The 2021 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping Survey (WASH-NORM) revealed that 50 per cent of the population of Kwara indigenes are still practising open defecation. JUSTINA ASISHANA visited some rural communities where the practice subsists in the state in spite of the state government’s sensitization and interventions.
We go into the bush to defecate,” 40 years old Silifat Saheed declared in Otte-Oja Ward, Asa Local Government Area, Kwara State as she the reporter asked her about the toilet facility in her house.
Silifat said that she and other members of her family often go to the nearby bush to defecate whenever they are pressed because the three-bedroom house where the family of seven lives has no toilet.
Silifat also added that majority of the houses in the community have no toilet facility. “We do not have any toilet. In fact, no house around here has a toilet; everyone uses the bush,” she said.
Silifat, who was preparing fufu (cassava pudding) meant for sale when the reporter visited, said the main challenge confronting the community was lack of toilet facilities despite that they had no problem with water supply.
“We have water but no toilet,” she said.
“See that place; there is a borehole across the road. There is another borehole and at the back of that house there is one borehole,” she said, pointing in the directions of three different boreholes
Abdullahi Alagbado, a security man in Otte-Oja, said only a few buildings in the community could boast of a functional toilet facility. He said the building where he works as a security guard, which was built two years ago, and a few other modern buildings were the only buildings with toilet facilities.
He said: “The people without toilets in this community are many. Let me say that only the new modern buildings have toilets. Everyone uses the bush when they want to excrete. Even in my house, there is no toilet. But my workplace has a toilet.
Alagbado has, however, devised a plan for defecating whenever he needs to. He does his toilet business before leaving his workplace and does not go to the toilet until the next day when he is back to the office.
He said: “What I do is that before I go home at night, I try using the toilet. I also try to hold myself till the next morning when I resume work.
“It is only during weekends that I also use the bush. I enjoy using the toilet in my workplace and wish my house had one. But there is no money to install one.”
Open defecation remains a menace in the country with about 47 million people still defecating in the open, making Nigeria the second country with the largest number of people practicing open defecation globally. Nationally, Kwara and Plateau are the top two states with the highest prevalence of the menace.
Open defecation has ruined epidemic preparedness of the state government and is one of the predisposing factors for outbreaks of epidemics including the cholera outbreak witnessed in the state in 2017.
Between May 1 and June 30, 2017, suspected cholera cases in Kwara State were reported from five local government areas which include Asa (18), Ilorin East (450), Ilorin South (215), Ilorin West (780), and Moro (50).
Not much has changed since then. Visits to health centres in rural communities in the state showed that signs and symptoms of cholera and diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery are some of the most sought after treatments by patients.
Health workers who spoke with the reporter expressed fear that it was only a matter of time before such an outbreak would occur again if nothing was done to stop the bad practice.
Community toilet demolished for psychiatric hospital
For the Budo Egba community in Asa Local Government Area, their absence of public toilet facility was the result of a trade-off they did not bargain for. The federal neuro-psychiatric hospital constructed in 2021 was built at the location the community had built a public toilet to discourage residents from engaging in open defecation. The public toilet had to give way, and since then there were no plans to provide the community with an alternative.
Sadly, residents have returned to their old habit and now defecate indiscriminately in the open, even coining out a local name for the practice. A resident of the community, Akanbi Ayinde, said they refer to open defecation as “bush attack”.
“It means we go to the bush to carry out our toilet business. As you can see this whole vicinity, there is no toilet in this area.
“The only toilet we had was destroyed when a new hospital was being constructed in the community. There is no toilet here at all and we do not know who to complain to so that it would be rebuilt.
“We really need toilets in our community. When the public toilets are available, anyone who is pressed will go there and carry out his or her toilet business. We try to keep it clean and neat and it helped us for several years. But now we are back to bush attack,” said Ayinde.
Health workers worried over residents’ insistence on open defecation
The windows of the delivery room in the Basic Health Centre, Otte-Oja Ward are always closed whenever they are to attend to patients because of the suffocating stench from the pounds of feces behind the health centre’s building.
The Officer-in-Charge, Ibrahim Nurat Ayo, explained that the staff in the health facility had to take to planting maize, cassava and vegetables around the bare land of the health facility to discourage the people from coming into the facility to defecate.
