INTRODUCTION ; According to a 2019 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 one in four Nigerians defecating indiscriminately.
The Nigerian Senate had earlier this year revealed that Open Defecation is costing the country N455Bn annually. Open defecation and sanitation infrastructure deficit is assuming a monstrous dimension and is more keenly felt in the university environment where the art of “Shot Put” has become more or less institutionalised as students have no option but to practice open defecation due to shortage of toilet infrastructure and/or poor maintenance.
Tell us about yourself: my name is Lola Awojide, a graduate of University of Lagos BA linguistics (2006). In 2009, I relocated to Canada in 2009 with my husband and went further to obtain a diploma in Fashion Design & Techniques from George Brown College Toronto. My work experience spanned from Telecom/Banking in Nigeria and leading bridal fashion brands Canada. I cofounded two startups in Canada Hummuani Bridal and SelfiePhotoStand.
Myself and my husband Saheed O. Awojide are passionate about leveraging on technology to turn challenges into opportunities in Nigeria. Creating employment for youth, impacting lives and improving standard of living. We registered Innocrave Solutions Limited Nigeria 2014 to drive the goal to reality.
Our sojourn into the Nigerian entrepreneurial ecosystem began in 2014, by 2015 we launched Innocrave-turbowashit leveraging on steam technology to mitigate spread of diseases during the ebola crisis. In 2016, we got selected as grantees in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP).
Our second startup is Innocrave-Ladies&Gents which is the first smart public toilet facility in Nigeria/Africa. This is focused on solving the critical problem of sanitation and access to international standard toilet facility, by bridging the infrastructural deficit and coupling it with technology, so that access to end users is affordable, convenient and seamless.
How did you conceive the idea of Ladies & Gents?
Like I did mention earlier, I have lived the better part of my life in Nigeria and I attended a public university. I attended University of Lagos (Unilag) while my cofounder/husband Saheed attended Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), we both lived on campus (student hostel) and I can tell you for a fact that one of our worst moments as undergraduates were those times we had to answer natures call. The experience up till this moment gives us psychological trauma. The sanitary and hygiene conditions of the toilets were appalling and the number of toilets were grossly inadequate for the number of students on campus. But as students, we had no choice than to survive and find our ways around it. This experience was not peculiar to us only and I’m sure many Nigerian Students in our universities today are still going through what we went through, so Ladies and Gents is something that is dear to our hearts and we hope to solve the problem of sanitation starting from the citadel of learning where we believe, it will inspire our younger generation to innovate and do even better than what we have started in the years to come.
Why University of Ilorin (Unilorin) and not Unilag or FUTA
Sighs. Our first thoughts were to pilot this idea at either of our alma maters but unfortunately due to bureaucratic bottlenecks and some other issues I wish not to disclose here it wasn’t achievable. Unilorin is the first and only university that was open to our idea and innovation. Let me mention here, that this smart toilet at the university of Unilorin is a product of seven years’ negotiations, back and forth presentations, meetings with several university vice-chancellors, top management staff, etc. We almost gave up on this dream and again this says a lot about the challenges of the Nigerian entrepreneur and ease of doing business. I remember one of those meetings with a certain university, we were asked why we wanted to commit so much funds into constructing a beautiful toilet for the students when the students are comfortable and not complaining about using the bushes close by. This is why posterity will judge us unfairly if we do not seize this moment to applaud and commend the visionary leader and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin Prof. Sulyman Age Abdulkareem for his proactiveness, excellent leadership and support in making this partnership work and today the university community can boast of a 21st century smart toilet on campus. It is exciting to mention here that what took us seven unfruitful years hobnobbing from one Nigerian university to another seeking approval, Unilorin gave Innocrave solutions approval to commence work within 3 months after our first meeting.
A walk into the Ladies and Gents Facility, what should one expect
The facility provides toilets and bathroom facility onsite. We have 15 units of WC that are all COVID-19 complaints i.e. they are flushometric, divided into three (3) sections- Male, female and People living with disability (PWD). This is the first public toilet in Nigeria that is built with deep consideration for people with disability. Our facility is an inclusive one; there is a ramp at the entrance of the facility to aid PWD gain access, we have dedicated toilet cubicles for them, which has more space and wall hangers to allow them use our service independently unaided and leaving no room for any one of them to be harassed or abused as is often reported. Summarily; what you should expect within our facility are: touchless WC toilet systems, touchless water faucet, touchless soap dispenser, Air condition, 24/7 power supply (back-up generator), steam technology to disinfect and clean after every usage, inspirational quotes interior design, 24/7 water supply, user-friendly mobile web-portal to aid registration, easy online payment integration, access management system, pro-customer service ambassadors (Janitors).
You mentioned online payment system, what is it about?
Thank you so much for this question, we are a profit-making enterprise and we have invested so much funds into making the facility a world-class toilet, usage of the facility is not free but attracts an affordable fee. However, we understand the economic situation of the country and we also want to contribute our bit to solving the open defecation menace in Nigeria, therefore; our charges are relatively cheap compared to anywhere in Nigeria where people pay to use public convenience that does not boast of what we have on site.
We have three categories of payment to suit the different class of customers we serve
1 Good deal – N 1750 valid for 5 months per semester (that is about 10 entries )
2. Best deals – N 3000 valid for 10 months per session (that is about 15 entries)
3. Premium deal – N 4000 valid for 12 months (this is about 20 entries )
For more Information, see the registration link: https://ladiesandgentsng.com/register-now/
The highest payment any of our user makes is less than 40 naira if you do the maths, while the premium users spend less than 30 naira. This the most affordable public convenience anywhere in Nigeria and we are committed to ensuring that our services remain excellent all-round the clock.
Does Ladies and Gents have employees or the whole system is automated?
At the moment we have four (4) full time staff working at the facility, two janitors recruited from the university host community and two (2) operational managers. Imagine that we have these toilets across our cities and universities, then you’ll understand how many youths will be taken off the streets and given legitimate jobs.
How many Ladies and Gents facility do you manage at the moment?
Presently, we have just one which is sited at the University of Ilorin, however; we do plan to upscale to other universities and states when we find the right opportunities, support and investors, because sanitation business is capital intensive considering our standard.
Is there a sustainability plan for Ladies and Gents and what additions should we expect?
Yes, we intend to run the facility with the waste generated from the toilet, this will greatly reduce the money we spend on fossil fuel, maintenance of power generating set etc and also see us switch to green energy that contributes to making our environment clean and safe.
We also intend to install a sanitary pad disposal furnace on site for our female students and even women who work in the university community, such that they don’t have to stay away from lectures or work during their menstrual period, giving them the assurance that we care about their menstrual hygiene.
Lastly; we have a digital advertising board beside the facility; we are calling on the government, private sector, NGOs etc to take advantage of the service which is also affordable to advertise their product and services so we can continue to provide low cost impeccable service to the university students.
Any concluding statement you’d like to share?
The Nigerian government alone cannot solve the sanitation problem facing Nigeria, for me and my co-founder Saheed, we believe that Nigeria may have a potential sanitation pandemic if adequate measures are not taken. Government must open up their doors to collaborate more with individuals and companies with brilliant ideas to solve the problem before us. Access to credit facility should be made available to all and not shrouded in secrecy or internalized such that only a few are privy to such information. If all hands are on deck; Nigeria would be free from open defecation in the nearest future.