Despite FG, UNICEF’s Open Defecation-Free Certification, Bauchi Communities Still Battle Pervasive Human Feces, Killer Diseases
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Despite FG, UNICEF’s Open Defecation-Free Certification, Bauchi Communities Still Battle Pervasive Human Feces, Killer Diseases

By Usman Babaji, WikkiTimes

In the face of both the Federal Government’s and UNICEF’s assertion of Open Defecation-Free (ODF) Certification, several communities in Bauchi continue to grapple with the persistent presence of human waste and the looming threat of deadly diseases. UNICEF’s reluctance to engage in an interview with WikkiTimes casts doubt on the intricacies of its procedures and the transparency with which it collaborates with the Federal government to bestow ODF certification. The bureaucratic intricacies and apparent dearth of transparency stand in stark contradiction to UNICEF foundational principles of accountability and openness, WikkiTimes can report.

It’s a few minutes past mid-noon, Yunusa Abubakar, a visually impaired resident of Rinji, a community in Dass local council of Bauchi State, was praying. A minute later, he gazed around. He wanted to use the toilet.

The 70-year-old man must be escorted by a guide to where he can ease himself outside his compound. He obviously wasn’t comfortable with this, but had no choice. “We don’t have a functional toilet here,” he said. Again, he could not privately go to the nearby shrubs.

“I am aged, poor and blind. I can’t afford to construct a durable toilet. Besides, I can’t do things in private,” Yunusa said. With no alternatives, he has, over time, gotten used to this.

The old man and his neighbors have one thing in common: They use wood to construct local pit toilets, but “they don’t last long.” Thus, most of them resort to defecating in open spaces around their residential houses. “Most of us are not financially buoyant to construct durable toilets.”

Having lost his sight, Yunusa would be taken by a guide to nearby shrubs a few meters away, carrying a locally made hoe to bury his feces as part of his strive for an open defecation-free community. He told WikkiTimes that the younger ones defecate in open spaces and the practice threatens the community.

“Lack of toilets is seriously affecting us. We (older ones) use small holes to dig holes and bury our feces but the younger ones don’t bother to,” he said.

Not less than 10 households in the area live without functional toilets, according to Sarkin Yakin Gagadama, Umar Huseini.

He, however, lauded the awareness program done by Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a project supported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). According to him, the program helped people minimize the practice of open defecation. But the journey is far from being completed.

The locals pleaded with the authorities in the state and not-for-profit organizations to come to their aid in building durable public toilets to prevent loathsome aftermaths. 

ODF Certification

According to findings, Nigeria became open defecation capital, globally surpassing India. It was estimated that 50 million Nigerians defecate in the open. The report triggered former president Muhammdu Buhari to sign Executive Order 009 to tackle the menace. 

The Ministry of Water Resources in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other key agencies, launched an initiative tagged ‘Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free by 2025: ‘A National Road Map’.

Since then, the Nigerian government under UNICEF-supported projects has certified some local councils Open Defecation Free (ODF), including Dass.

In 2018, UNICEF certified that the council met the requirements for the implementation of the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) and WASH-related interventions notably the open defecation-free community, thus attaining ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF).

UNICEF said the council met the requirements being the first in the state and second out of the 774 LGAs nationwide to be declared ODF by the organization.

In a certificate officially issued by Nigeria’s Ministry of Water Resources and seen by WikkiTimes, the project also has the support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

But a visit by WikkiTimes to Dass revealed that open defecation is still largely practiced in the area and several households do not have access to functional toilets. This puts the communities around at risk of deadly fecal-oral diseases and infections that cause diarrhea.

While more than half of the people in Dass live in rural settlements where open defecation is more prevalent, those in urban areas suffer a similar fate. The practice is, however, more pronounced in public places where the filthy toilets create a stinky odor, forcing the locals to resort to open defecation. 

Dass Weekly Market Lacks Functional Toilets

For instance, at Dass weekly market, which hosts over 10,000 people every Wednesday, there are three centers used as public toilets – one is owned and managed by a local, the council constructed the second over a decade ago, while the third was constructed by an ex-NYSC member also about a decade ago.

While the first two centers managed to serve a few heedless locals, the one built by an ex-corps member remained locked. This condition encourages the practice of open defecation. And the movement of animals and houseflies from the filthy toilets and their sloppy surroundings to the market where stuff including food is sold and also nearby households.

Market Officials Lament (Watch)

In toilet No. 1 owned and managed by a local who gets small out of it, most of the rooms were abandoned and become hiding places for people practicing open defecation and colonies for maggots. Malam Usman Jibrin, the owner, lamented that he could not sustain them without intervention.

He said only a few people use the toilets, and he is not financially buoyant to sustain the work. He pleaded for government and non-governmental organizations’ assistance.

One of the seven toilet rooms was constructed by the Bauchi State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) but it is no longer usable, while the solar panel provided by WASH was destroyed by the storm. He added that the toilets have no source of water except for a local well which cannot supply enough, according to the owner, Malam Jibrin.

He said out of the seven toilet rooms, four are no longer usable, adding that there is a need for their reconstruction and renovation.

Sarkin Kasuwan Dass (the market chairperson) Garba Usman while corroborating Malam Jibrin’s account, said there is a need for overhaul reconstruction in the three toilet centers in the market. Besides, “They also need to be fenced against intruders who defecate around,” he stressed. 

