Opeyemi Kehinde & Kevwe Ebireri
This investigation by Weekly Trust and icirnigeria.org shows that many students in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, defecate in the open because their schools do not have toilets, thereby exposing them to serious health hazard.
“I’m moved by the fact that a child dies every two-and-a-half minutes from diseases linked to open defecation. Those are silent deaths – not reported on in the media, not the subject of public debate. Let’s not remain silent any longer,” said Jan Eliasson, United Nations, UN, deputy secretary-general at a session marking last year’s World Toilets Day.
His statement point to the danger of open defecation which has been a common practice in many towns and villages across Nigeria, these reporters’ findings have revealed.
The World Health Organisation, WHO/United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, Joint Monitoring Report 2012 defines open defecation as ‘a practice whereby a person defecates in an open area not meant for that purpose.’ It points out that “an improved sanitation facility is one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact.”
“The challenge of providing education of good quality cannot truly be achieved in a debased and unsanitary environment and sanitation goes beyond merely ensuring that one’s surrounding is not littered with refuse; it also refers to conditions relating to public health, such as the availability of clean drinking water and adequate sewage disposal,” the report stated.
According to the most recent statistics released by the WHO and UNICEFJoint Monitoring Programme in November last year, about 39 million Nigerians (about 22 percent of its total population) practice open defecation.
It states that in sub-Saharan Africa, where 25 per cent of the population practices open defecation, diarrhoea is the third biggest killer of children under five years, noting that 88 percent of diarrhoea cases are attributable to poor excreta management.
The report estimates that a child dies every 2.5 minutes because of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
“Children with diarrhoea eat less and are less able to absorb the nutrients from their food, which makes them even more susceptible to bacteria-related illnesses. Compounding the problem: the children most vulnerable to acute diarrhoea also lack access to potentially life-saving health services,” it added.
According to WHO/UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2011), in Nigeria alone, Ekiti State contributes highest to open defecation practice with 60.8 percent, followed by Plateau and Oyo States with 56.2 and 54.0 percent, respectively.
Abia State has the lowest rate followed by Lagos at 1.2 and 2.0 percent, respectively. Kano State has 4.0 percent while Zamfara, Benue and Kwara have 9.8, 52.5 and 50.5percent, respectively.
Although a date is not provided about the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, open defecation in the Nigerian capital is a common sight.
The focus of this investigation being the sanitary conditions of schools in the FCT, reporters visited primary and secondary schools in the six area councils in the territory and their findings are worrisome.
The conclusion of their investigation is that children in many schools in the FCT are being daily exposed to life threatening diseases because of the unsanitary environment in which they are taught and the absence of clean toilets to ease themselves.
Inadequate or non-existent toilet/sanitary facilities
Although adequate sanitary facilities and hygiene practices form essential components of an enabling learning environment and quality education, the reality is that many schools in the FCT either do not have toilet facilities at all or are overstretched, despite the federal government’s budget appropriation of N50million for FCT public schools last year.
In some schools, the toilet provided has either become disused, overused or so badly overtaken by faeces as to be unusable again. In such schools, children are expected to go to nearby bushes to defecate.
Interestingly, investigations also show that some schools do have functional toilets with adequate running water but these are off limits to the students as they are strictly reserved for the teaching and administrative staff and their guests.
At the Junior Secondary School, Rubochi, in Kuje Area Council of the FCT, pupils have field day defecating in the open bush as the authorities have failed to provide a toilet since the inception of the school in 2005.
Though the school boasts of new and well-painted structures, no toilet can be found within or around its premises.
A staff of the school who pleaded anonymity because he is a civil servant, told our reporters that both teachers and pupils “go to the bush when pressed,” adding that “water and toilet facility are the most pressing needs of this school.”
In this school, the students are allowed to take permission to go home to ease themselves because of the absence of a toilet in the school Thus, at all times of the day, students can be seen moving in and out of the school unrestrained even while classes are in progress.
“If a student comes to me, I can give him/her permission to go home when pressed and later return to school. There is no borehole in this area at all,” he said.
In a chat with the reporters, a JSS 2 student of JSS, Rubochi, Aliyu Usman, corroborated this. “We don’t have any toilet here. If I want to wee-wee or defecate, I go to the bush; same with our teachers too,” Usman affirmed.
Further investigations also showed that most toilets at the L.E.A. Primary School, Dutse Alhaji in Bwari Area Council were either dilapidated or locked up, inaccessible to students.
Out of about five blocks of four toilets within the school premises, only one block which has been locked up for months remain in good shape though filled with cobwebs and clustered heaps of dried and fresh faeces.
Others are without doors and/or roofs in some cases, while the only one still under construction have been taken over by weeds and several heaps of faeces.
A teacher at the school who would not want his name in print said both teachers and pupils go to nearby bush or near the school fence to urinate or defecate.
