Open defaecation and 2025 target: Any hope?

It is less than four years to the 2025 target to end open defaecation in Nigeria. ELEOJO IDACHABA in this piece examines the country’s preparedness to meet the target.

As the campaign to rid Nigeria of open defaecation continues to gather momentum, President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, have re-affirmed their commitments to ending the embarrassment by 2025, when they signed pledge cards recently.

Blueprint Weekend gathered that the pledge card is an open commitment against the menace in Nigeria.

According to a statement by the minister of water resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, the pledge card is a commitment booklet prepared by the ministry and key stakeholders during the flag-off of the campaign towards ending open defaecation in the country.

It was further gathered that the card acting as a social contract would also be signed by heads and chief executive officers of both federal and state governments to signify their readiness to give every moral, financial and political support towards meeting the target of ending this open nakedness in the country by 2025.

Hence, the minister said in order to show utmost commitment, governors are expected to follow suit in signing the pledge card as well as committing to end open defecation in their respective states by the target date.

President Buhari’s appendage of the card, he said, signifies his commitment towards leading other political leaders to end open defecation in the country.

He disclosed further that in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the minister, Malam Mohammed Musa Bello, has also signed his own pledge card to affirm his commitment in the FCT.

World summit

In line with all of this, Nigeria has been named as the official host of the 2022 World Toilet Summit slated for November, this year, in Abuja.

The founder of World Toilet Organisation (WTO), Mr. Jack Sim, made this known last week during a virtual meeting of Water Sanitation and Hygiene Stakeholders and Development Partners held and monitored across the world.

Sim said the United Nations member-countries had in 2013 unanimously adopted November 19 as the day to create awareness about access to toilets all over the world, while at the same time hinting that the summit would be a great opportunity for member countries to come to Nigeria in order to seek out ways of addressing the sanitation challenges posing threat to member countries.

Nigeria’s selection, he noted, was an opportunity to showcase the extensive efforts of the federal government towards nipping the menace in the bud and also to drive the intended change needed to eliminate the scourge.

The chief executive officer of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), Mrs. Caterina De Albuquerque, while speaking during the virtual meeting pointed out that the issue of sanitation is almost a forgotten one globally.

She, howeve,r used the opportunity presented by the meeting to applaud Nigeria for prioritising Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, stressing that the country’s example would inspire other African countries who are lackadaisical about the menace.

The national coordinator, Organised Private Sector in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (OPSWASH), Dr. Nicholas Igwe, in his contribution, praised the choice of Nigeria for the summit, saying it was an unequivocal endorsement of the political will of the federal government towards Water, Sanitation and Hygiene delivery and safety in Nigeria.

He, however, noted that the private sector has critical roles to play in the sanitation economy while also facilitating jobs creation. SWA’s three key objectives he noted include building and sustaining political will, championing multi-stakeholder collaboration and facilitating strategies to attract new investments.

On his part, the minister of water resources, Suleiman Adamu, said the selection of Nigeria to host the 2022 World Toilet Summit “is a welcome development coming at a period when the country has made concrete plans to exit from the comity of nations practising open defaecation.”

He recalled that in November 2019, the ‘Open defecation free’ (ODF) Campaign was launched aimed at mobilising high level political support, resources and the entire populace towards building a new culture of safe sanitation.

He acknowledged that indeed Nigeria needs all necessary supports to ensure that the campaign gains traction while stakeholders play their own part.

“I am optimistic that the World Toilet Summit would provide a veritable platform for mobilising the private sector and other critical stakeholders towards addressing the challenges of open defaecation in the country,” he said.

He, therefore, agreed with Albuquerque that a high- level participation is key towards rallying international delegates and stakeholders for the campaign.

The permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), Mrs. Didi Walson-Jack, in her remarks, thanked all the stakeholders and development partners present at the meeting while advising that a joint commitment towards achieving the World Toilet Summit would take the be country to the next level.

At the end of the meeting, the private sector, development partners and stakeholders all commended the initiative and pledged their supports to host a successful summit.

The private sector and development partners included the World Bank, UNICEF, Reckitt, Coca-Cola, Tolaram Group, FMDQ and Guinness Nigeria. This, in the views of many, may be the beginning of an end to open defaecation in Nigeria.

Previous initiatives

This is not the first time that Nigeria is taking bold steps towards eradicating the menace. In 2019, series of activities from engagement with journalists, to advocate for clean toilets for all commemorated that year’s World Toilet Day flagged off.

The theme for that year was ‘leaving no one behind,’ in line with global efforts towards achieving universal access to sanitation.

Open defaecation and 2025 target: Any hope?

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, then minister of environment, Muhammad Mahmood, said the federal government was committed to addressing the sanitation challenges, including open defecation in the country and ensuring proper management of excreta.

“This commitment is in line with the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s declaration of a state of emergency on water, sanitation and hygiene in the country in November 2018,”he said.

It would be recalled that in Nigeria, an estimated 47 million people do not use toilets thereby causing nearly 87,000 diarrhoeal deaths in children under the age of five. Furthermore, reports indicate that poor sanitation contributes to several other neglected tropical diseases (NTD) and under-nutrition.

