By Sunday Ani ([email protected])
In Lagos State, South-west Nigeria, there is an emerging trend on how and where people urinate and defecate. In time past, it was common to find people urinating by the side or corner of major roads like the express or highways and sometimes, inside the gutter along the streets. It was also common to see people defecating by the side of express and highways. However, such people would always try to hide themselves behind shrubs no matter how scanty. Again, they made sure they did so within 50 metres or more away from the main road.
Nowadays, the story has changed. Today, you find people urinating and defecating openly on the road without entertaining any iota of fear or shame. Instead, it is the passers-by, who turn away their faces from such ugly sights and briskly walk away from the scene.
The new 10-lane Lagos-Seme Expressway, still under construction is a reservoir of such oddities. From Mile 2 down to Agboju, able-bodied young men are seen at any time of the day, but particularly in the morning and evening hours, defecating on the new road under construction. Men are the main culprits in this defecation rendezvous but both men and women are involved in messing up the road with urine.
The courage and shamelessness displayed by those who are involved in this inglorious act leave one wondering whether all is well with their mental state. Sometimes, they are seen defecating in groups of three, four or even five, as they puff on sticks of cigarette freely.
The same or similar scenario plays out at the auto parts market inside the Lagos Trade Fair Complex along Badagry Expressway. As soon as you get into the compound fencing the market, by your right hand side, you see caution signs written boldly on small billboards, warning people not to urinate around the place, as the penalty for doing so is N5000. There are about five of such warning signals placed within the triangular shaped area but beyond that spot, at the far left hand side, men are seen defecating without any disturbance. However, the difference between those at the trade fair complex and those on the Lagos – Seme road under construction is that the former have few shrubs that cover them up to their waist, unlike the latter that exposes their entire body to the public.
Investigation revealed that those who engage in the same act along the rail lines are not that daring. They are afraid of being caught by security agencies, so they defecate mainly at night when they are hardly noticed. Most of the rail lines that crisscross the length and breadth of Lagos fall victim of this indecent behaviour. From the rail lines that run through Ijora, to the one in Oyingbo and Oshodi down to Ikeja Along, the story is the same; people dropping faeces indiscriminately along these routes.
There is yet another class of people who prefers to move their bowl at the bank of Lagos lagoon. Anytime they are pressed, they would go to the bank of the lagoon and defecate inside the water. Just like the ones who do theirs on the road, they are also courageous and proud doing that. Like their road counterparts, sometimes they do it in groups of two or three, as they smoke cigarettes or marijuana.
One common trait between the two groups is the uncommon courage, which they muster to look menacingly into the eyes of the passers-by, who, most of the times, are forced to look away and hasten their pace in order to leave the vicinity.
Daily Sun investigation revealed that over 95 per cent of people involved in the act are those who have accommodation problem. They are people who either live under the bridge, inside the garage and inside make-shift shops or those who sleep inside rickety abandoned vehicles, which abound everywhere.
It was equally gathered that people who live in houses that do not have toilet facilities are also actively involved in the game. They are the ones who are guilty of defecating inside black nylon bags, which they carefully drop on the middle of the road sometimes.
Commenting on the development, a man, who identified himself simply as John, said all blames should go to the government for refusal to take care of its citizens. Mr. John argued that providing public toilets, which take between N20 and N50 from individuals just to urinate is evil because most people who are involved in the act cannot even afford such infinitesimal amount. He argued that such facilities should be copiously made available at no cost because some people are too poor such that instead of spending N20 just to urinate, they would rather channel the money into a more important need since they can always urinate inside the gutter or by the side of the road.
He said: “This city is a wonderful place. A lot of things happen. Some landlords in ‘face me-I-face you’ houses do not provide toilet for their tenants. So, where do you expect such tenants to defecate? The answer is obvious. They would do it anywhere that is convenient for them. Apart from such people, hundreds of thousands of Lagosians are homeless. Some of them cannot even find a place to lay their heads in the garage; they sleep on the road. For instance, the Lagos-Seme 10-lane expressway, which is still under construction, is home to many Lagosians. You may not know this until you visit the place about 10:00 or 11:00 o’clock in the night and you will be surprised at the number of people you will see sleeping on the road, defying every danger.
“I blame the government for all of these. Government should be able to provide shelter, which is one of three basic necessities of man, to its citizens. After food and clothing, the next important thing to man is shelter. A responsible government should be able to provide that for its people. And where it is not possible to do that, public toilets should be provided at no cost for the citizens’ usage and they should be provided at every nook and cranny of a major city like Lagos. But, here such a thing does not exist. The few public toilets that are provided are not properly maintained and they charge so much just for somebody to urinate. That is wicked and the reason many people resort to messing up the environment. Government should wake up to its responsibilities, please.”
For the President and Founder of SelfWorth Organisation for Women Development, Mrs. Chinyere Anokwuru, the action amounts to a health hazard, waiting to happen.
Commenting on such acts, she said: “Honestly, I don’t think it is right. It is not good at all. In fact, it is a health hazard, waiting to explode. It should not be encouraged.”