Pointing to a building outside the delivery ward, Ayo said: “Anytime we have to undertake delivery, we have to close the window because the stench is terrible and it would be unhealthy to put someone in labour through it.
“During the dry season when everywhere is hot, you won’t be able to stay in this room unless the windows are closed because of the smell that comes into the room.
“Sometimes when they defecate, they throw it over the fence. But it has reduced a little since we planted some crops.”
She stated that as health workers, they have been trying their best to sensitise the people and make them stop open defecation, but the residents have remained adamant and refused to heed to the sensitization exercises and health education given to them.
Ayo added: “This attitude of the people using the bush to defecate is very terrible. In this area, most of them do not have toilets.
“There was a time I called on environmental officers to ensure that toilets are built in the new buildings that are being constructed in the community. The environmental officers went round to sensitise them but they paid no heed.
“Even during clinic days, ante-natal and postnatal sessions, we talk to them about hygiene, the essence of having a latrine, and how open defecation can impact their health negatively.
“In this community, they build houses without toilets. We have warned them many times but they would not listen.”
A member of the staff of Budo Egba PHC, Abdulkadir Sherifat, said the community was in dire need of public toilets, lamenting that the destruction of the only public toilet in the community had slowed down its fight against open defecation.
Sherifat said: “There is a need for more toilets here. The population of this community is about 14,000. Imagine that almost all of them defecate in the open.
“That is why they do not clear the bushes, because it gives them shade while they are doing bush attack.”
Providing more insight into how the term “bush attack” was coined, Sherifat explained that residents either excrete in nylon and throw it into the bush or enter into the bush to defecate.
In places where toilet facilities exist, maintenance has been a huge problem. At Ogele PHC, health workers said they locked up the public toilet donated to the facility by students of the Kwara State University (KWASU) because of misuse and lack of maintenance despite series of sensitisation programmes conducted in the community.
A health worker at Ogele PHC, Mrs. Kuburat Jimoh, explained that the public toilet and an incinerator built by the students were poorly maintained and later vandalised before the hospital decided to lock it up.
Jimoh said: “The problem here is that most of the homes do not have toilets. They do bush attack, which is very common. Some students from KWASU built a set of toilets to encourage the people to stop open defecation but after three days, we saw that the tap and the pipes had been destroyed. That is why we locked it.
“We have sensitised them several times alongside environmental officers to build pit latrines in their houses if they cannot go for the water system toilets, but all these have fallen on deaf ears. They still continue with their bush attack.”
One of the patients receiving treatment at the PHC, Sunday Afolabi, said the house where he lives has only one toilet servicing 10 apartments.
“When I first came to this area, I noticed a lot of people defecating in the bush but I didn’t join them. Later, I had no choice but to join them.
“My house has only one toilet catering for 10 persons. So when I want to use the toilet and someone else is there, the only solution will be to go to the bush to defecate,” he said.
The Officer-in-Charge of the PHC in Tapete Community, Audu Fumilayo, said that the people do not listen to the health educators and environmentalists who come around to sensitise.
“In this community, they build their houses without toilets. Why should you build a house and not put a toilet in it? I always ask them.
“You will see a house with 10 rooms and no toilet. The one that has toilets will have only one. How can one toilet serve about 20 people in a house?
“This community seriously needs public toilets to help them stop open defecation,” she said.
Government interventions towards ending open defecation
Checks showed that the Kwara State Government is making efforts to tackle the menace of open defecation in the state. Alongside other state governments, the state government has rolled out a campaign to put an end to the practice. The campaign tagged “Clean Kwara Campaign” is intended to run from 2020 to 2030.
The state government is also partnering with Federal Government-led initiatives such as the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) and Open Defecation Free (ODF) campaign.
In 2020, the Kwara State Government took delivery of 1,000 flush toilets from private sector stakeholders in its project towards ending open defecation by 2025. The Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq said that the flush toilets will be deployed in all local government areas of the state to boost good hygiene.
In a statement by the state Ministry of Environment in 2021, residents of Kwara State were told that housing projects would not be approved if there was no provision for toilet facilities, adding that the ministry planned to work with the Physical Planning Authority to ensure that the directive was not flouted.
