One of the public toilets in Agege area
In many communities in Lagos, it is common to see faeces in the open. While some excrete in the open, others do their business in a corridor and then wrap it up in nylon or paper to drop it by the roadside, gutter or any open space close to parks, garages, abandoned buildings and, lawns, bridges, walkways or poorly illuminated areas at night.
But this act is not limited to Lagos alone, as other parts of the country are not spared from this occurrence. Indeed, the recklessness with which Nigerians engage in open defecation, undoubtedly, led to Nigeria being declared the number one open defecation country globally in 2019. This was because it was estimated that about 50 million Nigerians engage in open defecation.
A United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey undertaken in Nigeria in 2016/2017 revealed that open defecation has remained a challenge, both in urban and rural areas of the country. The UNICEF assessment disclosed that 25 per cent of Nigerians defecate openly and only three Local Government Areas in the country are free from open defecation. This means that 771 of the 774 local government areas in the country are still grappling with the issue of open defecation.
According to UNICEF, for Nigeria to be Open Defecation Free (ODF), it would require constructing nearly 20 million household toilets and 43,000 toilets in schools, health centres and public places.
Thus, in many areas within Lagos, there are no public toilets, and where there is any, residents claim the location and environment dissuade them from using the facilities.
John Okafor lives in Orile area of Lagos. He said the public toilet around Orile Bus Stop was demolished for the ongoing reconstruction of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, with no new public toilet or a substitute put in place.
“This is why it is common among folks to urinate and defecate in the open. In the daytime, people move to illegal dumpsites and open spaces not far from the bus stop. But at night, they defecate around the bus stop. So, it is common to see fresh faeces in the morning, which are covered with sand by transporters, if it was in a conspicuous location,” he explained.
Bidemi Adeshola said the rough boys and girls that lurk around public toilets often frighten many, who would have used the conveniences. “Their looks make you feel insecure and vulnerable, if you go in to use the toilets,” she said.
She listed the fee collected before residents are permitted to use the toilets among reasons some residents choose to defecate in the open.
She said: “Some residents find it hard to part with the N100 or N50 usually required before you can use the toilet. They feel that since there is a cheaper alternative, there is no need paying such amount, which could be used for something else. What would make many to use the toilet at a fee is when they know the penalty for defecating in the open is higher, compared to using public toilets.
“Also, many ladies would not want to patronise the public toilets because even from afar, some of these facilities look untidy and stink. Public toilets in Lagos State are terrible, especially the ones within and around parks. I have even heard that some who use the toilets got infections.”
Another resident, Bright Azu, told The Guardian she had never used a public toilet, despite having stayed in Lagos for about two decades.
“I am not sure I have seen any standard public toilets on the streets, except those small mobile ones in some parts of the city. I personally perceive them as unkempt. I am a woman and my body is sensitive. What I do is to walk into a restaurant or eatery and use their restroom or even a bank. But a public toilet? Count me out.”
A town planner, Moses Ogunleye, explained that it would be impossible to give specific number of public toilets Lagos would require, if this were to be based on the population figure. Rather, it should be based on such factors as need, volume of activities in a particular place and the frequency of such activities.
He explained that one of the ways to make public toilets available for effective urban management is through encouraging public facilities or spaces, including public buildings and offices to provide toilets for public use.
And when siting public toilets, Ogunleye said government should consider the need for the toilets through the number of people visiting a place, as well as the convenience of using or accessing the facilities.
He, however, maintained that the numbers of public toilets in Lagos are very inadequate, poorly maintained, and unsatisfactory. “Ordinarily, no neat person would want to use them, unless he or she is very pressed. And this should not be the case,” he said.
Again, many of the public toilets are not accessible, Ogunleye said, noting that the Town Planning Regulations of 2019 requires petrol filling stations to leave four toilets for the use of customers and the public. “But many of them don’t observe this. Their toilets are always locked. When opened for public use, they are not maintained, with no water to flush, making the toilet to stink. Some markets also do not have good public toilets.”
He said one of the ways to make public toilets available is for the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development to search for sites and collaborate with Ministry of Environment to build public toilets, although it would be a money-spinner for any investor.
On the argument by some residents that paying a fee to use the toilets encourage people to defecate in the open, Ogunleye said the use of public toilets in non-public buildings or commercial property should attract fees. “It is anachronistic that people still defecate in the open. In communities, the Community Development Associations (CDAs) can run the public toilets. It cannot and should not be free.”
The Director, Sanitation Services, Ministry of Environment, Mr. Hassan Sanuth, said the state government has keyed into the Federal Government’s agenda to stamp out open defecation by 2025.
He explained that this was what led the present administration to embark on regular advocacy in communities, which was followed with the setting up of an enforcement team, Anti-open defecation Squad, with squad members dispersed to different locations, where open defecation was rampant.
He said it is as a result of the squad’s effort that open defecation is not practised around Obalende and some areas on Lagos Island.
He disclosed that the ministry ensures that available public toilets owned by government or the private sector are fit for use.
“We are also encouraging private sectors to help in the rehabilitation of some of the toilets. Fifteen of such toilets have been retrofitted. We also notify the Ministry of Women and Poverty Alleviation of poorly managed toilets. We have meetings with public toilet operators in Lagos to intimate them of the lapses we notice in their operation to make amends.”
Sanuth explained that in the last three months, the ministry has been engaging local government environmental health officials to submit black spot within their locations, notable for open defecation, so that public toilets would be constructed there.
“And we are collating the data. We are also engaging the private sector to key into building public toilets through public and private partnership. The government would provide the land, while the private sector person build, operate and transfer to government. And seven organisations have shown interest.”
On the claim that the fee charged to use the toilets is encouraging open defecation, Sanuth said for a toilet to be clean, there must be a paid attendant.
“The attendant would need soap, water and other things to ensure the toilet is clean. All this comes at a cost. We have received complaints from residents, but in as much as government will not be able to provide toilets across the state, it will be difficult for government to tell private operators what to charge. It is an open market that government regulates, but it liberalises the fees charged.”