June 13, 2024

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It’s Shocking Some People Still Prefer To Defecate Openly In C’River Villages -NOA Boss

9 min read

From Calabar, DAVID AGABI spoke with the Cross River State Director, National Orientation Agency, NOA, Florence Osang, on the federal government’s new policy on open defecation.
It is clear that President Buhari was not quite happy after Nigeria was ranked second by UNICEF among countries practicing open defecation globally, hence the need for Executive Order 009. What is your perspective on this?
The Order 009 about the open defecation is a very logical issue that shows there is interest of the government to ensure that this is stopped and that the people live a healthy life.
But even prior to this, the government has been doing something about it, just that this, maybe, has come out in the open to show its government interest document.
Ordinarily, the federal government has been doing things with the local governments and has been working with various stakeholders such as development partners like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others to ensure that this open defecation is done with and that is why as we work with UNICE. We talk about essential family practices and so the open defecation is one of the core issues in essential family practices that we talk about.
To what extent has the federal government initiative aimed at ending open defecation succeeded?
Prior to this in Cross River State, UNICEF, with the National Orientation Agency, has done some work. We can remember that last year, we worked on eight local government areas of the state, which includes Ogoja, Obudu, Boki, Akpabuyo, Calabar South, Ikom, Obubra, Yakurr and a few others. But out of the eight local governments, we have 36 communities and we have in each of these communities in total 36,000 stakeholders that the community stakeholders have trained in the state, among others that we have been working silently on.
At what point did it become so obvious that Nigeria was seriously indulging in open defecation and when did you start doing something about it?
Two years ago, the issue of working on open defecation intensified in the state and we started working with UNICEF and ensured that Yakurr and Obanliku local government areas was open defecation free.
Last yea,r we worked with UNICEF and ensured that Boki is open defecation free, though it wasn’t celebrated like Yakurr and Obanliku; but it was certified.
We also worked to ensure Bekwara was open defecation free. The issue of open defecation is a very serious matter because when we go to the communities, we see people defecate inside the stream and it is that stream that they are drinking. They are defecating down where they are not fetching, but there is another community down there that is fetching from the feaces and drinking.
Is it that Nigerian People don’t want to use toilets and latrines or they are not available?
The issue of whether people do not have toilets and they defecate openly, does not do justice to the question. I think it is more of a cultural thing, where many people believe it better to defecate outside where fresh breeze will touch you and all that. We need ethical reorientation and attitudinal change to frontally address the issue.
The implication of this is that when they defecate openly and the rains come, the rain still packs all these things to the stream or river where water is fetched and which is the source of water supply and people still drink. In fact, it is while working on this programme that I know that when you tell a medical personnel that you have typhoid, that means you are eating from feaces.
But they will politely say, it is typhoid, when someone is happy to say I am suffering from malaria and typhoid, it rings a bell to the medical personnel that this person is eating feaces, directly or indirectly.
Directly, in the sense that he is either drinking the water which is polluted with feaces, or indirectly when you don’t wash your hands properly after shaking people that have eased themselves or blown mucous out of their nose.
The medics discovered that most of the ailments that people have gone through are caused by the issue of washing of hands. So we stress a lot while we are talking open defecation. One of the issues we stress about is good hands washing. At critical times when you go to toilet, when you want to breastfeed, when you want to cook, when you are coming back from work or you went out, you may see a friend on the road and greet, you don’t know who hold his hand or went to toilet and didn’t wash his hands well and you don’t know how it will pass to you. So, we expect everybody to take the issue of hand washing very serious.
How serious is this issue of Open Defecation in Nigeria, particularly Cross River State?
The issue of open defecation is a very serious. As I told you earlier, 36,000 communities within the eight local government areas in the state is seriously worked on, so that we will reduce preventable deaths among particularly rural communities. We discovered that some of the deaths in some of our communities are as a result of waterborne diseases as a result of cholera, dysentery or diarrhea infested stool.
Now that Mr. President’s Order is in place, how do you intend to sustain the effort to making sure the 2025 deadline is achieved?
We have the governance structure already in place. We have the trained personnel. As a key stakeholder, we will be waiting eagerly for the matching order from the federal ministry of water resources whose ministry the order is domiciled, and then we will kick start. But don’t forget as I said earlier, we have been doing this all along, just that the president’s order will consolidate our achievement thus far.
How have you been doing the work?
