The shameless culture of open defecation in Lagos and Ogun communities is brewing a serious public health crisis, according to health experts.
LARA ADEJORO who visited the communities report that residents are at risk of cholera, typhoid and other infection outbreaks:
For regular commuters journeying from Ogun to Lagos State through the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, seeing persons engaging in open defecation on that popular route has become almost a normal occurrence.
Daily, many persons are sighted on this route, sneaking out under the cover of darkness; some hide behind shrubs and bushes at dawn; others squat under bridges – they are all going to such troubles to answer the call of nature.
Privacy is not a choice for them. They take to the towpaths, public spaces, busy roadsides, and even the highways.
They are the bus drivers, passengers, street urchins and passers-by. Sometimes, they lower their heads in an attempt to cover their indignity while on it.
However, beyond the embarrassment of these people, the unhygienic practice of open defecation, according to health experts, helps infections to fester and their spread widened. Among its significant health risks, physicians said, are deaths from diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid
And the practice is not about to end
Despite the Executive Order 009 titled “The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order”, which was signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) in November 2019, the menace still thrives.
According to UNICEF, around 46 million Nigerians defecate in the open. Another 56 million people are estimated to be added within the next ten years.
From Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to Kara and from Berger to Ojota, heaps of faeces, most times with maggots, are scattered around the road.
Some people have blamed this unhygienic practice on poverty and lack of government support in providing toilet facilities. Others, however, have argued that in places where the facility is available, defecating in the open still prevails.
“It’s a personal thing. No reasonable person will defecate in open places. Sometimes, they will just come down from the bus or their cars any time of the day and bend anywhere to defecate,” said the head of the Kara Market, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ogun State, Mr. Mutairu Agboola.
He added that some of the people who engage in the practice actually look rich and intelligent.
“You will think they know better but they don’t. We have toilets in the market here. So, the people who do such are not people here.
“The Ogun State government officials used to patrol here to put this thing in check but I think they stopped a year ago,” he said.
Just on the roads, there are mounds of dark brown strong-smelling excreta on the lanes and the walkways.
The sarki in charge OPIC/Kara, Mr. Umaru Hamisu, explained how most of the perpetrators time their actions.
These people excrete in the middle of the night, not in the morning. Sometimes, they are passengers who are travelling; sometimes they are the area boys.”
According to him, some people cannot afford to pay the money to defecate in the public toilet, so they take to the road to relieve themselves.
A check on the pit latrines built with zincby the residents showed that they are dirty and stinking, with a high possibility of mosquito infestation.
“If you want to poo, you will pay N100, but if you want to urinate, you will pay N50,” one of the officials said.
Also, at Wawa, a suburb on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, from the boardwalk to the bushes and under the bridge, the sight is sickening. Dry and fresh human wastes are everywhere.
Residents say they’re fed up seeing faeces around, in addition to the hazard of contracting diseases.
“Just walk a bit to the road, you will see all manner of faeces there. They will just come down from their cars or bus to heap the thing there,” one of the residents, Mr. Seun Ajayi, said.
Lack of public conveniences
At Berger motor park, there is only one functional public toilet serving the people-the drivers, passengers, passers-by.
The other modern toilet facility built by the state government at the Berger/Ojodu park is under lock and key.
To avoid an accident, anybody pressed can enter a shack or an uncompleted building around to relieve themselves, free of charge.
Our correspondent learnt that the only functional toilet opens at 6 am and closes at 9 pm. Thus, when nature calls on travellers or road transport workers thereafter, the alternative is obvious.
A male user of the toilet pays N50 to urinate and N100 to defecate; but a female user pays N100, whether she wants to defecate or urinate. The amount doesn’t cover flushing, hand-washing or toiletries.
An attendant at the facility said officials from the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority occasionally visit to monitor the environment.
A member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers who identified himself as Ola at the park said those who are in an emergency defecate in the open.
He noted that in-bound travellers who get stranded are sometimes forced to defecate in the open as there are not enough community toilets to cater for a large number of people and the available toilets remain closed at night.
“The people sleeping at night here are more than people sleeping at home and when they are pressed, there is no toilet to use and they have no choice than to use the roadside,” he said.
He advised the Lagos State task force monitoring team to include night patrol in their effort to stop the nightly open defecation.
The unionist lamented the decision to keep the toilet shut at night, and charging N100 to just take a dump during the day.
“How many people can afford to use the toilet for N100 when they want to defecate?”
The privately-owned mobile toilets where users pay N100 or N50 to defecate or urinate around the park are mostly unkempt. The foul smell of faeces, urine and dirty water hangs thick in the air.
Health workers warn diseases spread easily here
Of all the reasons residents gave, our correspondent was able to confirm that there are not enough toilets and the available ones are poorly maintained.
The public toilet at the Ojota motor park lacks running water. The attendant usually fetches buckets of water from a distance to clean the toilet as much as he can.
“We have to charge people for using the toilet here. I remit money to the state government monthly and I buy water and take care of the place,” the attendant said.
Also, at the Biode park in Ojota, there is only a toilet built by the NURTW. It is in a deplorable condition.
Government’s predictable response
Efforts to get authorities at the Ministry of Environment in Lagos State to comment on the problem failed. Calls to the telephone number of the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Belinda Odeneye rang out, while a text message sent to her was not replied to as of the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, said the state is advocating against the practice.
“Through the local government and the private organisations, we are trying to set up public toilet facilities and people can use them for just a token for the place to be kept clean.
“There is a government policy to ensure that that is stopped. With the office of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are trying to provide more public toilets, and ensure that open defecation is eradicated,” Omotoso said.
While speaking with our correspondent, the Press Officer of Ogun State Waste Management Authority, Mr. Rotimi Oduniyi, said he is not in the position to speak on the issue.
“We discovered that most people who engage in the practice always do it late in the evening and at night and we are planning to stop the practice and get people arrested,” he said, promising to get back.
However, he did not get back to our correspondent at the time of filing this report.
Public health crisis
According to the World Health Organisation, open defecation perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. The organisation also adds that countries, where open defection is most widespread, have the highest number of deaths of children aged under five years,as well as the highest levels of malnutrition and poverty and big disparities of wealth.
Speaking, a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer, Department of Community Health and Primary Care, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. Doyin Ogunyemi said a small gram of faeces contains hundreds of dangerous viruses.
She said people defecate in the open mostly because they do not have access to the toilet or it’s not clean enough to use.
“Some, maybe due to socio-cultural background, have a bit of behaviour as part of the problem. The practice can cause a lot of health issues, from air pollution to infections like typhoid, fever, cholera, polio and diarrhoea.
“Open defecation can lead to water-borne and food-borne diseases,” she said.
She noted that, in more developed countries, there are public toilets in good condition that one can use.
“We don’t have enough toilets. Even in public institutions where there are toilets, they are under lock and key; that itself can make people go find somewhere to use the toilet.”
For her, it is both a behavioural problem and the failure of the government in providing public toilets.
“Private bodies too have a role to play, it can be monetised and people can use it,” she said.
The public health expert added that the country may not be able to end open defecation by 2025, if the necessary wherewithal is not put in place.
“I do not know how we want to eliminate open defecation by 2025 because the fund needed is in the billions, and if the government has not been able to provide all that is needed, we may not be able to achieve it and we will continue to grapple with outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and all other diseases.” Ogunyemi said.
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