Open Defecation, Old Tradition That Lingers On?



By: Mayen Etim


KADUNA, North-West, Nigeria – Open defecation simply put is the practice of openly discharging, excretion of the impurities inside us and which are due to go out from our system.  When this is done the person is relieved of unnecessary discomfort or internal disorder so that it might not generate internal diseases.

The practice of openly defecating is as old as man and have persisted to the extent that it could be done at places like playing or recreational grounds, thick or light bushes, forests, ditches, even side streets, or abandon buildings or other open spaces not really meant for defecation.

Many do so just because they don’t have a toilet or due to inherited or traditional cultural practices which is common among the people.

At a 2-day workshop on Media Dialogue on Sanitation tagged: “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” Campaign organized by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau, (CRIB), Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in Kano, with supports from the Department for International Development, (DFID), and the European Union, (EU).  UNICEF’s Communication Specialist, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku said open defection has greatly affected the country’s national development, hence, now it is the time to stop the ugly trend in the country.

According to him, Nigeria ranked second among countries practicing open defecation in the world after India, adding that findings from the 2018 Water Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey, showed that 24 per cent of the country’s population (47 million people) practice open defecation, while 33 million used unimproved toilets.

He explained that open defecation has an economic, social and health implications on national development, pointing out that over 100,000 children under-five years of age die each year due to diarrhea of which 90 per cent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation.

Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Head Child Rights Information Bureau, (CRIB), in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture,  Mr. Olumide Osanyipeju, disclosed that the Federal Government has declared a state of emergency on WASH Nigeria and launched an Open Defecation Free, (ODF), campaign strategy to jump-start the country’s journey towards ending open defecation.

He disclosed further that the “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign is one of the most ambitious behavior-change campaigns in Nigeria with a strong citizen/public engagement component leveraging on what is currently working in the states with Local Government Areas’ certified ODF; this campaign mode will create a national movement with elements of policy advocacy, public advocacy, grassroots mobilization, and private sector engagement. According to him, sanitation is essential to the survival and development of children, as it can reduce the severity and impact of malnutrition as well as help in reducing the spread of intestinal worms, promote dignity and boost safety, particularly among women and children.

According to research, about 892 million people or 12 percent of the global population practice open defecation in 2016, while 76 percent (678 million) of the 892 million people practicing open defecation in the world lived in about seven countries including Nigeria.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that the practice of open defecation pollutes the environment as much as it causes high rate of various health hazards.

This can be linked to the high rate of child mortality, poor or lack of nutrition, extreme poverty, and large disparities existing between rich and poor.  However, while the poor take solace in open defecation, the rich and even not too rich enjoy the use of enclosure, called rest room where the user is in comfort zone devoid of any embarrassment, harassment or disturbances in addition to maintenance of dignity, privacy and respect.

The reasons for the persistent practice of open defecation are varied and such practice are found in local areas where adequate provisions are not provided for the people and thereby made them to create an habit which can be voluntary or hereditary.

Reacting to the habit, Chef Matthew Oladele said in an interview that other things such as high rate of poverty, illiteracy and poor orientation about sanitation and its negative effect on citizens are some of the reasons open defections are still going on across the country.

Oladele who is in the hospitality business said some people due to high level of poverty could not afford modern toilet and accommodation, so they just believe in open defection, adding that it will be very difficult to see an educated person practice the act, but is highly pronounced among the illiterates and since there is still high rate of illiteracy in Nigeria there is the still tendency for open defecation.

A veteran Journalist, Hajiya Zainab Tanimu believed it has to do with the background of an individual. She called on parents to wake up to their responsibility by impacting good morals on their children. She said when a child is trained right from the cradle to properly use the toilet when such a child grew up, he/she will not indulge in the habit of openly defecating in places.

Speaking in the same vein, a school teacher Mr. Ibitoye Damola believed that it has to do with the environment because majority of people that grow up in the village don’t really have toilets, so the background of an individual determines the level at which he is exposed to things, and that can also contributed to how an individual behave in any circumstances. Another reason, he said, is the level of illiteracy and such people don’t see reason why they have to protect themselves against germs which may come as a result of defecating in open places.

