Hadiza Mohammed and Ibukun Oguntola (Lead Writers)
Editor’s note: We are counting down to 2025 when Nigeria expects to end open defecation. Although significant progress has been made, much work still needs to be done. As Nigeria works to meet this goal, here are some suggestions for how the “messy business” of open defecation can be eliminated in Nigeria.
The world is significantly behind track in reaching universal access to adequate sanitation, with billions of people lacking access to proper toilets and sewage systems. What is even more concerning is that those living in poor and rural communities remain the furthest from essential progress in this area.
Inadequate sanitation is a major contributor to disease transmission globally, yet appropriate hygiene and sanitation practices have been shown to positively affect public health. In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that an estimated 1.4 million global deaths from diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, soil-transmitted helminthiases and undernutrition could have been prevented through the provision of safe Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services, that year alone.
Progress towards the elimination of open defecation in Nigeria
In 2018, a state of emergency was declared in the WASH sector, and the federal government launched the nationwide Clean Nigeria: Use The Toilet campaign, accompanied by the development of a National Roadmap to achieve an open-defecation-free (ODF) Nigeria by the year 2025. The following year, the national roadmap for ending open defecation in Nigeria estimated that 50 million Nigerians, or 10 million households, practised open defecation.
Today, that figure has not changed substantially. According to findings from the 2021 WASH NORM report, approximately 48 million Nigerians still engage in open defecation and only 8% of the population practice clean handwashing. Furthermore, 23% of Nigerians lack access to basic water supply services, and only 10% have access to a combination of basic water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
Following the launch of the Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet campaign, the Nigerian government, in partnership with UNICEF, officially designated Jigawa as the country’s first open defecation-free state in October 2022, setting a commendable precedent that is yet to be matched by other states.
In July 2023, the Nigerian Government declared substantial progress in its mission to eliminate open defecation nationwide. They reported that a total of 104 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across various states had successfully achieved open defecation-free status. This progress is commendable and a far cry from the one Local Government Area in Cross River State, which was able to stop open defecation in 2017.
The challenge of attaining the goal to eliminate open defecation by 2025
Despite tremendous progress, a major challenge hindering an open-defecation-free country remains access to proper sanitation facilities. Speaking on a panel at the Nutrition Policy Dialogue organised by Nigeria Health Watch in June 2023, Dr. Jane Bevan, the Chief of the WASH Section at UNICEF Nigeria, said: “Nigeria’s population is exceeding 200 million, it is dismaying that approximately one-fourth of the populace still lacks access to proper sanitation facilities, resulting in a significant prevalence of open defecation.”
Besides access to services, Nigeria’s potential challenges in attaining the objective of eliminating open defection by 2025 may include inadequate access to clean water for maintaining good sanitation practices, a growing population, and lack of public awareness, including challenges related to service accessibility.
Empowering states and local governments to lead the charge against open defecation
States hosting Nigeria’s largest commercial cities, such as the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, Rivers, and Anambra, among the states that are home to Nigeria’s largest commercial centres, persistently face the challenge of open defecation.
Significant investment has been made in implementation; however, it is critical to acknowledge that achieving open-defecation-free status requires active participation of state and local governments. Acknowledging this, Lagos State domesticated the “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet Campaign” in Apapa Local Government in June 2023 by launching a localised campaign in the LGA and aligning with the national goal of eliminating open defecation by 2025.
To achieve the goal of the campaign, it is crucial that other states adopt and implement similar initiatives.
While there is still a bit of time until the 2025 deadline, it is imperative to reemphasise some of the key recommendations from the roadmap to ending open defecation in Nigeria:
- There needs to be multi-sectoral collaboration towards the construction of additional restroom facilities in educational institutions, marketplaces, internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and various public locations. Simultaneously, there is a pressing need for continuous public awareness campaigns through mediums such as radio advertisements, social media initiatives, and other communication channels.
- The government must demonstrate unwavering political commitment to prioritise sanitation and hygiene as fundamental to national development objectives. Adequate financial resources should be allocated to support sanitation initiatives.
- Investments should be made in the construction and maintenance of public and community toilets, particularly in rural areas with limited access, should be a top priority. It is also crucial to draw from successful community efforts for sustainable solutions for open defecation. Promoting the use of affordable and appropriate sanitation technologies is also essential.
- Implementing Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programmes can effectively engage communities in identifying and addressing sanitation issues, encouraging them to take ownership of sanitation and hygiene improvement efforts.
- Collaboration with private sector companies is crucial to developing and maintaining sanitation infrastructure. Exploring innovative financing mechanisms to fund sanitation projects and seeking support from international organisations, such as UNICEF and WHO, for technical expertise for sanitation projects should be actively pursued.