The ministry via the statement also warned residents of the state to shun open defecation and classified it as one of the dangers and threats to human lives in the state. In enforcing the directive, the Kwara State Protection Agency (KWEPA) sealed a residential building in the Agba-dam area of the state in 2021, for lack of toilet facilities for tenants living in the house.
Kwara govt seals building for practising open defecation
It was learnt that the General Manager of KWEPA, Sa’ad Dan-Musa, gave the directive after the landlord failed to adhere to the notices that had been previously issued to him. It was stated that the action of the landlord contravened the fight against open defecation which is a threat to environmental health.
For the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) project, N250.8 million was budgeted in 2021 out of which N150.8 was expended from January to September 2021. However, in 2022, there was no capital expenditure for PEWASH in the state.
In the 2022 budget, the state government budgeted N2,221,900,455 for capital expenditure for the Ministry of Environment. From this sum, N1,637,926,609 was allocated to environment protection while N100 million was budgeted for construction and rehabilitation of public toilets.
The sum of N1.722 million was budgeted for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes, N42.433 million was budgeted to be expended in 2021 but no amount was budgeted in 2022.
Also in 2022, the government budgeted N100 million specifically for the construction and provision of toilets. In 2020 and 2021, N15.4 million and N12.2 million was allocated respectively for the same budget item.
Despite these programmes and interventions by the state government, there is no visible impact on the people as rural communities across the state still practice open defecation.
Findings showed that the majority of the programmes and interventions are focused on the urban and semi-urban areas of the state.
We are no longer at the bottom of open defecation indices – Commissioner
The Kwara State Commissioner of Environment, Remilekun Banigbe, said that current indices on open defecation released in the second week of July showed that Kwara State is no longer at the bottom in the ladder of open defecation.
When asked to provide documents to back the statistics, the commissioner denied the reporter access to the report stating that it is publicly available. Efforts to get the document proved abortive as the report was not available online.
According to the commissioner, the government has gone all out to combat this menace he noted was an embarrassment to the state government. He added that several ministries, departments and agencies were putting in efforts to address open defecation in the state.
She said: “All hands are on deck to keep moving up the ladder. Recently, the governor committed N150 million into WASH activities.
“For the provision of public toilets, we are not only focusing on the state capital but also the rural communities so as to ensure that in every corner, there is a public toilet in Kwara State.
“All stakeholders are coming together to ensure that open defecation comes to an end in the state.
“We are proud to say that these interventions have paid off as we have moved up the ladder based on these steps and interventions we have taken.”
Banigbe also said that last year, over 15 premises were sealed for non-availability of toilet facilities while several warning notices were sent to houses that had no toilet facilities.
“We have met with the Magajis of major areas to get their support in getting houses that do not have toilets to ensure that they build one so that the era of people defecating in the open comes to an end.
“We started mandating house owners to build toilets along with the house they are building. Without a toilet space being made in your building plan, it will not be approved,” she stated.
Government needs to act fast – Health experts
The Executive Director of the Media Advocacy and Technology Center, Musa Aliyu, said that the open defecation behaviour of residents in Kwara communities is appalling, adding that even in the township of Ilorin, there are households without toilet facilities.
“Even markets, some critical markets in Ilorin today don’t have good toilet facilities, and this is where as many as 1000 people converge daily to transact businesses. It is quite unfortunate.
“Communities in rural areas do not even know what a toilet is all about.
“Every community and household is meant to install modern toilet facilities to avert the outbreak of epidemics. Unfortunately, the level of sensitization and acceptance of modern facilities of toilets is very low.
“We went to a particular community and they told us that what they are using as a toilet facility is just a big drainage that passes behind their household and that was what was used by their grandfather, and they do not intend changing it in the nearest future. This is calamitous.”
He called on the state and federal government to increase sensitization against open defecation and educate residents more on the hazard of such a habit to the health of the community.
Oluwasegun Oluwagbemiga, a health management specialist in Ilorin, said that the government needs to provide more mobile toilets and put up signs in English, pidgin and local dialects to sensitise the people on proper toilet behavior whilst ensuring that defaulters of open defecation are adequately sanctioned.
- This Report was supported by Solacebase online publication with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.