Ideally, open defecation ought not to be an issue in Nigeria in 21st century. Sadly, contrary to expectation, it is. Logically, it points to bad leadership, abysmal failure of governments for ages. The act is a repulsively primordial practice that cuts across all strata of society; gender, status and careers despite its negative consequences, albeit predominant among the underprivileged class.
Without a doubt, it sounds comical but a reality. Yes, open defecation transcends homeless, primitive and uneducated people. People of diverse vocations also do fall victims of unexpected stomach upset while on journey. And most times, it is abysmally remedied by the unwholesome practice. Of course, nobody will bravely own up to being a perpetrator if not caught red-handed in the jungle or witnessed by co-travellers.
And so, the odious misconduct is practiced by two groups; circumstantial perpetrators and habitual practitioners. Whatever the category, excreting outside toilets is open defecation. Sadly, it begins from habitually peeing outside facilities. Of course, if reasons are necessary, both sides possibly will adduce cogent raison d’êtres.
For example, whilst the former may shift the blame to health and nature, the latter will blame penury and governments’ insensitivities. But realistically, what options are available to a traveller that is suddenly under extreme pressure to answer the call of nature where no public conveniences exist? In most cases, any nearby forest plays host to such victims.
The reason is simple – lack of functional and safe public toilets in sufficient numbers at strategic locations. Hence, it goes beyond blaming perpetrators but conscientiously, dutifully counting the available public toilets in every neighbourhood alongside their proximities which is in the negative. For those that don’t go on long road trips, they may still not escape it at social outings. At most night events in public places, faeces are often spotted littering the surrounding areas by unknown persons.
Again, phobia of infections mostly by women majorly contributes to open defecation where there are public toilets but uncertainty about safety. Unfortunately, defecating in the open is critically, hazardous than superficially believed. Suffice to say that providing sufficient public toilets that are clean and hygienically safe is a necessary remedy.
Nigeria according to global statistics currently ranked first position in open defecation in Africa and second in the world after India. By concerted efforts, India has practically moved away from the position leaving Nigeria to formally step into her shoes before the end of 2019. Funnily, Nigerian lawmakers have been collecting outrageous allowances for constituency projects over the years.
The big bad news! Scientific research has proven that human and body fluids including faeces, urine, blood, vomit, spinal fluid, and amniotic fluid can harbour a variety of diseases. In fact, faeces can cause cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, polio, hepatitis and many more. It can also constitute a serious health hazard if it gets into sources of drinking water. And World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly 2.2 million people die annually by diseases caused by contaminated water.
Instructively, thorough hand washing after convenience is obligatory and goes beyond getting rid of smells but hygienically, on health ground for preventing spread of bacteria as people frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth unconsciously in addition to indiscriminate handshakes with people.
From UNICEF survey, out of 47 million Nigerians who indulge in open defecation, 16 million live in the north. It also shows that while one in every four Nigerians defecates in the open, one in every two persons in the North Central do so in the open.
A report shows that through UNICEF interventions, about 1.7 million people have gained access to improved water facilities while 2.2 million people have access to improved toilets. Equally, 3,908 communities supported to become certified open defecation free (ODF) while 1,227 schools and 599 primary healthcare centres are equipped with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services. Furthermore, 2.4 million people have benefited from general hygiene promotion. Relatively, Nigeria’s population is approximately 200million. Hence, a lot needs to be done by governments.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari signaled to end open defecation in the country by 2025. To actualize this, at least, two million toilets must be added annually. Some state and local governments have slightly keyed into the scheme. For emphasis, the nuisance apart from contributing to scores of deaths of vulnerable children who every now and then are infected with diseases, likewise often result to their low productivity as a result of absence in schools while ailing.
Other indirect effects of open defecation are economic loss resulting from frequent episodes of WASH-related illnesses, loss of dignity and high risks of insecurity and violence against women and children in the forests. Thus, governments at all levels need concerted actions towards ending the menace. Of course, a radical approach by the government through legal mechanism alongside zero tolerance on enforcement is indispensable.
Carl Umegboro is an Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators