By Tosin Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
“We met among ourselves (house wives) to discuss how open defecation affects us, affects our children, how we have so many flies in our communities.
“We suggested and agreed among ourselves what could be done to make our husbands responsive to the challenge and we resolved to hold fast to no sexual relations except they build toilets in each household.
“Now there is no house you visit that does not have toilets, nobody defecates in the open any more, we are all aware of the dangers,’’ Mrs Lydia Bisong, a woman and a resident of Obanliku Local Government, Cross River, said.
Obanliku Local Government is located in the northern senatorial district of Cross River and it is one of the rural communities targeted to make Open Defecation-Free (ODF) by Global Sanitation Fund (GSF).
The community recently met the requirements as stipulated in the protocol for certification of ODF and was pronounced open defecation-free community, courtesy of GSF’s Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN).
But some housewives in the area said something stunning, among others, contributed to attaining ODF-status to make the local government area the first open defecation-free in the country.
During the declaration of the community open defecation-free, the women in Obanliku said they always encouraged their men to build toilets before coming close to them for sex.
Pointing out the importance of sustained sanitation and hygiene, Mr Jerry Ashua, the Chairman, Obanliku Local Government Area, said there had been reduction in deaths from sanitation-related diseases since the introduction of RUSHPIN.
He said apart from the initiative of the women in the area, staff of the local government collaborated with the traditional rulers to introduce a fine of N20, 000 as punishment for anyone caught defecating in the open.
This feat notwithstanding, Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Adamu expressed concern that Nigeria was reported to be among nations in the world with the highest population practising open defecation.
“This poses a great challenge to women, girls and those in vulnerable conditions, and impacts negatively on the health and economy of the populace,’’ he said.
The minister, however, explained that the implementation of sanitation and hygiene programmes would promote behavioural change towards ending open defecation in the country.
Alluding to the minister’s opinion, Mr Tim Connell, the Country Director, United Purpose, Implementing Agency of the RUSHPIN Programme, said there should be emphasis on sanitation to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
He also noted that Bekwarra Local Government Area in Cross River was about to attain open defecation-free status, promising that the organisation would replicate the success story in Obanliku in other local government areas.
To achieve this, Mr Nanpet Chuktu, the RUSHPIN Programme Manager, said within four years of programme implementation, 1,859 communities had been reached with hygiene messages.
He said no fewer than 600,000 persons now lived in open defecation-free communities in the six local government areas in the two states — Cross River and Benue.
He noted that the agency used Community Led-Total Sanitation model to encourage the communities to build and use toilets, while adopting behavioural change as a means of promoting hygienic habits.
In spite of this, observers note that there have been lapses in the programme scale- up, issues of insecurity in some communities in Agatu Local Government Area in Benue and non-payment of counterpart funds by the two state governments.
In the light of this therefore, Mr Emmanuel Awe, the chairman, National Task Group on Sanitation, advised Benue and Cross River to speedily pay up their counterpart funds to scale-up sanitation and hygiene in the states.
He cautioned the states that the GSF; the sponsors of RUSHPIN programme, had threatened to withdraw funding by September if the two states failed to pay.
Awe said GSF had also said that if the two states failed to meet this demand, it would stop funding.
Similarly, he said the organisation had urged states that desired sanitation and hygiene scale-up to show interest.
He said that it was saddening to note that the two states had not been able to pay up counterpart funds for the upgrade of the programme.
He expressed concern that lack of water and sanitation had impacted negatively on the economy, health and productivity.
Awe said the payment of the funds was an opportunity to scale-up sanitation and hygiene in the states to reduce the prevalence of diseases.
Observers recall that the Federal Government had in 2014 signed an agreement with GSF, resulting in the provision of five million dollars by GSF for the project implementation in six local governments in Benue and Cross River.
In spite of this intervention, observers believe that without counterpart funds settlement, there may be delay in meeting the Open Defecation-Free Country target for Nigeria by 2025.