While most Nigerians, particularly in Lagos, Nigeria, from whatever social class they belong, have no access to toilets and no toilet culture, they answer nature’s call anywhere they please.
On a fateful Saturday morning, Daniel Chukwuka, 34, decided to visit his fiancée who lived in Okokomaiko, a densely populated district of Lagos. When he got to Mile 2, he suddenly felt a sharp tug in his tummy and badly needed to ‘make a call’. Chukwuka said he knew from instinct that there was no way he could make it to his fiancée’s in one piece if he did not immediately visit a loo. He looked around but there was no signal whatsoever that there was one. ‘Conductor, conductor, on bole, on bole o’, he screamed to the driver when he got to Iyanoba. Really pressed, Chukwuka said he had no choice but jump into a nearby bush to do the business there. After he was done, Chukwuka discovered that part of the business stuck to his trousers. He aborted the journey.
Ifedolapo Fasugba, a second year student of Business Administration of the University of Lagos, Akoka, was in class one day when she also needed to use the loo. When she got there, she found excrement on the floor, the septic tanks not flushed and the general sanitary condition of the toilet forced her back to class. She hardly concentrated on what the lecturer said afterwards. According to her, she endured the class and dodged into the bush to do her own business there too. ‘But for how long will we continue to go to the bush to relieve ourselves? You know we are women and things like this are very sensitive to us?’ she said. Investigations conducted around universities in Nigeria show a similar trend.
Many Lagosians and indeed Nigerians do not have access to toilets and clean methods of emptying their bladders and bowels. This is irrespective of class, age, religion or degree of intellectual or artistic suave. Take the example of the plight of the children at Alaba Primary School, close to the Alaba International Market, Lagos. All through the year, these children either do business all around the school premises or waddle as ducks to a school toilet that has been sacked by floods. At the popular Sheraton Hotel, near Ikeja, Lagos, TELL investigations reveal that even though there is modern toilet system, most Lagosians who visited the toilets are ignorant of how to use it. As a result, a strong stench of urine and deodorant looms. Jide Odunlami, sociologist argues that this is why he hardly shakes hands with people. ‘Most think that I’m proud or arrogant but I know that people don’t wash their hands after using these dirty latrines. Most people shit in polyethylene bags take it for a stroll and parachute it into a nearby bush’, he told the magazine.
In places where there are toilets, they are few or far between, or they do not have proper methods for residents to clean themselves up. Most rely on water to wash after use. Olusegun Obasanjo, an army General, built the one at the Ajegboro Tipper Drivers Association in 1977 when he was military head of state. Thereafter, the state government handed it over to the tipper drivers union to run. From that time to present day, no repair work has even been carried out on it because when TELL reporter got there, doors and windows, together with cobwebs and the dirty surrounding cut it out as an abandoned building. Residents told the magazine that because nobody knows of its existence, residents defecate in the gutters near it at night.
In other places in Lagos like Ogba and Berger where there are toilets, these are not as dirty as the ones in Ojota. TELL learnt that these toilets run by business savvy industrialists are cleaned every five minutes by staff on shifts. Most of them are situated close to motor parks, mostly patronized by travelers and not by Lagos residents. A cross section who spoke with TELL reporter said they pee in ‘convenient’ spots because they are unable to identify any conveniences within a 100-metre radius from wherever they find themselves. The most popular of the privately run toilets, Dignified Mobile Toilet, DMT, run by Isaac Durojaiye, aka Otunba Gadaffi, has a business motto Shit Business is Good Business. Business definitely is good for many of the proprietors who rake in as much as N600, 000.00 monthly. To take a hot bath, customers pay N40.00. Those pressed like Chukwuka pay only N20.00 to do business with the Otunba and his fellow shit proprietors. Some residents of Lagos claim that they cannot patronize even the few provided by government. ‘They are given to party loyalists to run. These party people then sublet them to other people who also sublet them to other people who know next to nothing about hygiene. As a result, you cannot get efficient service there. In most cases too, these party people use these places as havens for thugs who smoke Indian hemp and cocaine. Will you go to such a place?” one of the residents asked TELL reporter.
Ramesh Jaura, a sanitation expert who was part of an international environment conference in Berlin, Germany, said that improving access to toilets is indeed a good investment that is vital for human health. Jaura also said that this was one reason why the UN General Assembly declared the year 2008 ‘the International Year of Sanitation’. ‘The objective is to raise awareness and to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, target to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015’, he said.
According to Global Perspectives, a magazine published by the Inter Press Service, IPS, in Europe, at least 2.6 billion people (mostly children) worldwide have no access to latrines or toilets. Half of those affected live in Africa an Asia, with Nigeria sharing a sizable chunk of that number. Available records indicate that for the 18-million population of Lagos, 500 functional toilets cannot sustain the volume of business that that population delivers daily.
Some Government officials who pleaded anonymity claim that they are not aware that peeing and pooing in public has constituted any health and environmental dangers. ‘It is really the attitude of our people concerning toilets you should actually be writing about. Most people know there are toilets but refuse to use them’, the official admonished.
Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNICEF Water and Environmental Sanitation chief disagrees. ‘The thing that we are most worried about is diarrheal diseases. Most are oral or fecal, which means that you catch that disease by coming into contact with human fecal matter. And in an environment where there are no toilets, if there’s human fecal matter, it gets on people’s hands, it gets to some people’s feet, it gets to people who handle food and it gets to people who handle your water, and then we have a very high risk, particularly with children’, she said.
A privately run toilet proprietor said he believes that it is better for government to build as many toilets as possible and hand them over to private hands to run. Until that happens, a major health disaster looms in the city of Lagos where residents pee and poo indiscriminately.
Additional report: Tosin Ajayi