Right in the middle of a major street and on a Sunday morning, a middle-aged man cleverly knelt down and was ‘easing’ himself in the heart of the nation’s commercial nerve-centre, Lagos. It was indeed a gory sight. This would not be the first time to experience such barbarism. It is an unfortunate experience that had gradually become a regular occurrence across many villages, cities and towns in our country.
Dearth of public toilets and restrooms is a big problem that has not been accorded adequate attention. Ordinarily, one may feel that of the many problems plaguing us as a people, should a prosaic matter like toilets be considered a big issue? Yes, it is because it has to do with human life and safety. The urge to pass out waste from the body is a natural process that man and animals should experience. If this call of nature is not obeyed, there are bound to be serious problems.
On several occasions, I had tried to find out whether people have decent and useable restrooms but my findings have shown the opposite. It is either they complain of lack of water or an outright non-existence of such facility. It is common to see human waste littering our streets and public spaces. What many people do is to wait for when it’s dark and answer the nature’s call anywhere that is available without considering the public safety of their actions. At times, some people do not care and just do it in the open and everywhere stinks.
Many houses are built without toilets. For such house-owners, it is usually not their first priority to build houses with all facilities at a go. This often worsens the health conditions of the people as they make do with make-shift structures. Apart from the financial implications and weak regulatory monitoring, poor access to toilet facilities is hindered by cultural and social norms because some African communities still see the use of the open space, bushes and rivers as a social norm while the building of toilets in homes is seen as a taboo. For those who hold such wrong belief, defecating in home toilet – where one lives – is animalistic and not ideal.
Littering of streets with human waste, apart from the health risks, is barbaric. It does not portray our people and government in good light before foreigners and international investors. On the seriousness of the problem, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that over 47 million Nigerians lack access to basic toilet facilities, as many homes and schools in Nigeria also do not have safe, private toilets and hand-washing facilities. Corroborating UNICEF, WaterAid stated that Nigeria would only be able to deliver a community source of clean water within the recommended 30-minute round trip to the people by 2039.
There is need for improvement with more access to public toilets in Nigeria at affordable cost. In countries like the United States of America, most public toilets do not require payment before use, as the ‘customers only’ rule may apply. Public restrooms in Europe require fees to use while in many African countries such as Kenya, it is not cheap to use public toilets; a development that costs the Kenyan economy over $320 million annually with about 20,000 citizens, including over 17,000 children under the age of five, dying every year.
In view of the high level of unemployment pervading the land, going into that business line of operating public toilets should interest many individuals and corporate firms. It is an area that is worth venturing into because of the apparent shortage of restrooms across many cities and town across the country. Apart from providing gainful employment, daily proceeds from users of the facility would remain a source of income for the people, as not much capital is required to start off.
At the institutional level, state governments should increase public enlightenment and look at their building codes to enforce the need for people to build toilets and the appropriate kinds of toilets in their houses. A former Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, had enjoined state governments to enact bye-laws to ban open defecation in the country, adding that Nigeria had developed a Roadmap and Action Plan to reposition the water and sanitation sector in a bid to end open defecation by 2025. Local governments should also establish as many mobile toilets as possible, to provide comfort for the people. These can be done through public-private partnership initiatives.
No doubt, people should be disciplined and restrain themselves from polluting the environment and constituting nuisance. Law enforcement agents should be up and doing by trying offenders found engaging in indiscriminate littering of streets with human waste. More mobile courts should be deployed to several locations across the country to try and punish offenders. What makes a nation advanced or developed is not only in terms of technology, military and economy, but its urbanity when it comes to finesse and decorum on the part of the citizenry. We need more restrooms across the land.