By Adewale Kupoluyi
Right in the middle of a major street and on a Sunday morning, a middle-aged man cleverly knelt down and was ‘easing’ himself in the heart of the nation’s commercial nerve-centre. It was indeed a gory sight. This would not be the first time to experience such barbarism. It is an unfortunate experience that had gradually become a regular occurrence across many villages, cities and towns in our country.
Dearth of public toilets and restrooms is a big problem that has not be accorded adequate attention. Ordinarily, one may feel that of the many problems plaguing us a people, should a prosaic matter like toilets be considered a big issue. Yes, it is because it has to do with human life and safety. The urge to pass out waste from the body is a natural process that man and animals should experience. If this call of nature is not obeyed, there is bound to be serious problems. Unfortunately, many homes, offices, worship centres and recreational venues do not have functional facilities in this regard.
On several occasions, I had tried to find out whether people have decent and useable restrooms but my findings have shown the opposite. It is either they complain of lack of water or an outright non-existence of such facility. It is common to see human waste littering our streets and public spaces. What many people do is to wait for when it’s dark and answer the nature’s call anywhere that is available without considering the public safety of their actions. At times, some people do not care and just do it in the open and everywhere stinks. Few places that appear to have functional restrooms are simply the big filling stations, supermarkets, eateries in highbrow areas and banks. How accessible are these places to an ordinary passerby? It is extremely difficult to enter into a banking hall or eatery without having anything to do there, except to use their restrooms.
Why this problem has persisted is that the relevant regulatory agencies have failed to carry out their monitoring and inspection duties, as far as clean and safe environment is concerned. Officials of the ministries of health, town planning, environment as well as local government sanitation personnel hardly visit public places any longer, to ensure that they abide by sanitation standards. Infact, many houses are built without toilets. For such house-owners, it is usually not their first priority to build houses with all facilities at a go. This is understandable in view of the economic situation of the country, but toilets should not be sacrificed. What the people used to do is to build their houses to a manageable level and just move in. From there, other construction work would go on until years later, when the place is actually okay to receive visitors and toilets are eventually constructed.
Toilets are not usually given priority at the early construction stage because of the high cost of plumbing and septic facilities. This often worsens the health conditions of the people as they make do with make-shift structures. Health implications of open defecation include diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and malaria. Apart from the financial implications and weak regulatory monitoring, poor access to toilet facilities is hindered by cultural and social norms because some African communities still see the use of the open space, bushes and rivers as a social norm while the building of toilets in homes is seen as a taboo. For those who hold such wrong belief, defecating in home toilet – where one lives – is animalistic and not ideal.
Littering of streets with human waste, apart from the health risks is barbaric. It does not portray our people and government in good light before foreigners and international investors. On the seriousness of the problem, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that over 47 million Nigerians lack access to basic toilet facilities, as many homes and schools in Nigeria also do not have safe, private toilets and hand-washing facilities. Corroborating UNICEF, WaterAid stated that Nigeria would only be able to deliver a community source of clean water within the recommended 30-minute round trip to the people by 2039!
Unfortunately, with the current slow rate of progress, it is estimated that Nigeria may never reach the point where basic sanitation services would be available to all. Apart from the health hazards, women and girls who resort to meeting their toilet needs through open defeacation sometimes become vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual violence. India is said to lead the list of countries ahead of Nigeria, where people have no toilets in their homes, followed by China, Indonesia and Pakistan. By 2030, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 aims to reach everyone with sanitation and reduce by half, the proportion of untreated waste water.
There is need for improvement with more access to public toilets in Nigeria at affordable cost. In countries like the United States of America, most public toilets do not require payment before use, as the ‘customers only’ rule may apply. Public restrooms in Europe require fees to use while in many African countries such as Kenya, it is not cheap to use public toilets; a development that costs the Kenyan economy over $320 million annually with about 20,000 citizens, including over 17,000 children under the age of five, dying every year from diarrhoeal diseases linked to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. This is avoidable.
In view of the high level of unemployment pervading the land, going into that business line of operating public toilets should interest many individuals and corporate firms. It is an area that is worth venturing into because of the apparent shortage of restrooms across many cities and town across the country. Apart from providing gainful employment, daily proceeds from users of the facility would remain a source of income for the people, as not much capital is required to start off.
At the institutional level, state governments should increase public enlightenment and look at their building codes to enforce the need for people to build toilets and the appropriate kinds of toilets in their houses. A former Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu had enjoined state governments to enact bye-laws to ban open defecation in the country, adding that Nigeria had developed a Roadmap and Action Plan to reposition the water and sanitation sector in a bid to end open defecation by 2025. This should be follow-up. Local governments should also establish as many mobile toilets as possible within their council areas, to provide comfort for the people. These can be done through public-private partnership initiatives.
No doubt, people should be disciplined and restrain themselves from polluting the environment and constituting nuisance. They should jettison barbarism and archaic traditions that discourage decent living. Law enforcement agents should be up and doing by trying offenders found engaging in indiscriminate littering of streets with human waste. More mobile courts should be deployed to several locations across the country to try and punish offenders. What makes a nation advanced or developed is not only in terms of technology, military and economy, but its urbanity when it comes to finesse and decorum on the part of the citizenry. We need more restrooms across the land.