Open defecation: Beyond Executive Order 009




Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari last week signed Executive Order 009 aimed at ending open defecation in Nigeria which has a huge portion of its population practising open defecation. SAMSON BENJAMIN, OMOTOLA SUNDAY AND SHUKURAH ABDULSALAMI examine the implications of open defecation and the possible impact of the Executive Order.  

The federal government has said Nigeria now ranked number one in the world with people practicing open defecation. The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, disclosed this while declaring open a two-day private sector forum on sanitation on November 8, in Abuja.

According to Adamu, Nigeria currently ranks number one in terms of the number of people practicing open defecation in Africa.

“We are on the brink of being ranked first globally, as approximately 47 million people do not have access to sanitation services in its most basic form.

“Understandably, this is a serious concern to all of us, as it has immense economic consequences and also hinders the social development of the country,” he said.

Continuing he said: “Besides the exposure to diseases, there is a lack of dignity that is inherent in open defecation practices, particularly with regard to women and girls. As such, there is also a gender inequality issue which must be addressed with urgency.

“If effective solutions are not found, the non-availability of sanitation facilities inadvertently further exposes women and girls to violence including rape, when they are forced to go out at night to defecate in the open.

“Again, I will emphasise that this problem has many layers in terms of the vast consequences. As part of the efforts to address this issue with particular reference to ending open defecation, a National Roadmap towards making Nigeria Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2025 was developed and launched in 2016.

“However, only minimal progress has been achieved in the implementation of the Roadmap with only 14 LGAs across the country so far being certified as open defecation free, according to the National ODF Protocol.

“However, it is comforting to note the positive efforts being made by my ministry in the WASH sector toward improving the living standards of our people both in the rural and urban areas.

“Access to Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene are part of the indices for socio-economic development of any nation and thus cannot be ignored.”

High prevalence

Similarly, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, an environmentalist and founder of Green Earth, Mrs Moranyo Ajayi, lamented the high prevalence of open defecation in spite of its health implications.

She said: “Open defecation, which has become a daily occurrence in many parts of Nigeria, is not only a practice that infringes on human dignity, but that which in addition has severe consequences on people’s health and on the environment.

“Pressed by the urge to respond to the call of nature, many Nigerians throw caution to the winds and resort to depositing faeces in gutters, canals, roadsides, bushes and corners.

“In houses where there are no proper toilet systems, occupants defecate inside polythene bags, and throw them into open spaces and adjourning premises; sometimes, they drop them behind their houses.

“Despite the existence of environmental laws and efforts by the Nigerian government to improve sanitation and reduce the high rate of open defecation that is defacing the country, Nigeria is at the verge of becoming the world capital city of open defecation.”

47m practising open defecation disgraceful

Similarly, the Director of International Programmes, WaterAid UK, Ms Olga Ghazaryan has described Nigerian 47 million people still practicing open defecation as disgraceful, considering the country’s wealth.

Ghazaryan, however, commended the country’s correct political will at addressing the menaces of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Speaking to Blueprint Weekend on the high rate of open defecation in Nigeria she said: “For a country that is so rich, I think, it is a disgrace that such millions of people still defecate in the open and it is something that is possible to address in the time frame set up by the government. And I think if the political will is sustained, and the civil societies, private sector come together and citizens are committed to doing it, it’s achievable.

“I commend the political will at addressing the challenge of open defecation, which is very exciting. I participated in the launch of open defecation free campaign by the federal government and the national Action Plan for the WASH emergency adopted by the government, it shows the enormous increase in the campaign to address WASH crisis in Nigeria.”

Nigerians reacts

Blueprint Weekend also sought the opinion of Nigerians on the rising cases of open defecation; and most of them attributed it to poverty.

 Abdulhamid Ibrahim a student said “Poverty is one of the reasons most people defecate openly. Most Nigerians are very poor and even find it hard to eat three square meals a day let alone to rent a house that has a toilet.

Similarly, Omole Wisdom a business man also attributed the problem to poverty. He said: “It is actually as a result of poverty. Large number of people cannot install toilet so they resolve to going to the bush or open field to defecate.

 “I think inadequate sensitization from the government too is another reason. If people get more information about the threats open defecation poses to their health, it will discourage them from practicing it,” he said.

On his part, Mr Solomon Arowolo a corps member said “the absence of proper regulations against the practice of open defecations often makes the practice common among Nigerians.”

Also, Mrs Saudat Bamidele a trader says, “unavailability of toilet facilities gives people no option than to practice open defecations. Most Nigerians reside in an environment where public facilities such as toilet are not readily available or accessible.”

