya, disclosed that ending open defecation by the year 2025 is possible, if government at all levels are prepared.

According to Olaiya, Makoko is heavily populated with low income earners and woodworkers who pollute the environment by excreting in the lagoon. “It is very possible to end open defecation and improve on the public health of the people if the government is ready to enforce the law. The problem in Lagos State is not the absence of law but implementation. The government needs to implement existing laws. There are public toilets everywhere around us, so why would anyone defecate in the open? The government needs to act to prevent foreseeable illness.

“You need to visit the Oko-Baba plank market to see how operators in the market deface the earth. Apart from polluting the waterways by stockpiling logs of wood in the lagoon, they excrete in the lagoon. There are many ways of preserving woods. They need not pollute the water and poison it. By doing so, the water is contaminated and not only that, they are also exposing themselves to infectious diseases and health hazard.

“I have written several letters to the government on the menace created by the market. The government should shut the place and fumigate it. They need to act fast and prevent residents within the axis from early death. This is where sanitary officers from the local government need to come in to enforce the state sanitation law,” he said.

 

We’re partnering with investors on provision of more toilet facilities  —Lagos govt

Reacting, Director, Sanitation Services of the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, Dr Hassan Sanuth, said many of the schools in the state have toilets.

According to him, “Ajeromi Ifelodun is one of those areas we know that are prone to open defecation. This is because the area is a high-water table. They can’t have a soak away or septic tank in the area. That has been one of the challenges they are facing there which we have also observed and are working on. The Lagos State government has also constructed over 160 public toilets across the state.

“We currently have 8,000 private investors partnering with the Lagos State government for the provision of public toilet facilities across the state. We are trying to put them in an organised association which is why we are inviting investors to come on board and see it as a business case.

“We want private investors to construct public toilets as a form of business and empowerment for residents. The public toilet that was used during this year’s World Toilet Day has been upgraded to make it appealing to the people for more patronage.

“As far as public toilet facilities are concerned, we are bridging the infrastructure gap. Lagos State is the first to establish Open Defecation Squad. The members of the squad are stationed at strategic locations engaging in monitoring and arresting those that engage in open defecation for prosecution.

“Many people have been caught in the act and they have been prosecuted and sentenced to community service. I am appealing to the people to cooperate with the state government in curbing open defecation.

“Many of the people that have been arrested by the state sanitation squad live in the slum. They come to Lagos from other states where their governments have failed to provide for their needs. As a government, we can only plan for what we have data on. We have LASRRA but I tell you, many of those that defecate on bridges and road paths are not captured in the state.

“Many of them ride and sleep on motorcycles. How do you expect someone that sleeps on a motorcycle to have a toilet? They hide around therefore they are not captured by the Lagos State government to be able to plan for them. And as a responsive government, Lagos has adequately planned for the population, even predictably at eight per cent increase.”

Speaking on the economic impact of open defecation on the state, he said: “The economic impact is very huge on the government. The Lagos State government bears the financial brunt of the consequence of open defecation in the state. The government spends more. When the people are exposed to infections as a result of open defecation, they are rushed to government hospitals. The cost of such treatment will be on the government and this is economically affecting the state.

“This is why we are striving to prevent and curb the trend so that government spending on health will be reduced. We are doing all we can to eradicate open defecation in the state even before the 2025 deadline. UNICEF cannot be assessing Lagos State from afar without coming to the state to have a first-hand experience of what obtains in the state. I can tell you that Lagos state is ahead of many of the states that are classified as Open Defecation Free.

“Lagos is not included as Open Defecation Free because UNICEF has not been to the grassroots for assessment. In a published report by UNICEF in 2015, they confirmed that five communities in Lagos State were Open Defecation Free. So, what has changed between them and now? I am not saying people don’t defecate in the open in Lagos but to say Lagos doesn’t have any local government area that is open defecation free isn’t correct. UNICEF is just not able to confirm it.”

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