Why Nigeria's Campaign To End Open Defecation Is Failing

Like India, Nigeria's attention to the issue of open defecation has become a front burner.

In 2016, Nigeria launched an action plan aimed at ending open defecation by 2025. The plan involves providing equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation. More than 892 million people around the world defecate in the open, and in Nigeria, 70% of the population currently don't have access to a toilet or clean water. But not having access to clean water and toilets has a knock-on effect in all areas of life: it can encourage the spread of life-threatening illnesses, impact children's school attendance, force adults to miss days of work, as well as contribute to malnutrition and poverty. 

Drinking contaminated water and being exposed to poor sanitary conditions results in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases. This includes diarrhea — which leads to the deaths of more than 70,000 children under five every year in Nigeria. According to the World Bank, 1 in 10 children in Nigeria dies before the age of five in part due to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Just like India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi did, President Buhari has directed the government at all levels to redouble its efforts. In a speech at the time of the emergency declaration in November, he said the 2030 global goals on WASH "cannot be achieved if we continue with a business as usual approach. Henceforth, federal government support to state governments will be based on their commitment to implement the National WASH Action Plan in their respective states and to end open defecation by 2025." But several months later, advocates say little has changed — not least because the federal government is yet to release its share of funding for the initiative. Some state governments have also not yet provided funding, which officials attributed to the country's many challenges, including insecurity.

In the meantime, NGOs are working where they can to get the ball rolling on ending open defecation in Nigeria. Identified by experts as a major factor is Financing: Nigeria needs an estimated 959 billion Nigerian naira ($2.7 billion) to end open defecation by 2025. Of that, the government is expected to provide around 25%, or NGN234 billion — justified on the grounds that the country loses NGN455 billion annually to poor sanitation. The other 75% of the cost will be incurred by households. "The majority of the costs to households will be spent on constructing toilets for those that don't have [them], while funds from the government will be spent on public projects, including ensuring access to toilet facilities in public places," explained Zaid Jurji, head of WASH at UNICEF Nigeria. With so much money expected to be pumped into the challenge, the government is encouraging the emergence of a toilet business ecosystem, which includes innovative toilet designers, and financiers to provide loans and other financial tools to households, community organizations, and more.

One in four Nigerians — about 47 million people — practice open defecation, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF's joint monitoring report, particularly in the north of the country where there is less access to good toilets. Fewer than half of households in Nigeria have their own toilet. As Nigeria counts down to its open defecation elimination goal, development experts and academics want to see political support for Clean Nigeria beyond 2025 to address infrastructure gaps and ensure last-mile quality sanitation access. But for now, not many Nigerians demonstrate the expected unparalleled positive behavior change, according to to report...The practice of open dedication brings with it significant health risks linked to deaths from diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid. It is also a risk factor for violence against women and girls who, for example, may need to leave home in the dark to find somewhere to defecate.

"Several toilet financing options are available to help households," explained a WASH expert, ranging from local bartering arrangements — one woman traded a goat for a pour flush toilet, for example — to government-provided revolving loans for communities. But advocates say a wide gap exists between ambition and action. To meet the 2025 target, Nigeria needs to build 2 million toilets every year from 2019 to 2025. Bioye Ogunjobi, a WASH specialist for UNICEF, said the country is currently delivering about 100,000 toilets annually. "The current effort is like a drop in the ocean," Ogunjobi said. Nonetheless, Chizoma Opara, acting coordinator of "Clean Nigeria" — the government's behavior change campaign on ending open defecation, which is supported by UNICEF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank, among others — hinted that the government is fully committed to the project.

She said she and other stakeholders had visited India to study their strategies and were aiming to localize and replicate them in Nigeria, describing the campaign as having the potential to be a "transformational" social movement. Communities take charge as they wait for the full roll-out of the initiative; UNICEF and its partners are already working with some states, local governments, and interest groups to make what progress they can. So far, 11 of Nigeria's 774 local government areas have been certified as free from open defecation — a process that involves the establishment of a local committee and random checks by government officials. But both WASH advocates and government officials acknowledged that more needs to be happening if the country is to have a chance of meeting its 2025 target.

Development commentator Kevwe Oghide said she would like to see laws prohibiting open defecation — which has already happened in some states — and urged companies to take on sanitation in their corporate social responsibility work. "We need mobile toilets, to repair broken facilities, better water supply," she said. But she added: "It is not enough to provide clean and safe toilets … There is also a need to change behaviors as a means to bridge the gap between building latrines and their proper use." Jurji averred that successful efforts are happening in some areas — from legislation to toilet construction to the participation of state authorities. "Everyone is working, but this needs to be happening across the country to achieve desired results," he said.

 *The situation in Lagos* :

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos, Nigeria, made it clear his recommitment to rewriting the narrative around water and sanitation access in his state — pledging to embed the "transformative power of toilets" in policy-making. The governor made this known while peaking at an event in New York during UN General Assembly week in September 2019, hosted by Global Citizen partner Reckitt Benckiser; Sanwo-Olu said that having access to modern toilet facilities and proper sanitation is an issue that is "very often underestimated by many people, for the simple reason that it is very easy for it to be taken for granted." "It is also easy — and erroneous — to assume that it is primarily a rural problem," he said. "It is all too often an urban one as well. I stand here because I have the experience."

Lagos is the largest megacity in Africa and is growing at a "remarkable rate," according to Sanwo-Olu. While it's the most populous, with a population of about 20 million, it's also the smallest by land area of Nigeria's states. "So we know firsthand what it feels like to struggle to make sure clean water is available to everyone," he added. "And for me personally, as governor of Lagos State, it is a defining issue for me, and one to which I am fully committed to creating a sustainable solution for over the next four years." While the campaign continues even though experts argue, at a snail's pace, Global Citizen Impact is convinced that achieving access to clean water and sanitation for everyone is the central aim of the UN's Global Goal 6 — which includes a specific target to end open defecation. "Open defecation is essentially when someone doesn't have access to toilet facilities or information about how to practice safe sanitation, and so goes to fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces to defecate." 

Solape Hammond, Special Adviser on the SDGs to the Lagos State government. Opines that "It's also a particular safety hazard for women and girls who rely on unsafe shared community toilets in public spaces, or who go in the open — leaving them vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse." While both government and the development sector remain committed to the campaign in partnership with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), in support of urging governments at all levels to make the country open defecation-free by 2025, not much seems to be an achieved as the practice continues.

Many Lagos residents, particularly those in the semi-urban places and or the slums still dedicate in the open. "We're talking about access to rights," said Shetty- a WASH expert. "I've heard countless stories of young girls scared to go to the toilet because boys are sexually abusing them." "I implore you all to use the platforms you have access to hold our leaders to account, to encourage leaders," she continued. "Setting up toilets is amazing, but continue to hold them accountable."

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