Keeping the momentum for Nigeria’s quest to end open defecation

Date: 28th April 2020

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By Olajide Adelana

ABUJA, Nigeria – Ms Chizoma Opara is the acting coordinator of the “Clean Nigeria” campaign – a government initiative supported by UNICEF, World Bank and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), amongst others, to end open defecation (OD) in the country. She believes the country has a unique opportunity to build sanitation around an activity that Nigeria does better than anywhere else – maximizing the power of celebrations.

According to the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey, 47 million people of Nigeria practice open defecation, which places the nation in the second among countries practicing open defecation globally. The Nigerian government has taken steps to stem the tide and stakeholders are increasingly recognizing the interlinkages between the practice of open defecation and other challenges, such as high child mortality, high levels of poverty, and malnutrition.

Ms Opara has been working in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector for about two decades and now coordinates Nigeria’s quest to end OD before 2025. She is advocating for a strategy that includes private-sector investment, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and funding from partners, in a way that addresses the demands and gaps created by community led total sanitation (CLTS).

The CLTS is an approach to sanitation that uses different triggering tools to promote local solutions to eliminate the practice of OD. Triggering has been found to be very useful in Nigeria, motivating community members to become champions for an open defecation free (ODF) community. However, it often leads to increased demand for the provision of toilet facilities and sanitation infrastructures, which are grossly inadequate in Nigeria.

Addressing this challenge, Ms Opara says the Clean Nigeria initiative is canvassing for the adoption and deployment of a roadmap that gives priority to CLTS Double Plus, hinged on sanitation marketing and hygiene promotion, amongst other approaches.

“So, we are looking at using the CLTS but taking it to CLTS Double Plus. It will not just be community led total sanitation but there could also be other things that will go with it. A good example is sanitation marketing, which can fill the gaps that are often created from CLTS after the triggering process. That is what the CLTS Double Plus is all about and that is where we are coming from. The agenda of this government is to generate employment and I know that the sanitation sector can do it,” she said.

According to the national road map to make Nigeria open defecation free by 2025, the country loses 455 billion Nigerian naira (US$ 1.2 billion) annually to poor sanitation. Nigeria needs an estimated 959 billion Nigerian naira (US $2.6 billion) to end open defecation in the next 5 years, with the government expected to provide around 25 percent of this amount. The other 75 percent is expected to be borne by the private sector and households.

Asked about the likelihood of ending OD in Nigeria by 2025, Ms Opara addresses this with optimism. She says the momentum is strong and can only get better with the stimulation of private-sector participation and the continued collaboration from state and local government authorities, WSSCC and other partners.

“The first thing the Minister of Water Resources said last year was that we should even get the buy-in of the states. If we get the buy-in of the states, then we are sure they can provide these facilities. What happened during the national launch we had last year was that we saw the commitments by states to end open defecation. This is now what we use for advocacy, it’ a yardstick to keep them accountable,” she said.

She also emphasizes the strong support from governors. “For example, Ekiti State in South West Nigeria has started its campaign against open defecation and on the programme of event was a signing ceremony by all the local government chairmen in the state committing to ending OD in Ekiti State. By implication, states are also supposed to put up a steering committee to drive the campaign.”

The competition among state governments to achieve ODF status in the highest number of Local Government Areas (LGAs) is a major turning point in Nigeria’s campaign against open defecation, and it has started paying off.

In 2019, Jigawa State in North West Nigeria had only four ODF LGAs, and the State of Cross River that had always been in the lead had made six LGAs open defecation free. Jigawa challenged itself to catch up with Cross River and at the moment has achieved six ODF LGAs and are working on another two LGAs. Other states have also taken up the challenge.

“Until recently, Benue had two LGAs but as of today they have four LGAs and are already pushing another three LGAs. Kastina is saying they will give us five LGAs at once and then another five LGAs. Ondo State is calling and saying, ‘Madam let us talk we need to be in the race,’” said Ms Opara.

For Ms Opara, it is motivating to see sanitation and hygiene drawing wider attention across Nigeria.

“Everybody now wants to adopt sanitation. They want to talk about it, and I am really excited that the campaign is working and state governments can now challenge one another for the right reasons,” she adds with a wide grin.

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