This rather shameful business has continued to stain the image of Lagos as a rising mega city. For adults, the business is often done under the cover of darkness. For children, it is usually done in the open under the surveillance of adults. The name of this terrible business, which happens to be one of the fundamental aspects of sanitation and issues that mirror our underdevelopment as a nation, is open defecation.
Open defecation is a practice whereby people defecate in the open and in an area not meant for that purpose unmindful of its unhealthy and unhygienic repercussions. Despite all the infrastructure renewal efforts of the Lagos state government, poor sanitation and open defecation remains a hurdle the state must overcome before entering the league of developed cities.
From Agege to Apapa, Epe to Badia, Ikorodu to Badagry and other such communities in the state, it is common to see people on the highways disembarking from their cars to defecate openly along the road. Walking along the railroad tracks you could see people, male and female, engage in mass open defecation. On the streets, behind bushes, in groves of trees, in rivers or streams, inside gutters, dump sites, in motor parks and market, people liitter these areas with faeces with impunity. Even some of the fanciest areas are not spared.
In many parts of the state, communities located near the rail track or canals are the guiltiest of open defecation. The question is, why is the practice so rampant? A lot is responsible for the menace. A lot of those who indulge in the habit come into Lagos without making any arrangement for a decent accommodation. Just like people travelling abroad without any conceived idea of how they could earn a decent living, many people see Lagos as the New York of Nigeria. They come to the city and make motor parks and other open spaces their home, where they sleep and do other things such as defecate..
But not just the homeless defecate openly in Lagos; many residents of populated areas built in the classic ‘face-me-I-face-you’ model are also guilty of this. In many of the poor neighbourhoods in the city, where these houses may be found, poor sanitary condition is the order of the day. Hence, it is not out of place to see houses with more than thirty tenants without a single toilet. At times such compound has just one toilet for that huge number of tenants. Many buildings have latrines that are unusable or overfilling and had to be abandoned. In such a situation, people resort to open defecation.
Unfortunately, however, it seems only a few people appreciate the extent of this problem which could degenerate into an epidemic in the state. It is a fact that many deadly diseases currently ravaging the world are linked to open defecation and other such poor sanitary practice. Open defecation causes contaminated food, skin diseases, respiratory diseases, eye problems, scabies, intestinal parasites resulting in kidney damage, tuberculosis and diarrhea related diseases. A study has claimed that dieases arising from open defecation can cause mental and cognitive stunting among young persons.
Many people seem not to understand that the quality of our lives as human beings is substantially a reflection of the quality of the environment which we inhabit. Many still seem not to comprehend that open defecation creates a host of problems that exceed the physicall environment. Besides health implication, open defecation also affects the economy. A 2012 World Bank report reveals that Nigeria loses N455 billion annually due to poor sanitation. This is 1.3 per cent of the national GDP. It should also be understood that an individual produces 200 gram of faeces every day. One can imagine the volume of faces that goes into the river and those that end up on our source of water and food when there is flood. Worryingly, according to WHO, one gram of faeces of an infected person can have up to 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria and 1,000 parasite cyst and 100 parasite eggs.
The next question, is what should be done? In Lagos, open defecation is prohibited. But it is not enough to simply enact a law and say people should stop defecating in the open without sufficiently changing their mentality. The government needs more campaigns to enlighten the populace about danger of open defecation as a lot of people are still ignorant of the UN supported Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) operational in the state since 2013 which places the burden on communities to take responsibility for the sanitation of their environment.
Perhaps, the campaign should not be left for the government alone. The Media, the Artists, the Comedians, Religious bodies and Civil Society Groups etc. should be actively involved. Our popular musicians can take a cue from popular musician, Lagbaja (the masked one), who once called on those who defecate openly in the city to return to their villages. And in a humorous tone, he advised that they can then defecate right in front of their houses in the village.
It is also important for agencies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing sanitation laws in Lagos state to be alive to their responsibilities. In other countries like Nepal where only about 46 percent of the population have access to toilets, the people have adopted a name and shame approach where offenders’ names are pasted in the community centre. This method though has not stopped the practice but it has nonetheless been effective. Can Lagos borrow this unique model?
The state government, especially, at the local government level should also make arrangement to provide more public toilets at the grassroots. This could be done in partnership with private investors. Above all, the state government needs to explore opportunity of its laudable town hall meetings and other such public outreaches to further impress on Lagosians on the imperative of living a dignified life through proper sanitation.
—Diyaolu wrote from Agbado-Ijaiye, Lagos.