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INSIDE STORY: The Kwara communities where toilets are luxury and open defecation is a way of life

INSIDE STORY: The Kwara communities where toilets are luxury and open defecation is a way of life
November 19
12:10 2021

In the middle of the night when Halimat Abbas, a 33-year-old mother of three, gets pressed, she would get up and make for the dumpsite behind her house in the Gambari area of Ilorin East LGA, Kwara state. For her children, the eldest just six years old, there is a small-sized paint bucket that serves as the makeshift toilet. By morning, Abbas empties the bucket of poop and urine, of course, at the dumpsite.

Like Abbas, it’s the same routine for other mothers who reside in the 10-room ‘face-me-I-face-you'(single room) apartment. With zero urban planning, houses, mostly of the ‘face-me-I-face-you’ pattern, are built in a disorganised manner with barely enough space for movement from one house to the other, and out of the area. Outside the house, residents and passersby have to walk gingerly while making their way through the access paths so as to avoid making contact with wraps of poop. 

“Those who don’t like using the dumpsite excrete inside wraps of nylon, and throw out through their windows onto that path where people walk through,” Abass said. 

Halimat Abbas

“Some of the wraps of poop could be there for weeks until we get tired of the smell and then we go and clean it up. But this only lasts just a few moments before everywhere is littered again,” she lamented. 

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MOST HOUSES ARE WITHOUT TOILET

The expansive dumpsite behind Abass’ house serves over 100 households in the area. Abbas, who has lived in the area for about 10 years, explained how the one-time small heap of dirt and poop gradually rose to a huge dumpsite, fuelled by the fact that most houses lack sewage facilities. 

“Of about 100 houses here, you will hardly see 10 that have toilets,” said Lukman Ahmed, another resident whose house is within close proximity to the dumpsite. 

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Many years ago when most of the houses in the area were under construction, Ahmed said their great grandfathers didn’t think about toilets. 

“We live in these houses now, so, where do you want us to use as toilets? That is why any available space here, people, over the years, quickly make use of to dispose of their poop and other wastes.”

In the recent past, the state government made provisions for sewage collection from these households, but residents said this had since stopped. Some, however, blamed it on the fact that most of the houses are not accessible for sewage trucks provided by the government. 

“The houses were built without a standard layout, and there’s no road for cars or even trucks to get to some of these houses,” Ahmed added.  

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A potpourri of feces and urine.

At the edge of the dumpsite is a tent where children from the neighbourhood gather in the evening for Quranic lessons. Despite the stench of feces — so bad that it could provoke puking –, the children appeared unbothered as they chanted loudly in Arabic, effusively and almost in competition with each other. When thirsty, or in need of water for ablution, the only source available to the children is the well dug on the fringes of the dumpsite. 

Abdullahi Ambali, the mualim(teacher) on whose house the tent for the Arabic class rests, is worried, especially about the safety of the children that gather around him every evening. On Sundays, he would ask his students and other young people in the area to help clear the site, at least the part closer to where the lessons hold.  

“If we don’t do this, the whole place would have been overwhelmed. Take a look at the dumpsite, it is now as high as the storey buildings around it,” the mualim said. 

Unlike other residents, Ambali has constructed a latrine in his house for his use, and the use of his students. He wishes other residents could do the same, and just maybe, they could move an inch closer to a hygienic environment. 

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ABANDONED LATRINES… UNCOMPLETED BUILDINGS

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On the other side of Gambari is the Okelele community where most of the ‘face-me-I-face-you’ houses are also without toilets. Years ago, residents had put resources together to construct latrines, each strategically positioned to serve at least 50 nearby households. They initially contended with the problem of space to dig the pits, but some houses with bigger yards eventually yielded a portion of their lands for the latrines. The latrines, however, barely functioned for two years, and residents had since returned to open defecation. 

Lack of cooperation among most of the households, Yakubu Ganiyu, one of the residents, said led to the rot of the latrines. 

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He explained that “each household was billed N200 monthly for maintenance, but it got to a point that people stopped paying”. Before now, the contributed sum was mainly used in hiring sewage disposal trucks that emptied the latrine pits on a monthly basis.

“Some of us are worried, and because we can’t pull all the resources alone to hire sewage disposal trucks, we started burning the things off, and we could only do that for a short while,” he added. 

An uncompleted building turned open defecation site.

Another preferred location for open defecation is uncompleted buildings. For those whose houses are within range, as soon as they are done wrapping their poop in nylon, they fling it into the uncompleted building– a popular act referred to as ‘shotput’. From the artisan heading back from work to the commercial motorcycle rider on duty, the uncompleted building serves as an emergency restroom should the need arise.

DRAINAGE TURNED COMMUNITY TOILET

Although there is a signboard warning against defecation in the drainage in the Amule area and neighbouring communities, residents seem not to care. Almost everyone whose house is within close proximity to the drainage has turned it into a toilet. 

Letting out a smile, Asmiyu Biliamin, a trader and resident in Amule, said: “We are lucky to have this drainage pass by our backyard.”

From morning till evening, residents, mostly children, can be seen bending at the edge of the drainage and discharging their feces. Worse still, some of the residents have used zinc to construct open roof toilets, passing the pipes directly into the drainage. 

