Open Defecation Free Status: The Journey Thus Far.

According to a 2019 United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) index Nigeria has overtaken India to become the country with the highest number of persons who engage in open defecation. The numbers are staggering, 47 million Nigerians practice open defecation, that’s equivalent to every one in four Nigerians defecating indiscriminately. The UNICEF report also indicated that open defecation is becoming a norm with less than two-thirds of households in Nigeria having good, hygienic and sanitary toilet, these households are mostly resident in densely populated urban slums. These urban slums are home to 53% of the Nigerian populace.

Open defecation also poses a gargantuan risk factor for violence against women and girls who may need to find isolated places to defecate.

The Nigerian government in a bid to tackle this scourge had in November 2018 declared a state of emergency in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector and launched the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ national campaign to militate against the practice of open defecation and achieve the goal of Nigeria becoming open defecation free (ODF) by 2025. To achieve this 5 year roadmap of becoming open defecation free, Nigeria needs to construct about 20 million household toilets and 43,000 toilets in schools, health centres and public places by 2025. The financial cost will require N100bn with the Federal Government expected to provide 25% of the funding.

According to the Open Defecation Free roadmap Nigeria will have to build 2 million toilets per year staring from 2019 to achieve an ODF status by 2025. Although the Open Defecation Free (ODF) roadmap was developed and launched in 2016 key indicators show that minimal effort has been put into implementation. By mid-2019 the country was only building about 100,000 toilets annually and as at August 2019 the Federal Government was yet to release funding for the project and this will certainly affect the timeline for an open defecation free Nigeria.

Current government efforts are largely stagnated at erecting sanitary toilets in urban markets, parks and other public areas, however  open defecation have always been prevalent among urban slums and marginalized communities due to many factors including inability to afford toilet construction, therefore governmental intervention should shift towards forging closer ties with the local government structure across board in order to guarantee that sub urban areas and rural communities where open defecation is more prevalent are provided with more toilets and WASH facilities.

Currently about 53 percent of Nigerians reside in urban slum without sanitary toilets or adequate WASH facilities and only about 40 LGAs out of 774 have been certified ODF, if sanitary toilets are erected in these urban slums the rate of open defecation in Nigeria will drastically drop and make the ODF status realizable by 2025.

To bridge the gap between the current 160,000 toilets been constructed annually and the 2 million target needed for an ODF status, the Federal government will need to increase its funding of the project.

Currently 75% of the financing cost of achieving an open defecation free Nigeria by 2025 Is expected to be borne by households who don’t have toilets. Having been established that open defecation occurs more often in poor households, sub urban slums and marginalized communities who are financially handicapped it is unrealistic to expect these same households to finance new toilets especially with the financial downtime occasioned by covid-19.

More so the inhabitants of urban slums are well aware that these slums are illegal and are always at risk of being demolished at any time, this fact acts as a disincentive to those who might be willing to erect toilets.

Government should consider urban slums as public areas and focus more of its funding towards providing toilets and WASH facilities in densely populated urban slums. WASH committees should be established in LGAs and urban slums in conjunction with NGOs to consistently engage urban slum dwellers on the ills of open defecation and also tasked with monitoring governmental funding of toilets in these areas.