She thinks that those who are involved in such acts are mainly the homeless Lagosians, who sleep in the garages or under the bridges. “I believe that those doing it are mostly people that sleep under the bridge; they don’t have houses in Lagos. They shouldn’t be encouraged,” she submitted.
On the way out of the situation, she thinks government has a big role to play. She said: “What I think government should do is to provide more mobile toilets on the road. The local and state governments and even communities around the areas where such incidents occur can help to provide mobile toilets and ask people to pay a token for using them. When such provisions are made, the people involved will also understand that it is better than doing their stuff on the road; I don’t think it is nice.”
Anokwuru expressed fears about the vulnerability of children in such environment with its attendant high risk of contracting one infection or another. She called on all hands to be on deck in discouraging such behaviours.
“The children around such areas can mistakenly step onto such faeces and it becomes another problem. I think people around such areas should also caution one another; they should be bold to tell the people doing it that it is not right. They should be discouraged from doing that on the road. It is not a pleasant sight to behold at all. Whoever is doing that should stop; they should desist because it could easily lead to an epidemic in such areas,” she stated.
Psychology of actors
Looking at the psychological connection to such behaviour, the Consultant Psychologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo, said such people might not have anything wrong with their mental state. He attributes it to bandwagon effect, which derives it solid support from the society’s failure to condemn it in concrete terms.
Dispelling any modicum of opinion linking such behaviour to mental state of the people involved, he said: “Abnormality has to do with deviant behaviour. When behaviour is termed as deviant by the society, you say that such behaviour is abnormal. But, you find that people that are doing these things are doing so mainly because they see others doing it and nobody has punished them. So, they think it is normal to live that way.”
He also informed that where such act is being carried out also goes a long way to determine whether people who are engaged in it can be classified as normal or abnormal. “Where they do it determines their mental state. Do they do it in Ajegunle, Oshodi or in Victoria Island (VI)? When you find somebody doing it in VI, then you may now ask some questions because that is a very unlikely place for people to do such things.”
He goes further to reiterate the place of bandwagon effect in the circumstance: “Sometimes, you could find people who do this thing because it is not really seen as abnormal since others are doing it. So, many people will do the same thing if they are pressed because others are doing it without any punishment.”
Okonkwo did not forget the place of necessity as the mother of invention, adding: “Again, when there are no alternatives, people just make use of whatever is available. If alternatives are not made and people are pressed, they just have to do what they need to do. I am still trying to say that the people doing this are most likely not abnormal because they are things that majority of the people in society will do, especially when they do not have any alternative.”
He agrees that the only time to suspect that such a person may have a psychological problem is when such incident happens in an unlikely place. “But, when you find people doing such things in places where it is most unlikely to happen, like in Ikoyi, VI or Victoria Garden City (VGC); then you know that the person is most likely abnormal. I will be surprised if I see that kind of behaviour in VGC,” he said.
He decried government’s failure to enforce the existing extant laws against such behaviours, asking, “Even though there are legislations against some of these behaviours, how much of it has been enforced? Even if it is being enforced, how much publicity does such enforcement have? I don’t know how much stories you have read about people being sentenced to five months imprisonment for defecation on the road. So, people just take it as normal.
“Moreover, what is the literacy level of our society? Majority of people in the society is still illiterate; they don’t know what is happening around them. So, if they see people doing something around them, they are more likely to do the same thing.”
On whether the same circumstances of the people that defecate on the road apply to those that do same inside the water, he said: “I know it is something that is used to be done a lot in the village where people’s level of awareness is very low. Even in the village, if they want to do that inside a stream, they go to the downstream where the water is flowing out because they are conscious of the effect it will have on them. That is why they go to the downstream where it will not affect them. So, most of the time, I only see it as normal practice because you find a whole lot of people doing it in that environment.
“In summary, I am not condemning it but I am not saying it is a good practice or something that should be encouraged. Of course, it should be highly discouraged. I am just talking of the normality or abnormality of the people who are doing such things. Many times, it is not that they are abnormal but it is just that the society condones it in certain places and when it is done, it will no longer be seen as a deviant behaviour. So, you can’t call it abnormal because there are situations where you can find people who are clearly normal doing those things. I have also given situations where you can refer to such people as abnormal. For example, if somebody just jumps out of a bus on Allen Avenue or in VGC or VI and begins to urinate by the side of the road, then you know that the person is abnormal.”
Giving insight into the health implication of such act, Dr. Nneka Ossai of Safe Hand Hospital, described it as unhealthy, as it posed serious health challenges, especially to the people around the vicinity.
She said: “It has health implication because there are lots of bacteria in faeces and if anybody accidentally gets in contact with it and eventually touches the food or any edible thing being consumed by such a person, he or she could be infected with one disease or another.”
Talking about the air people breathe, she also stated that such action fouls the air, thereby posing another serious health hazard to the people. She said: “It also pollutes the air, which we breathe. People who ply their businesses around such places are mostly at the risk of breathing in bacteria through the oxygen they take into their system and that could be very harmful. Through the process of inhaling such contaminated air, they are exposed to various kinds of bacterial infections.”