He stated that only three out of the six rooms in toilet NO. 2, located at the old motor park, can be used without any alternatives, and at least 10 thousand people visit the market every Wednesday.

The four-room toilet constructed by an ex-corps member was locked during WikkiTimes’ visit. One of the locals, Sarkin Mudun Dass, Abubakar Garba said it was not used for over seven months.

Schools Feel Similar Pains

In schools, the story is the same. Students and their teachers have two options when they feel a need to use the toilet: go to nearby shrubs or wait till closing hours.

Joshua Audu, the vice principal of Government Junior Secondary School, Darussalaam, Dass and Rahila Ibrahim, the Administrative Officer of the school, said “no single toilet existed in this school for over three years”. 

Rahila added that there are 284 students in the secondary section and 300 in the primary.

She lamented that some students turned to the nearby bushes, which, according to her, is dangerous.

“You see, sometimes it’s hazardous and dangerous for someone to go into the bush to defecate or urinate. They may come across many things that may harm them or wound them. And this is the rainy season, for a child to go to someone’s farm (to defecate), they (farmers) will not take it lightly,” Rahila told WikkiTimes, adding that the girls suffer more.

At the primary school section of Darussalam, with about 339 pupils, according to Mohammad Sirajo Kaka, the headmaster of the school.

He said in 2021, cases of cholera were very common among the pupils. “Sometimes our pupils complained of stomach pains only to discover that it was cholera,” the Headmaster said, revealing that they complained to the authorities several times, but the narrative remained the same. 

School Gets Two Toilets After 5 Years 

Mohammad Bashari, the Headmaster, Iliya Adamu Primary School, a popular school in Dass metropolis, said after about five years of battling with the lack of good toilets, UNICEF under the supervision of WASH is now constructing two toilets in the school.

He said in the last half-decade, the pupils and the students in the school numbering not less than 2,500 as well as their teachers suffered hardship from the dearth of toilets in the school.

“They had to go home to defecate or wait for the closing hours,” and the situation according to Bashari at times compelled some students into open defecation despite the efforts of the school management against the practice.

During the WikkiTimes visit to the school, the construction of the toilets was ongoing. The odors from the old filthy ones are unbearable.

Cholera In Dass

Just two years after Dass became the first council to be declared open-defecation-free by the Nigerian government, a local newspaper reported that no fewer than 300 persons were infected with cholera in the Council – with reported deaths.

Open defecation causes diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhea and worm infestation, according to Sulaiman Umar, Health Education and Promotion Officer Dass LG.

Umar said cholera is caused by ‘vibrio bacterial cholera’ and common during the rainy season. Also, it directly responds to the hygiene situation at a place, and “some of the bacteria conveying the diseases are transported by water, so if our toilets are open, then our food will be contaminated,” he explained.

“Any dirty place must have house flies which move from one place to another.” This, according to the health officer, is where many victims contracted cholera and similar infections. He added that food and body hygiene, as well as environmental hygiene, are mutually correlated with one another.

However, Umar noted that in collaboration with the Bauchi State Healthcare agency and the WASH, they embarked on regular sensitization programs to mitigate the seasonal deadly disaster. 

Household Role

The health officer opined that parents should invest more in preventive measures than spending on curing avoidable ailments. “They should construct toilets for themselves,” he stressed.

Umar recalled that during the cholera outbreak in Dass, the council in collaboration with the state healthcare agency and the state government, worked collectively which according to him had minimized the havoc.

“We also involved religious and traditional leaders during awareness,” he added.

Yakubu Abubakar, the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer WASH Dass Local Council told WikkiTimes that one of the duties of the agency is to provide environmental hygiene by ensuring that people have access to good and functional toilets as well as clean water, especially in public places like schools and hospitals.

He insisted that WASH delivered on its mandate and that the certificate issued to the council is the attestation of good service, describing it as their topmost achievement. 

“One of our best achievements is the LG-Wide ODF certification issued by the Federal Government with support from UNICEF.

He claimed there’s no single household in the council without a functional toilet, describing the three-center toilets in the market as being in good condition, despite WikkiTimes evidence proving such to be false.

Yakubu also claimed that there had been no cholera case in the council after WASH became operational, hence Dass has been an exemplary council nationwide. This is also in sharp contrast with WikkiTimes findings, which showed the state recorded several cases of Cholera in 2021.

However, he later conceded that the duty of WASH is to encourage people to construct toilets through awareness “and not sustaining them is for the locals”.

UNICEF Declined Interview 

A three-week effort to get UNICEF to explain the criteria followed before their declaring of the council ODF was unsuccessful. In addition, an official letter addressed to the Chief of Field Office, Bauchi was also not responded to.

However, Yakubu Abubakar, the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer WASH Dass Council, said WASH/SHAWN provide operational materials while the communities are left with sustaining the toilets. “Ours is to provide materials, but maintenance is for the benefiting community. But we reach out to communities for awareness purposes,” he said.

He added that one of the criteria for getting the ODF certification is that the community must be free of open defecation.

But he said they have a burning challenge, “Our challenge is we are no longer getting operational funds from the government as we used to. 

According to Yakubu, WASH provided the Council with over 600 solar-powered boreholes, but couldn’t say if they are still functioning.

WikkiTimes’ findings revealed that while UNICEF is claiming that the communities in Dass local council attained open defecation free, the locals are still battling with a filthy environment and diseases remain unclogged.

This story is produced with support from Civic Media Lab.

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