Gbadegesin Adeyanju reports on the practice of open defecation in Masifa community, Oyo State, and how it pollutes the community’s river, air and impacts the residents adversely
Tucked 144 kilometres from the city centre of Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, is Masifa. Somewhat agrarian and largely calm, the community boasts of some of the most peace-loving people in southwest Nigeria. But something unhealthy goes on here: defecation of human excreta in open fields, waterways, and open trenches.
While the problem is also rife in other communities in the same Ogbomosho North Local Government Area, it is a huge problem Nigeria grapples with. As of 2021, only 71 of the 774 local government areas in the country were free of open defecation, says UNICEF.
About 46 million Nigerians – more than the combined population of Ghana, Cyprus, Malta, Maldives and Belgium – practice open defecation. This means that, in every four Nigerians, one person practices open defecation. Though the rate reduced from 25.5 per cent of the population in 2000 to 18.7 per cent in 2020, according to World Bank data, Nigeria’s progress has been quite slow.
India, which was the global leader in open defecation, has successfully reduced its rate so much that Nigeria has become the new leader based on the percentage of the population practising open defecation, not the number of people involved.
Houses without toilets – one toilet for one street
While poverty and inadequate access to water are contributors to open defecation, the inability to include toilets in building plans of houses is a major contributor. For instance, less than half of households in Nigeria have their own toilets. In Masifa, it is no different.
The practice is age-long, and the current residents of the community do not see reasons for change, said Gbemileke Ajamu, a shop owner in the community.
Houses are built without plans for toilets. It is so bad that many houses in a street could share one toilet. For instance, this reporter found that in the Bolanta area of the community, most houses in a whole street share one toilet.
This means that there’d be a lot of people trying to use the same toilet at the same time and those who can’t wait would be forced to defecate openly, especially in bushes or at the riverside.
Taofeek Oyebode, who spoke on behalf of the Baale of the community, said people build houses in the community without toilets and they see nothing wrong with it.
Oyebode explained that open defecation is rife in Masifa because some residents find it more convenient. This, he hinged on the fact that most houses are old and did not have plans for toilets as open defecation was the norm when they were built.
“Most houses (without toilets) in Masifa are family houses (built 40-100 years ago),” he said. “Houses with toilets are renovated houses.”
Gboyega Olorunfemi, the principal consultant at Enviromax Global Resources, an environmental consultancy firm, believes that the lack of sanitation facilities is a major problem.
He said, “It’s easy and abysmally convenient to defecate openly because there’s a lack of sanitation infrastructure and awareness about its consequences.”
He added that “lack of education about the consequences of their action,” is partly responsible for why people still find open defecation convenient.
“There is a need for more advocacy and a rethink of society’s value system. Open defecation must be discussed as a social, public health and economic challenge for people to understand the much-needed behavioural change. Not only that, the nexus and interconnectivity and the need for a clean environment for proper sanitation and hygiene behaviour must be known to the people,” Olorunfemi added.
And there are implications: many people, especially women and children are exposed to snake bites and attacks from dangerous animals, water bodies get polluted and the stench from indiscriminately defecated faeces pollutes the air.
“Faecal stench during the rainy season is unbearable,” Ajamu said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), open defecation is a leading cause of under-five mortality. It kills 525, 000 children under the age of five every year.
Dr Muktar Gadanya, a consultant and associate professor of Community Medicine at Bayero University, Kano, has said diarrhoea is not the only disease related to open defecation. Another disease, Dr Gadanya said, is typhoid, which kills between 128,000 and 161,000 people every year globally.
Olorunfemi agrees: “Open defecation causes water, soil and air pollution. Through human faeces, toxins and bacteria are introduced to the environment in an uncontrolled amount. Children and young girls are the most vulnerable through exposure to sexual molestation.”
In Masifa, defecating in the community’s Adunin river is a quick option for the residents. It got so rife that the community’s leadership erected a signpost close to the river asking people not to defecate or dump any other kind of waste there again. But it did not work.
“The smell during the evening from the river is worse and unbearable,” Sulia, whose stall is close to the river, said.
Community toilet without water
Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources a few years back came up with a scheme to curb the menace. It launched “Making Nigeria Open Defecation Free by 2025: A National Roadmap”.
With the initiative, it set the target to work with communities, civil society, development agencies, the private sector and government at sub-national levels.
At the community level, there have been interventions, too, like the one in Masifa.
Oyebode said a public toilet has been built for people to stop defecating openly.
“The community toilet built by the youths has been in existence for up to 10 years. Water runs well, and people are employed to take good care of the toilet, yet some people make use of the river in the community to defecate,” he said.
However, when this reporter visited the toilet Oyebode referred to, it was found that it had not been used for about three months.
A woman in her 40s who operates a stall nearby explained that the source of water supply to the toilet has gone bad.
We are trying our best by creating awareness – Govt
On the way forward, Olorunfemi said “government and people must act more responsibly. World Toilet Day should be celebrated in places like Lagos bridge, and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, where open defecation is very rampant.
“While the government may have put in place a stiff penalty to arrest and prosecute anyone violating the environmental laws, there are no agents of the government to enforce the laws.”
So, more health officers should be recruited to checkmate the menace at the local government level, said Olorunfemi.
“The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has got its job cut out for them to amplify advocacy through media houses, associations, and family groups to drive the needed behaviour to control and stop,” he emphasised.
On specific steps being taken in communities like Masifa in Ogbomoso North Local Government Area, the council’s Deputy Director of the Department of Environment Health Services, Mr Adesoji Adebisi, said that government is putting in its very best.
“One of the ways to stop open defecation is by the construction of adequate latrine accommodation in public places like markets and a motor garage.
However, “if toilets are built without good sanitation and hygiene, nothing has been done,” he said.
“We are trying our best by creating awareness, enforcing the law on people we catch and being reported to our office.”
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults under the “Rewriting the Narratives of Environmental Crimes in Nigeria” project which is supported by the Environmental Reporting Collective (ERC)