He believed, it is high time; the government do something to change the ugly trend, and suggested a national orientation for the masses on the importance of having toilets, in order to avoid what diseases that can come from open defecation which exposes one to germs that could lead to sicknesses and diseases especially for the children.

However, most of the reasons for the continuous open defection are; lack of access to a toilet, lack of provision for such places by the government has continued to make the practice as acceptable norms without minding the risks involved.  In some climes, the practice even among people with toilets is still going on because there is lack of orientation by the authority concern most especially in local government areas.

It will not be out of place to say that a few broad factors that resulted in the practice of open defecation is the absence of enough public toilets for the people which are supposed to be the responsibility of the authority concerned.  This among many other factors including malfunctioned and unhygienic infrastructure made the people to turn to everywhere to pass defecation at any slightest time especially for those who are transit.  They used open defecation to satisfy themselves since the government has failed in that direction to make adequate provision for citizens to enjoy good toilets and areas of relaxation.

It has been noticed that even in the so-called semi-urban or towns, rural communities the use of toilets for other purposes cannot be ruled out, purposes such as storing household items, animals, chickens, farm products or even used as kitchens which make such people to go outside to defecate and abandoned their toilets.

As earlier said, other major examples are lack of public toilets in cities which posses a big problem for ‘homeless’ people, who hire and reside in houses without toilets. Talking of poor quality of toilet, sometimes people have access to poorly built toilet, or being in a dilapidated state and would not like to use it. Pit latrines in particular are typically devoid of any type of cleaning and full of odors. Sometimes, they are not well lit, especially in areas that lack electricity; others lack doors or may not have water. People generally dislike toilets with maggots or cockroaches; hence, they go out to defecate.

People who do open defecation face risk and insecure because some toilets are risky to access, there posed risks to personal safety as they may be dangerous to access at night due to lack of lights, criminals around them, the presence of animals such as snakes and dogs.

Most importantly, women and children who have no access to good toilets inside their houses are often found to be scared to access shared or public toilets, especially at night.

Provision of toilet but not with privacy can occur where some toilets do not have a door, but a piece of disused cloth hung as a door.  In some communities, toilets are located in places where women are shy to access them due to the presence of men, hence, importance of privacy.

Additional task and time wasting factor, is the lack of water and with the absence of supply of water inside or next to toilets which could cause people to get water from a distance before using the toilet, is an additional task and needs extra time. This is especially true in case of shared or public toilets where too many people want to use a toilet at the same time. Those who are badly pressed may go outside to open defecate instead of waiting.

However, persistent open defecation by people could be due to lack of awareness or ignoring same and deliberately too. In most cases, people in some communities claim or pretend that they do not know about the    benefits of using toilets which has led them to the behavior of open defecation at all times without considering the health implications for the entire area even when toilets are provided by government or non-government organization, these people ignorantly abandoned such building for reptiles to take over because of lack of awareness and exposure.

In some less populated or rural areas, it has been discovered that majority of people in such environment often prefer to wake up in the morning and walk outside to defecate in the fields or bushes without considering what their behavior would cause another person’s health.

In her paper titled: “Cleaning Up Nigeria is a task that must be done” Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Scroll Nigeria, Janet Mba Afolabi admonished the media to be the principal partner in the campaign to clean up Nigeria, noting that media advocacy is key to persuade local, state or federal governments to make policy changes, provide or create new laws to sustain the national movement, saying credibility is a great virtue for a journalist.

From all indications it has become the norm that open defecation is a part of people’s life and daily habit in certain countries across the globe. It is an ancient practice which is hard for many people to put a stop to the ugly practice. In fact, it has become a routine and a social norm that would take a long time before it could be completely eradicated.

However, the government should come to the rescue and provide for the people enough toilets and other infrastructure for their use so that the issue of open defecation would become a thing of the past.


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