A War Nigeria Can Win

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe writes that President Muhammadu Buhari’s executive order 009 on open defecation is not only overdue but must also be treated as a high priority.

Nigeria to end Open Defecation by 2025 / Photo credit: pmnewsnigeria.com
Nigeria to end Open Defecation by 2025 / Photo credit: pmnewsnigeria.com

Three days ago, the world celebrated World Toilet’s Day. It was also the International Men’s Day.

I must say I felt more than a bit awkward discussing our precious men on a day dedicated to toilets (if you know what I mean).

I bet not a few people also felt conflicted discussing toilet issues on a day said to be dedicated to men. In the end, some people played safe and avoided the two issues altogether.

But we can no longer look the other way on toilet matters in this country.

Certainly not after the country is said to be on the verge of becoming the open defaecation capital of the world.

Nigeria is one of the 10 African countries that still practices open defecation. We’re also the continental champions as it is, and just waiting to add the global feather to the cap. Indeed, we can’t sit this one out anymore.

So, it was a good thing that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Executive Order 009 which is titled ‘The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order.’

Signing the order is a major step towards ensuring that Nigeria becomes open defecation free by 2025.

Some details of the Order include the establishment of a national secretariat called the ‘Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat’ in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

You only need to walk around Abuja and visit many public places in this capital city to appreciate the reason this executive order might become a life saver in this country

“The Secretariat is authorised on behalf of the President to implement this Order by ensuring that all public places including schools, hotels, fuel stations, places of worship, market places, hospitals and offices have accessible toilets and latrines within their premises,” a part of the executive order read.

You only need to walk around Abuja and visit many public places in this capital city to appreciate the reason this executive order might become a life saver in this country.

Open defecation and urination is so endemic in Abuja that you can only wonder what would must be happening in the rural communities across the country.

Drainages and walkways in some areas of the city are littered with caked and fresh human wastes, deposited by adults, who probably had to conduct their business in such places because they didn’t have other choice.

That’s what you get when you build a city and leave out public toilets and urinary.

Those who probably had choices sometimes, had to stay back home until their business is done, in order not to embarrass themselves in a city where access to public toilets is non-existent along your route to anywhere.

Even the public and also private buildings are not left out in this regrettable deficiency.

Sometimes, even in places where the facilities are available, lack of constant water supply makes it impossible to maintain them and Nigerians being who we are, we choose the easy way out and just lock them up.

How then should the populace relieve themselves outside their homes?

This was the exact scenario that played out at the National Stadium, Abuja, during a public event last weekend. As the event progressed, many participants found that they needed to relieve themselves.

Then came the search for toilets.

The toilets were there alright, but locked. In the end, those who couldn’t hold in their wastes till after the event had to do their business in the open.

The rest of us looked the other way, of course.

We hold in our anger, hunger, homelessness, darkness, sickness and other conditions that lack of essential amenities other nations take for granted have forced up us. (Not clear)

We’re also expected to hold in (reign in?) our wastes in public places or pollute the environment.

But this holding in (reigning in?) doesn’t come cheap. It has far reaching results.

You find that not a few people regulate the water and food they in before leaving their homes daily because they’re afraid of having nowhere to relieve themselves when pressed. In the end, people take in less water than their bodies need as a rule.

It becomes a lifestyle, howbeit, a costly and deadly one. It won’t take long before some organs like the kidney start to malfunction, and boom…we have queues of people living on dialysis and awaiting transplant in India.

Open defecation and urination is so endemic in Abuja that you can only wonder what would must be happening in the rural communities across the country

Oh, you thought not building public toilets ends with cholera, dysentery, typhoid and other water borne diseases? Well, think again. Small causes, great effects. It’s that simple.

You now see why this new executive order from President Buhari must be taken an important first step to end open defecation by 2025.

This can only happen if we get it right and not treat it like another blind vision as we have be known to do in the past.
We can look at India, the country which Nigeria is about snatching this ‘enviable’ trophy from, which was in a worse situation less than five years ago.

Today, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent claims that his country is now open defecation free is sure debatable, the country has come more than a million kilometres from when it wore the open defecation crown unchallenged.

Before the Clean India campaign started in 2014, report had it that only 39 per cent of the country’s households had access to a toilet. According to UNICEF, about 620 million were defecating openly.

Ending open defecation has to do with access and also behaviour. These two must be tackled together relentlessly, if we don’t want President Buhari’s executive order 009 to return to us by 2025, void

A study done in four of the country’s northern states then reported that about 70 per cent of the people living in the rural areas defecated openly. When the same survey was conducted in 2018 (four years later) the figure was down to 44 per cent.

So, though the country built 110 million toilets during within the last five years, it isn’t exactly the 100 per cent success rate Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hoped for and even claiming.

A major setback, it was discovered was that while the government indeed got the toilets built, not much thought was given to maintenance and management.

There was also the issue of doing enough work on the people that will ensure that they use.

So, in the end, I believe ending open defecation has to do with access and also behaviour.

These two must be tackled together relentlessly, if we don’t want President Buhari’s executive order 009 to return to us by 2025, void…like mere words spoken in the wind.

The clock is already ticking…

Written by Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe is the Editor of The Interview Abuja, has worked as a journalist in Punch Nigeria Nigeria Limited and also LEADERSHIP Newspapers where she rose to become the Editorial Director.

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