Executive Order 009

Meanwhile, in a bid to end open defecation, President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the Executive Order 009 entitled “The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order.

“The Executive Order 009, which takes effect from Wednesday, November 20, 2019, came into being against the background that Nigeria is ranked second amongst the nations in the world with the highest number of people practicing open defecation estimated at over 47 million people.

“The practice has had a negative effect on the populace and has contributed to the country’s failure to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” a statement issued by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, noted.

Continuing he said: “President Buhari is committed to end open defecation throughout the country by 2025 in consonance with her commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“President Buhari described the statistics on open defecation and access to pipe borne water service and sanitation as disturbing, and declared commitment to implement the National Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Action Plan.

“The President has also declared a State of Emergency on Nigeria’s water supply, sanitation and hygiene sector, the action being imperative as it will reduce the high prevalence of water borne diseases in different parts of the country which have caused preventable deaths.”

Call for action

The Executive Director, Safe Toilets Nigeria, Mr Nuhu Onoja, said considering the huge number of Nigerians that practice open defecation the call for action from all tiers of government to accelerate progress on sanitation projects globally and nationally was imperative.

Onoja also stressed the need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes to absorb more funds.

“Instead of us all chasing the numbers, with scattered and relatively small projects and programmes, I really think that we need to pull together and strengthen the system and absorption capacity to scale up and accelerate programming.

“We need to get behind ending open defecation roadmaps, we need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes so that we can absorb more money but we don’t have our own monitoring frameworks,’’ he said.

Similarly, a public health expert, Dr Andrew Iyoha, told our correspondent that the ingestion of human faeces is possible and common in communities with open defecation or without improved toilet.

Iyoha said open defecation was behaviour that has serious negative impact on human health and the health of other living organisms consumed by human beings.

“Faeces is a waste product from the body and it contains organisms that can cause several diseases such as Diarrhoea, Sepsis, Cholera, Typhoid, Dysentery and Viral infections; which when people, especially children that are immune-compromised are affected and the risk of death is very high.

“When you defecate openly, which most times is done on the top soil, flies which are major carriers of waterborne diseases perch on the faeces and also perch on food items at home or market places, which many people consume, especially in areas where hygiene is also poor.

“Another way of transmission is during rainy season, the faeces are washed into drains and sources of water such as pipes that pass portable water, river, streams and wells as well as into the underground to contaminate borehole water used for drinking and cooking. This is a risk.

“The washed faeces can also enter rivers or lagoons and it can harm coastal lives or make them reservoirs of these pathogens that eventually get to humans through the food chain. This is why it is agreed that you might be eating and drinking your shit unknowingly,’’ he said.

Iyoha called for intensified awareness on the fact that people can actually eat and drink their own ‘shit’ through open defecation, get infected and even die as a result of it.

“People do not know the health implication; therefore, awareness needs to be created to change attitudes and behaviours.

“Educate households on the need to have toilets and access to clean water, educate them on the need to maintain good hygiene by boiling or adding chlorine to treat their water as well as hand hygiene after using toilet with running water and soap,’’ he said.

Beyond Executive Order

However, Mrs Ajayi has expressed concern with the Executive Order, stating that Nigeria may not meet the 2025 target for ending open defecation except it put certain measures in place.

“We are a people given to setting unrealistic dates for achieving national agenda. We have plenty of them; the catchiest one being Vision 20:2020, promulgated by the Yar’Adua administration, where Nigeria was postulated to be among the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. Alas, 2020 is just around the corner, are we there yet?

“It is for this reason that I, for one, am concerned about the latest date set for yet another national campaign. The full title of the Executive Order 009 is “The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order”.

According to her, “In my view, beyond the name and the following proclamation that the order established in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, a national secretariat to be known as ‘Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat’, there is no other resemblance to a focused action looking towards 2025.

“I say focused action because it is not as if Nigeria has been without the requisite government institutions to ensure that we are open defecation-free. To be specific, every government in a modern democracy has already been structured to address issues surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene. We have always had the government functionaries whose primary duty it is to inspect public places and people’s homes with a view to ensuring that the citizens have properly designed and situated facilities for defecation.

“Therefore, before we talk about ending open defecation by 2025, let us ask pertinent questions. What has this body of environmental health officers been doing for our government? What is the gap in their service delivery which has allowed an open defecation bazaar in Nigeria?

“What strategies did other countries deploy to become open-defecation free? Without answering the above questions and properly drawing a practical blueprint for a nationwide deployment of critical stakeholders to accomplish the task, any talk about 2025 would be self-deceptive, at best.”

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