To that extent the minister gave the assurance that, “The ministry has provided sanitation training infrastructure by equipping the practical demonstration of facilities of colleges of Health Technology at Keffi in Nasarawa state, Kallungo in Gombe state; Kankia (Katsina state); Ado Ekiti (Ekiti state); Ugheli (Delta state), and Umudike in Abia state. We have just few years to the deadline. Let us redouble our efforts to provide universal access to toilets, leaving no one behind,” he had said.

Further reports revealed that among other activities slated for that year’s event were a 10, 000-man march against open defecation, community awareness campaigns and commissioning of practical demonstration facilities for the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Ibadan and the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi in Anambra state.

Speaking at the event, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, Dr. Clement Peter, said, “We commend the government of Nigeria for launching the open defecation free campaign and congratulate the states that are already implementing this and making notable achievements in some local government areas.

“WHO looks forward to continued collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment and other partners on improvement of sanitation so that all Nigerians have access to adequate sanitation as a human right.”

Sadly in October 2019, reports indicated that Nigeria became the number one open defecation nation globally ahead of India. Then, it was estimated that 50 million Nigerians (approximately 10 million households) defaecate in the open. India has a population of 1.353 billion people and 3.287 million km2 land area, against Nigeria’s 200 million people and 923,769km2 land area.

According to WHO, “Now that Nigeria is where India used to be on this index, it would need do similar things, but even more seriously.”

The phenomenon of open defaecation does not just occur in the rural areas of Nigeria but also in cities and among the educated class in public tertiary institutions, business and residential areas. Over 47 million Nigerians defecate openly in bushes, gutters, sidewalks, motor parks, recreation parks, rivers and streets amongst others.

Although it is on records that some attempts were made in times past and decades to reduce it, regrettably, those efforts were not worthwhile with only 14 of 774 local governments in the country free of open defecation.

President Buhari in that year signed Executive Order 009 to tackle open defecation. In the same year, the Ministry of Water Resources in collaboration with UNICEF and some other key agencies, launched the initiative tagged ‘Nigeria Open-Defaecation-Free by 2025.

Apart from bringing a negative social stigma to the country, it also poses obvious environmental, health and economic problems for Nigeria and its nationals as it pollutes the environment and exposes children and adults to critical health problems like diarrhoea which is one of the causes of death.

Disagreements over new agency

In late 2021, lawmakers and some key stakeholders disagreed over the decision of the former to establish an agency to be known as Clean Nigeria Agency. This was during a public hearing at the Senate in Abuja.

The stakeholders which included some cabinet members vehemently rejected the bill that intended to establish the agency, but the lawmakers insisted that there was the need for the agency to be created.

In his presentation, Senator Ordia made reference to the Executive Order 009 issued by President Buhari as the motivation for the conceptualisation of the bill.

He noted that the motivation was derived from extant reports on the menace of the practice of open defecation, saying, “It was reported, for instance, that Nigeria is the leading nation in the world with the highest number of people practicing open urination and defecation, estimated at over 46 million people and which has made it practically impossible for the country to meet the SDG 6 by 2025.

“Also, apart from the stench that emanates from open urination and defecation sites, it also provides a breeding ground for disease causing organisms that has resulted in huge economic losses to the country.”

However, in her presentation, the minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, said there existed agencies of government whose functions and mandate the bill would infringe upon.

She said, “The Water Resources Act, Water Use and License Regulation, Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act and some other Acts of the National Assembly are some of the laws the functions of this bill would infringe upon.

“The Ministry of Water Resources is backed to regulate how water resources are utilised. It is of the ministry’s opinion that the mandate of this bill should be domiciled in the Ministry of Water Resources and the department it would be domiciled should ensure that it liaises with states and local government agencies under the ministry to ensure that this particular issue is tackled.”

Also, Mrs. Helen Obayagbo, who represented environment ministry, agreed with the finance minister that the Clean Nigeria Campaign was a programme based on the content of the Executive Order 009 which she said cannot be converted into an agency of the federal government.

In his presentation, the Society for Water and Sanitation’s national coordinator, Benson Attah, said the agency would clash with already existing agencies, but suggested that rather than have duplication of agencies, state governors should strengthen their commitment to water sector in their states and release funding for local governments to function better.

In their reactions, the lawmakers, while disagreeing with the views of the stakeholders, wondered why the country was yet to achieve open defecation free target.

According to Senator Ordia, “The problem we have as a nation is that we don’t want to be regulated. This is where the problem of this country is centered on right now. How can a nation survive on committees? It’s disheartening. If you’re not regulated and you think you are going to get the best out of what government is putting in place, go outside and see people defecating in public, where’s the organisations?”

Another lawmaker, Senator Kola Balogun, said, “In spite of all the functions of the agencies you mentioned, why is the country still where it is in terms of open defecation? When you look at a particular direction, we have agencies that are functioning yet we are not getting the desired results. Why do we still have environmental issues in our country?”

On his part, the chairman of the Committee, Senator Bello Mandiya, said, “You mentioned that there are so many agencies, yet Nigeria has the highest number of people practicing open defecation. Where are all these agencies?

“Why are they not performing their functions? We have 774 local governments but only 72 have been declared open defecation free. So, why are the agencies not doing what they are supposed to do?”

However, with the recent signage of their signatures by the president and his deputy, it is expected that it is a new dawn for the end of open defaecation in Nigeria.