Just recently, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, had issued Executive Order No 009 in which he had directed that public toilets be built across the country between now and 2025 for use by Nigerians towards checking the current despicable trend of wanton promiscuous and open defecations as carried out by those who lack toilet facilities and other approved forms of latrines for use in their households. Others who engage in the shameful act are members of the public who live in shanties and make-shift tents and containers while working in construction sites. The rest include artisan-trainees who live in squalors in urban and semi-urban areas of the country; those who stay under the bridges in some cities, some night watchmen, those who stand on our main roads while engaging in security duties nationwide, those who live in premises which lack toilet facilities as well as many of those who live in rural areas where there are no latrines and toilets, not excluding those whose cultural practices dictate that they do not share toilets or latrines of any kind with other people. This Executive Order of the President, which was received with warm éclat and high-level acceptance by those concerned with public health activities in general and environmental health/sanitation personnel in particular, is to be carried by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
Without a doubt, before the order was issued by the president, Nigeria had displaced India as the number one country in the world where citizens engaged in promiscuous defecation. The means that more Nigerians use the nearest bush-paths, uncompleted buildings in our cities, nearby bushes, the roads leading to streams, rivers and other secluded paths as places to visit and answer the call of nature when pressed throughout the country. The implication of this is that public health has always been endangered in the process. During each rainy season, floodwater usually carries the deposited faecal matters directly into the nearby streams and rivers where people usually go to fetch water for drinking and domestic uses. In the process of drinking and using the contaminated water from such streams, some people could contract the causative organisms of gastro-enteritis and cholera and other feco-oral, water-borne diseases that could affect their health.
In other cases, odour, fly infestation, unsightliness and other nuisances could occur, just as the contamination of cereals, vegetables and other crops planted on farms and gardens could take place thereby inducing prejudicial and deleterious effects on the health of the people. It is important to point out here that there are existing lawsin Nigeria that have been made to ensure that no dwelling premise lacks toilet or any other approved type of sanitary convenience. Some of these laws were promulgated before and immediately after Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. In the famous Public Health Law, Laws of Eastern Nigeria of 1963 as contained in the sixth volume, for example, all houses meant for human habitation, workshops, factories and general tenements were statutorily required to have toilets or any of the approved latrines and general lavatories in them which must be adequate for use by those who dwell in such places as occupiers or as workers. Similar provisions were made in the regional laws of the other three regions the same year. The promulgation of the sanitary laws then gave rise to the training and emergence of a group of health professionals called ‘sanitary inspectors’ who enforced the law to the letter by visiting every household in Nigeria in that regard. During such sanitary inspections, all occupiers of premises and landlords who fail to provide necessary sanitary conveniences were subsequently prosecuted in the law courts to enforce compliance.
Today, the sanitary laws are no longer enforced in our midst as a result of so many factors. This state of affair worsenseveryday when nearly everything is politicised these days. The result is that many houses, sheds, workshops, factories and other tenements built today are no longer provided with toilets as should be, hence the high rate of open defecation in our midst. This should not be so. Efforts should always be made to make sure that the environmental health officers in our midst today who have replaced the then sanitary inspectorsgo ahead to perform their statutory duties again in the interest of public health. This is where commendation must go to the Ogun state government for threatening to close down any building without toilet facilities in the state in the government’s desire to check and forestall outbreak of cholera in any part of the state. Other state governments should emulate the good example of Ogun state and make sure that no household lacks toilet facilities. All the environmental health officers in each state should be mobilised towards achieving this goal.
On the other hand, the Executive Order of the president of our country must be carried out to save Nigeria from the debasing and demeaning menace of open defecation that usually brings ill-health to the people and even domestic animals. The widespread spate of open defecation in Nigeria today is a direct confirmation that the routine and normal environmental health and sanitation services which should be rendered to the people have been grossly neglected or politicised at the federal, state and local government levels with its consequential bad effects on the health of the people. If there is any sector the various governments must make adjustments now to serve the people well and cater for them adequately, it is in the area of environmental health services and sanitation, as these services are not only preventive and promotional, but are aimed at controlling all those factors that exercise or may exercise deleterious effects on the health of the individual members of the public every government world over is established to serve. This we must start now to save public health in Nigeria. y Ogbonnaya Akoma
Akoma writes from Lagos