“But what do you want us to do when we don’t have toilets? Should we kill ourselves? Even the government knows there is nothing they can do to us,” Biliamin retorted when shown the warning on the signboard. 

“In all of this area, this drainage is our toilet, we don’t have anywhere to go. If any government is going to arrest us, it should first build us toilets,” he added. 

Drainage turned toilet.

In the same vein as Billiamin, other residents accused the government of not providing them with public toilets and waste disposal tanks, and this had left them with no option than to turn to the drainage when nature comes calling. 

CLASSROOM SHUT DOWN OVER ‘POOP SMELL’

The environmental pollution is becoming unbearable for pupils and teachers of the secondary school in Amule, which also sits close to the drainage. The fence of the school named after Bukola Saraki, a former governor of the state, is weakened and falling apart, consequently, exposing some of the classrooms to the feces-littered drainage.

The school says it has been calling on the government for help, but no succour has been forthcoming. 

“It is a terrible smell… both teachers and pupils find it difficult to stay inside the classrooms,” one of the teachers said. 

“We had to shut down one of the classes because the smell was too much to bear. We have written a series of letters calling for assistance. Sadly, too, we’ve not had a functioning toilet for our students since the one here got bad.”

‘RESIDENTS PRONE TO DIARRHEA, CHOLERA’

The major source of water in most of the communities visited by TheCable are wells. Samples taken from some wells across the communities were subjected to laboratory tests and analyses, and it was found that residents who use the water are prone to diseases like cholera.

Nitrate, a compound that is formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen or ozone, was seen in quantities that could cause “blue baby disease in infants under three months old”.

Filterable solids were also found in quantities that could cause “gastrointestinal disorder” in the residents. 

Asides from cholera, microbial analysis of samples collected showed that residents are also prone to diarrhea, dysentery, and jaundice. 

Residents prone to cholera, lab tests show.

KWARA: WE’LL START ENFORCING ANTI-OPEN DEFECATION LAW

In a recent report by UNICEF and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the north-central ranks lowest of all geopolitical zones in the number of people using basic water supply, sanitation services. 

Out of the 36 states and the federal capital territory (FCT), Kwara ranks 36th, just a step above Ebonyi which sits at the bottom of the table. According to the report, Kwara ranks highest among states where open defecation is rampant in the country.

Kolawole Gabriel Towoju, a director at the state’s ministry of environment, said Kwara’s ranking in the report was inaccurate.

He said since 2018/2019, the government has embarked on “operation Free Kwara by constructing three complexes of public toilets with borehole and a solar panel to power the public toilets”.

According to him, these toilets are located in select areas of Ilorin, the state capital.

“We have one at Ambere, Poly School, Garage Offa, and if not for COVID-19 that came with economic meltdown, maybe we would have constructed more integrated public toilets,” he said. 

He said the government is also working on an allocation of about 1,000 public toilets to be located across the three senatorial districts of the state. 

As for those still engaging in open defecation, Towoju said it is time “the government starts to enforce its environmental law which prohibits such acts”.

EVEN THE MINISTRY’S TOILETS HAVE NO RUNNING WATER

Even the ministry’s toilets have no water.

TheCable also observed that the toilets at the state’s ministry of the environment were without water.

Most of the staff who need to use the toilet would have to get water from a tank within the premises. 

“How do we even solve toilets issues for other people when we have not sorted the ones here at the ministry?” a member of staff who doesn’t want to be named remarked. 

HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS APPROVED FOR PUBLIC TOILETS 

Checks by TheCable showed that in the 2020 budget, the state government had approved N140 million for the purchase of “waste management” trucks. In 2019, the government had approved N202 million for the same purpose.  

Also, in 2020, the state government budgeted N200 million for the construction of public toilets, and N5.2 million for the rehabilitation of public toilets. 

‘GOVERNMENT NOT DOING ENOUGH’

Musa Aliyu, executive director of Media Advocacy and Technology Center, a civil society organisation based in Ilorin, told TheCable that the Kwara state government is not doing enough to address the issue of open defecation. 

Aliyu said it is unfortunate that UNICEF’s report, which was based on a national health survey, puts Kwara state as one of the topmost states as far as the issue of open defecation is concerned. 

“Government is not showing enough commitment as far as the issue of open defecation in Kwara state is concerned. The communities, too, are not aware of the danger they are putting themselves into,” he said.  

“When it comes to the issue of water, hygiene and sanitation, I want to tell you that the majority of government’s policies and programmes tend to neglect this sector because they believe it’s not a strong sector like education and the rest. 

Government not doing enough, says Musa Aliyu.

“So you discover that the budgetary provision for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in a state like Kwara has not been found to have any meaningful impact on the communities. 

“The blame for the open defecation still goes to the government. Is there any serious policy on open defecation? How seriously is the state taking WASH? Are there lineups of programmes to sensitise these people in the communities?” 

Aliyu advised that the government should pump in more resources into WASH, and create a loan facility for some residents to construct toilets in their areas. But before that may happen, residents of the state who lack hygienic alternatives will continue to discharge feces indiscriminately, endangering themselves and others.


This is a special investigative project by Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) in partnership with TheCable, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Published materials are not views of the MacArthur Foundation.

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