Ending Open Defecation in Nigeria: How Realistic is it?

By Kevwe Precious Oghide

A major concern in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on Water Sanitation and Hygiene Is how to end Open Defecation by 2030. How realistic is this?

Nigeria is suffering from a defecation problem. Defecating in the open is one of the leading devastating menaces to public health in Nigeria. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about 122,000 Nigerians, including 87,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhoea, intestinal worm infections, cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and other preventable sanitation-related illnesses.

Although access to clean sanitation facilities has improved significantly, due to increased funding and efforts by UNICEF, the European Union, and other global development agencies working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 6 on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); the results are still far from quantifiable. Over two-third of Nigeria’s population suffer from poor hygiene and live without access to necessary sewage and sanitation facilities. And without proper sanitation facilities, people have no choice than to defecate in open and unsafe places, attracting unwanted health hazards and safety problems, especially for women and children.

Today, Nigeria suffers not only from poor hygiene but inadequate medical care, a menace that is linked to poverty. Thus, eradicating open defecation is an important part of efforts to reduce poverty. The general population forgo hand washing after using the toilet due to sanitation ignorance, lack of proper water supply systems and poorly maintained facilities. With the gaps in sanitation infrastructure, Nigerians can only dream of simple toilet facilities.

One prevalent challenge to ending open defecation is not just erecting sanitation structures or providing clean and safe toilets but changing people’s behaviour from choosing farm fields, railways, motor parks, stadiums, highways, streets, roads, playgrounds, bushes, forests and water bodies, to using the toilets. Many rural dwellers, for instance defecate in the open, not necessarily because they do not have access to toilets but because of deep-rooted cultural practices. How do we create awareness of the dangers and detrimental health effects of this practice? How can we share information that will spur behavioural change in an effort to bridge the gap between poor sanitation and the proper use of toilets?

There is a mother in a grassroots community who cleans her baby’s faeces, rinses her hands, and continues cooking, though her hands are not thoroughly washed. There is a child who defecate in a corner and goes back to eating his meal nearby. There is a girl who goes to the bush to defecate and is at risk of rape, kidnap or death. The health and safety implications are terrifying.

Although the Nigerian Government is making conscious efforts to prioritize sanitation, with the launch of Clean Nigeria, the results are not encouraging. Many Nigerians understand the need for clean water but knowledge of sanitation is a far cry. 

To achieve an Open Defecation Free (ODF) society, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources must prioritize sanitation, especially at a time when the country faces the challenge of standard and adequate medical facilities. While the need for clean water and sanitation, particularly in grassroots areas is understood, the relevant government, international development agencies and civil society groups must begin an urgent nationwide sensitization campaign about the necessity of proper sanitation and good hygiene practice as this has a significant impact on healthy living.

To be fair, some humanitarian organisations like UNICEF, USAID, EU and Connected Development [CODE] have taken up this cause but it requires the efforts of every Ministry, Institution, the private sector, donor agencies and even individuals to make ODF a reality in Nigeria. Of the 774 Local Governments in the country, only ten are Open Defecation Free. Bauchi, Benue, Cross River and Jigawa State account for the ten LGAs that are leading the drive towards an ODF Nigeria.

It is worthy of note that Nigeria loses about 1.3% (N455 billion) of its GDP annually to poor sanitation as a result of illness, low productivity, loss of earning opportunities and other factors. Ending open defecation in Nigeria can mop up this economic loss.

To urgently tackle Open Defecation, relevant Ministries must set up strong sanitation policies and make budget provisions that reach even the most remote grassroots areas. Nigeria needs a separate budget line for sanitation with a special allocation to end open defecation and put measures in place for accountable spending. CODE, through its social accountability movement, Follow The Money, can track funding in the fight to end open defecation and ensure that monies disbursed for the cause are judiciously utilised.

The government needs to initiate bills/laws to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement an open defecation roadmap at State and Local Government levels. Corporate Organisations should prioritize sanitation in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) —they can make budget allowances for erecting mobile toilets, repairing broken facilities, providing water supply to improve the practice of proper sanitation, in urban areas.

There is a need to adopt all necessary means to sensitize the public on the importance of sanitation and hygiene. It is not enough to provide clean and safe toilets but also to change behaviours as a means to bridge the gap between building latrines and their proper use.

In 2014, India began an intentional and aggressive nationwide campaign to stop 623 million of its population from practising Open Defecation. Today, India has recorded 94% success rate. If India, with its very large population can achieve this, so can Nigeria. 


Kevwe Precious Oghide is the Communications Lead at Connected Development [CODE]. She has a profound appreciation for great humanitarian service, demonstrates high ethical standards and has an outstanding record of generating high impact results through creativity and collaboration. Reach her via Kevwe.oghide@gmail.com

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