The Lie of Open Defecation Free (ODF) Status in Nigeria.


When I read the report on one of the attendees of the Kigali Conference on Water and Sanitation that some Africans believe that they have a feeling of freedom whenever they urinate and defecate in the open, I was dumbfounded. What I read actually tallies with what I heard in Jos in 2002 during a workshop that preceded the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme (WSSSRP) funded by the EU in Nigeria.

At that workshop a representative of one the LGAs in Plateau State claimed he and his community believe it is a taboo to excrete on another person’s waste, to which the audience responded with disbelief. This in effect, supposedly does away with the use of toilets. During this workshop we, consultants to the contractor engaged by the EU for the preparation of the documents for the commencement of the WSSSRP, including this writer, were staying at the Railview Hotel in Jos. Each morning, we would watch as scores of people line up along the rail line doing their own thing!

Since the end of July 2011, I have had cause to be close to Shagari Village, along Irese Road, Akure, the capital of Ondo State. Throughout the day motorcycle taxi drivers (popularly called ‘Okadas’) patronize an undeveloped part of the village to ease themselves. Taxi drivers do the same. I have had cause to challenge them, but a few of them responded that where do I expect them to ease themselves since there are no public toilets as they are always on the streets from dusk to dawn. I have not had the chance to visit the motor parks to find out if they have public toilets that motor vehicles and motor cycle taxi drivers can use. The two major motor parks that I know are at both ends of the town – Ilesha Garage and Owo Garage. I feel any of these drivers will have to make a mad dash to these if they urgently have to ease themselves. Therefore, they do it in the nearest bush whenever they are pressed to answer the call.

In developed countries if the governments do not provide conveniences, eateries and petrol stations do and these could be used by the public usually at no cost. In India a CNN documentary at some time not in the distant past showed public conveniences that can be used for a small fee. The attendant at such conveniences have the opportunity of having an employment and the users have a service that is priceless and that cost very little, while the environment is spared the ugliness of open defecation – a win-win situation.

Donors (European Union/UNICEF) are doing their best to help us stop open defecation in Nigeria. There is advocacy backed by investment. For example, the EU, in its WSSSRP projects, has built toilets in self-selected communities in six states of the Federation – Anambra, Cross River, Jigawa, Kano, Osun and Yobe. What the EU has done is more like pilot programmes which the country needs to build on because there are several hundred thousand small towns in the country that the EU programme cannot cover.

Advocacy which is very important in the EU programme will not be enough. Osun State Rural aspect of the EU programme has been very ingenuous by involving the National Youth Corps Members in sensitization of communities, including sections of urban settlements, about Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). This has recorded some success in that it has resulted in convincing households to build their own toilets. However, this has only scratched the problem on the surface.

Sometimes this year a community in Osun State was declared “Open Defecation Free” (ODF). While I hate being cynical, I am sure that if an unannounced visit is made to this community the report will be different.

Can we really record ODF status for any Nigerian community? I don’t think so. However, open defecation can be significantly reduced if there is concerted effort by the governments and the communities. WaterAid did attempted to provide information on what is achievable as shown in one of their reports(Salma Burton, 2007) in which they reviewed the issue of whether CLTS is a more effective approach to ending open defecation in Nigeria. WaterAid realised that subsidized latrine building and hygiene education were not leading to sustained behavior change. After observing the success of CLTS on a visit to Bangladesh, WaterAid decided to pilot the Community- Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach in four states in Nigeria – Benue, Enugu, Ekiti and Jigawa.

One of their key findings is that CLTS worked better in smaller communities of less than 3,000 people. Another key finding is that CLTS is less effective in more urbanized communities, which include tenant populations. I will like to add that not just tenant populations but where a sizable fraction of the population are street vendors and taxi drivers, especially motorcycle taxi drivers (Okadas) that are currently a menace in urban centers.

WaterAid made several recommendations, but the one that I consider essential to reducing open defecation considerably is – Effective regular monitoring of progress and maintenance of CLTS in communities which should guaranty long term success. These regular monitoring will have to be done by Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) officers who really need to buckle up as far environmental sanitation is concerned. Their predecessors, the colonial times sanitary inspectors, did a very good job of monitoring in the past.

5 responses to “The Lie of Open Defecation Free (ODF) Status in Nigeria.

  1. I am aware that some ODF communities have been declared in Nigeria but because of lack of follow up to such community they come back to OD practices. It is therefore important to develop systems and structures that will ensure regular monitoring to the communities. Issues about implementation of the WASH policies, planning & financing sanitation, fiscal decentralization of responsibilities particularly to the LGAs. ODF is possible even in urban communities with effective mobilization of all groups in such communities. CLTS can be adapted to the socio economic situation in any community

  2. My response to the subject matter here refers. The issue of ODF is subjective and in my opinion, to the time the verification of claims before certification is done. Now, a community/ward/LGA might of truth achieve Open Defecation Free Status from all indications but needed to be followed up regularly, dutifully, systematically to ensure that the toilets haphazardly constructed (might not conform to the definition of safe toilet facilities by standards) are upgraded and maintained hygienically over a period of time. Yes, there are templates for follow up but how regular should the follow up be? How long should it be to ensure that the achievements are maintained and sustainable forever. There are issues raised in the lead discussion which are germane in planning for sustainable sanitation and hygiene programme implementation support in our communities, LGAs and State wide approach to ensure total sanitation and holistic approach to health living and sustainable development. I shall address succintly some of these issues in my next xorrespondence.

  3. well, Open Defecation Free is a mind set and determination by any community that feels to attain such status. To me is not by force but willingness of a group of people to rid themselves of open defecation in there community. Afterall everybody hates shit because I have not seen someone admirering his or somebody`s shit. Once the willingness and commitment are lacking then the result will still be negative. The roles of Natural Leaders within the community cannot be over emphasised. They emerged during triggering and their monitoring activities are more effective than WES staff because the decision is jointly taken by the community. They are recognised and respected by the community people. This area should be well explored for ODF sustainability. Community Leaders` roles in sustanability of ODF should not be ignored. Once they are triggered, they would like to try their best to measure up to their responsibilities. ODF is possible and the possibility is gradual and not a matter of over night mirracle. Community participation and involvement can make real and sustainable. Though i am not saying WES monitoring should be undermined. On this note, care must be taken because ODF community today may backslide to become filty Open Defecation tomorrow.

    • Thanks Mrs. Akinduro. It is apparent from your comments that you feel that sustainability of ODF status is better guaranteed through the use of community leaders who are identified during the time when Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is triggered, instead of WES staff. I agree since community leaders live within the community and are therefore always available for monitoring.


  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts
    and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks
    once again.


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