The Federal Government, last week, declared war on the shameful practice of open defecation in the country with the signing of the Executive Order 009 by President Muhammadu Buhari. About the same time, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, at the launch of the campaign against open defecation nationwide tagged: “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet,” declared that the Federal Government was determined to curb the menace and more importantly, help the country exit its current damning position as the number one country in the world in terms of open defecation.
We attained the unenviable global status of being number one in open defecation by overtaking India last year, as the open defecation capital of the world. We can recall that it was the same India that Nigeria overthrew about this same time last year as the new poverty capital of the world. There must be a correlation therefore between unsanitary habits and poverty.
The big task before the Federal Government and indeed all genuine stakeholders in this cause is how to quickly teem-up with the three tiers of government to substantially reverse the ugly position that the country has found itself.
Good enough, at the Abuja launch, state governments committed through their representative at the event, Governor Samuel Lalong of Plateau State, to help the country exit her damning present position in open defecation statistics through devotion of funds in their state budgets to curb the public health menace.
Supplying more damning statistics at the occasion, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) was critical to maintain a good public health profile in any country as well as the elimination of the open defecation. Sadly, on all of these three parameters, the country is presently doing very badly.
While the country-wide access to clean water is presently put at 68 per cent, access to sanitation was put at a mere 43 per cent and hygiene, even worse at 21 per cent. It is a notorious fact that where there is lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, the incidence of open defecation would be high. In our own case, and indeed in many other developing countries of the world, long-held cultural practices which condone or promote the unsanitary habit have not been helpful.
In our public places, such as schools, hospitals, markets, public parks and the rest, the government and those who manage them have not made it a priority to provide public toilets. Where the toilets and restrooms have been provided at all, they are hardly enough or adequately maintained. And in the absence of functional public toilets, the next alternative is open defecation.
The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report indicates that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open while about N455billion is needed to be committed annually by our various governments to curb the menace of poor sanitation. The damning statistics may have risen. Hence, the urgent need for government to walk its talk.
The Federal and state governments should commit enough funds in their 2020 budgets as a first sign of commitment to curb the ugly trend in the country. The government must build adequate and functional toilets and washrooms in all public places. It is only when government leads by example that it can have the moral authority to encourage and indeed force citizens and other stakeholders to provide toilets in their homes and business premises.
We lament that many homes and business premises in many states in the country do not have enough toilets to serve their occupants. This can possibly explain why open defecation is rife in the country. We urge the three tiers of government to ensure that enough public toilets are provided. With such facilities in place, the government can then go ahead to enforce the laws against open defecation across the country. Let there be enough public campaigns against open defecation and the dangers associated with the unhealthy practice.