Open defecation. Source: thenationonlineng.net
Earlier in the year, a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH NORM) survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) showed the prevalence of open defecation in Nigeria. This survey ranked Nigeria as the African country with the highest number of population still practicing open defecation and the second ranking country after India, globally.
Open defecation is referred to as the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, drainage, open bodies of water and other such areas to defecate. This can pose serious health threats to persons in form of diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, viral infections and infectious diseases owing to the inappropriate disposal of human waste. Open defecation is linked to poor sanitation and lack of access to basic facilities that allow for proper disposal of human waste.
One of the key targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation by 2030. The SDGs were set in 2015 by the members of the United Nations to among others, improve the lives of everyone, everywhere. Members of the United Nations are then expected to actively work towards the achievement of these goals.
The recent survey by the UNICEF does not indicate Nigeria’s success at addressing open defecation so far. Though it presents the needed information for concerned bodies can begin to addressing the issue. The survey has been followed by series of events and campaigns aimed at creating awareness on the need for proper hygiene and sanitation and more recently, the President’s Executive Order 009.
The Executive Order 009
The Executive Order 009 titled ‘The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order.’ as the title connotes seeks to put an end to the practice of open defecation in Nigeria within a 5-year period. The Executive Order is known to be an administrative tool but can serve as a legislative tool where it sets out the parameters for the implementation of a certain law or creates rules. It is binding provided it falls within the confines of the powers of the President as set in the Constitution. The Executive Order 009 is mainly an administrative one which can also be termed a legislative one to the extent that it provides for the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly to make laws providing sanctions and penalties for open defecation.
The Executive Order gives effect to the National Open Defecation Free (ODF) Roadmap developed by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and published in the year 2016. The Roadmap which seeks to provide strategies, plans and investments needed to eliminate defecation by the year 2025 is a recommendation of the 2014 council meeting held by the National Council on Water Resources. One of the rationales for the Roadmap is Nigeria’s inability to achieve the targets set in the National Water Sanitation Policy of 2004 one of which is to review and improve coverage of sanitation to 60% of the population by the year 2007.
While the Executive Order encourages putting the strategies in the Roadmap to action, it does not take into consideration vital provisions on the key stakeholders in the Roadmap. By the Executive Order, the President creates a National Secretariat, Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat which is to ensure that public places such as fuel stations, schools, market places, places of worship, hospitals, have accessible toilets and latrines within their premises. These responsibilities are to be carried out by the Ministry of Environment as seen in the Roadmap.
The conflicting provisions are worthy of note and ought to be addressed for the realization of the primary objective of the Executive Order and the National Open Defecation Free (ODF) Roadmap – making Nigeria open defecation free by 2025. This is especially as the National Secretariat created by the Executive Order will act under the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, not the Federal Ministry of Environment charged with the same responsibilities as the National Secretariat under the Roadmap. Clear provisions as to which stakeholder is responsible for specific actions will also allow proper guidance where national or state legislation are to be made.
Implication for Concerned Establishments
By the Executive Order, already existing establishments such as hotels, offices, schools, markets and other public places are expected to begin to work towards the provision of toilets accessible to the public. It is important to note that timelines were not set for these establishments in the Executive Order to make provisions for publicly accessible toilets. This is an important factor taking into consideration the availability of funds for the concerned establishments.
While there are currently no sanctions and timelines attached to the Executive Order, it is important for such establishments to note that the Executive Order empowers relevant stakeholders to begin immediate implementation of the declarations in the Order and the provisions in the Roadmap. Immediate steps towards the provision for publicly accessible toilets in such establishments will help to avoid unnecessary interruption of business activities
Factors that Legislation on Open Defecation Should Consider:
It is pertinent that a law aimed at encouraging proper hygiene and sanitation, especially one as envisaged under the Executive Order takes into consideration the provision for the following:
- The regulation of charges for use of public toilets;
- Outline of basic facilities a public toilet should have, such as clean water, soap, arrangement for regular cleaning services, and other such facilities;
- Periodic inspection of public toilets; and
- Generally, provisions which allow for feasibility of the primary objective.
The provisions of the National Sanitation Policy, the National Open Defecation Free (ODF) Roadmap and the Executive Order are all geared towards the creation of a healthier environment which is essential for public health. However, addressing the conflicting provisions in stakeholders’ responsibilities is essential for the eradication of open defecation or at least a significant reduction of this practice by the year 2025.
Azeezat Adedigba, “Nigeria worst African country in open defecation, second globally – Report” Premium Times (2019). Online: https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/337023-nigeria-worst-african-country-in-open-defecation-second-globally-report.html accessed 25 November 2019
UNICEF India, “Eliminate Open Defecation” https://unicef.in/Whatwedo/11/Eliminate-Open-Defecation
https://www.ajol.info/index.php/naujilj/article/view/136320 accessed 25 November 2019
Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Making Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free by 2025: A National Roadmap. Online: https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/media/1491/file/Nigeria-making-Nigeria-open-defecation-free-by-2025.pdf.pdf accessed 25 November 2019
Karen McVeigh, “One in five people in cities worldwide live in areas with no safe toilet” The Guardian (18 November 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/nov/18/one-in-five-city-dwellers-worldwide-no-safe-toilet-world-toilet-day accessed 27 November 2019
Okebukola Elijah and Kana Abdulkarim (2012), ‘Executive orders in Nigeria as valid legislative instruments and administrative tools’ Nnamdi Azikiwe University Journal of International Law and Jurisprudence Vol. 3 pp. 59-68. Online: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/naujilj/article/view/136320 accessed 25 November 2019
Atinuke O. Akinsuroju
Health Ethics and Law Consulting