We usually use our staff to train the trainer, then we meet with the communities by through their arrow heads, the chiefs, the leaders, youth, and women groups and all the opinion leaders and then we train them and tell them about all the things and then we expect that when they go down, they will be able to exemplify that which we train them.
Then, we now come back and have voluntary community mobilizers (VCM). So this VCM are part of those who are living in the communities that will also go and talk to their people that these things we are doing is not good, we are supposed to do it other way.
Ironically, the local governments we have worked in, the people in the grassroots are easy to be mobilized and very responsive. “I was shocked when I went to my community and they were still doing what they were doing, but by the time I went there, about three months later, when they were talking about open defecation, I was surprised that everybody had a toilet in his compound to use. So, it is good that the federal government has come out to show interest openly.
As one who has worked with an agency whose primary role is to enlighten people, what would you say is the motive behind open defecation?
Culturally, our people used to defecate in the open, but times have changed. Those times when you go into the bush to defecate, those times when you have one bar of stick behind the house, chief and his friend will climb together and while they are doing it together, they are telling stories have all passed, we have to move with time and therefore change.
The culture has been there and it has been because we had so much vast land. But see, when we talk about Christ, people believe you want to bring religion, if you read in the Bible you discover that God taught the children of Israel how to defecate in open. How do you defecate? Take a shovel, dig a hole and defecate, when you finish you cover it. And so that is why you are now advised also. What the government has translated by saying if you don’t have money to do a fantastic one that you use in the house, just dig a pit deep enough and make sure you design it with mud, design the top, have something to cover it.
When we went to Yala Local Government recently, at first it was beautiful but the moment we wanted to ease ourselves and we were ushered into a toilet we went, oh! They put palm fronts to cover everywhere and they have dug the pit and put cement on the top and put the very small wood and nailed a very long hand to open it, you ease yourself and put it back. So you do it according to what you can afford. If you know you can afford that type, fine. If you know you can do the one you will just use one bag of cement and try to do it in a way that once you put one cup of water it flushes itself, you can do it and if you want to do the one of water system you can do it. It all depends, but I will suggest that make sure that you have where you can ease yourself.
In motor parks make sure you have where you can ease yourself and keep it clean.
How do you see the clause in the order which mandates National and State Houses of Assembly to legislate law that will penalize defaulters. Is it fair?
If there is a political will, you must have to make sure that it is complete but it all depends on how it is. You know, just like I said, our people are very easy to talk to. It is the elite that are the problem. Take for instance Governor Donald Duke in Cross River started cleaning the streets, even the motor park person would not want to throw something , when you throw, they will say, ‘madam, pick am.’
He did not make laws but the people were conscious of the serenity, they liked it. You see, even a child say ‘Oga”, no throw it here.’ And gradually, he now come and put bins, both the small bins on the road and the big bins and of course there was no announcement in the radio. You work in the media, I don’t know, maybe you can correct me, whether there was any announcement to show, if you throw, there was not because he has set a standard and people were impressed about it , and so, visitors, strangers, citizens within the state liked it. So it all depends if they have that political will and they want to put it that way, well fine and good, but the people will be enlightened and normally government sensitization, like I told you, we have started already, we would continue to sensitize the people and of course the people would also need to cooperate.
Talking about election, how do you envisage the upcoming re-run in Ekureku 1 and 2 for Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency?
It’s still the same enlightenment, we will appeal to them to embrace peace, the importance of peace.
This is very vital. I just met a chief today, who was telling me how they entered his house in his own local government and has his son killed, he was so bitter about it, a young man who finished HND and was waiting to go for national assignment. Apparently, the community said though that they don’t want cultism, selected some of them to watch out, so those ones went and enforced themselves and went and eliminated these ones the community had trust on which one of them is his son. Those things are bitter. It is not good to kill somebody. Watch and see those people, who killed if you catch them, they beg more than the people they killed.
killing is not good, it always leaves scars in the heart of people. So we use the opportunity to sensitize, enlighten them, interact with them have interface, have community town hall meetings with them, appeal to even the politicians themselves, but most times too, the politicians themselves don’t help matters. Political office is not by all means, and it is not a do or die affair, and believe me, you by the time you finish this years that you were there when even you stay and get tenure and get a second tenure, one day you will come out , you will discover you are now an ordinary citizen.

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