“Sometimes, we excuse anyone living around here to go home briefly to answer nature’s call. The only water-system toilet in the school has been under key & lock for months, because there is no water in the school at all. We’ve not fetch any water from the big water storage tank over there since it was commissioned years ago,” the teacher said.
At the Government Secondary School, Byazhin, in Kubwa, some of the students in JSS2 said they also have to go to the bush to defecate. A teacher directed reporters to the bush when they asked for the toilets.
“Toilets? We don’t have toilets here. What you can do is to go to the bush behind that classroom,” she said pointing south.
In the bush, there are no separate spaces for boys or girls, our reporters discovered, as they all use the same area to defecate openly. A close study of students’ movement toward the bush area of the school revealed an organised management of the bush toilet.
The students go in batches of three or more; then at the entrance to the bush area, one of the students will wait, obviously to prevent the opposite sex from coming in, while the other two or more continue their journey into the bush to defecate.
Further probing, however, revealed that there are actually water system toilets in this school but they are locked up and used by the teachers only. The girls at GSS Kubwa said during their menstruation, they either go to the bush to change and clean up or are compelled to wait until they get home before changing their sanitary pads; “a situation that can lead to discomfort and promotes yeast and bacterial infections, a medical doctor had revealed.
And, truly the absence of toilets is more telling on girls. Apart from the apparent lack of privacy, girls who are forced to defecate openly are also prone to attack from men and have been known to have fallen victim of rape in such circumstances.
It is this realisation that informed the theme of last year’s World Toilet Day which highlighted the risk of sexual violence to which women and girls are exposed when they are forced to defecate openly.
The situation at GSS Byazhin, Kubwa wasn’t different from our findings at the Junior Secondary School, Bwari 1 in Bwari area council and Kuje Science Primary School (KSPS) in Kuje Area Council. At the JSS Bwari 1, some pupils confirmed that they have toilet facilities in the school but they are not allowed to use them.
When our reporters visited the toilets, all of them were locked and the keys were said to be with one Mrs. Veronica. Just opposite the main gate to the school, is a bushy refuse dump site where the students go freely to answer the call of nature.
At the KSPS Kuje, the problem is not that there are no toilets but that they are not properly kept which also forces students to take to the bush to defecate.
“I urinate in the bush but I don’t defecate in the school. We have toilets but they are not okay for me because all the faeces I see whenever I enter there used to scare me; so as to prevent infection, I avoid the toilets. If the toilets are clean, I will start using it,” Munirat Umar, a Primary 6 pupil of Kuje Science Primary School (KSPS, Kuje) told the reporters.
But the Assistant Head Master (Utility) of KSPS, Kuje, Danladi Dan’Azumi, attributed the filthy state of toilets in the school to lack of power supply to run the water system-based toilet facilities in the school.
At the Government Day Secondary School, GDSS, Gwagwalada, and the Government Secondary School, GSS, Gwagwalada, the problem is that the available toilet facilities were overstretched. Thinking our reporter was just arriving the school premises, the principal of GDSS Gwagwalada, Sylvia Inyang, denied her access to the school toilets for inspection.
The principal similarly declined responding to questions about the conditions of the toilets, availability of pipe-borne water, and methods of waste disposal, explaining that she could not speak about these issues unless so authorised by the FCT Secondary Education Board.
Inyang, however, drew the attention of our reporter to the buckets, soaps and hand sanitizers strategically positioned around the schoolpremises. Similar sanitation facilities in most of the schools visited were observed, thanks to Nigeria’s brief encounter with the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease, EVD.
Described as a leading school in Kwali Area Council of the FCT, the environmental condition at the LEA Primary School, Kwali was far from pleasing.
The toilets there had been overtaken by cobwebs and dust while the toilet sinks were broken and in some cases the toilet holes were blocked with dried excreta, papers and other junks. Even the pupils held their nostrils as they directed our reporters to the toilets.
However, it was not a gloomy tale all through as the situation was different in some public schools visited by these reporters within the FCT, especially in the more urban Abaji and Abuja municipal area councils.
At the Science Primary School (SPS) Nuku and the Junior Secondary School, JSS, Nuku, both situated in Abaji Area Council, pupils washed their hands before entering classes after morning devotion and after using the available toilets while teachers did same at the end of their teaching period too.
It was the same scenario at the L.E.A Primary School, Nyanya in the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) despite the closeness of the school to a large dumpsite nearby.
All the toilet facilities in both at SPS Nuku and L.E.A. Primary School, Nyanya, and the Model Secondary School, Maitama, also in AMAC, were neat while their surrounding environments were clean and quite conducive for learning. But, this is understandable as these schools are in or close to the Abuja metropolis where the rich live.
Absence of functioning boreholes/water supply
“An improved drinking-water source is one that by the nature of its construction adequately protects the source from outside contamination, in particular from faecal matter,” says the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report 2012. It noted that Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 40% of the global population without access to improved drinking water.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is not on track for meeting the drinking water target; Nigeria ranked first in Africa with 66 million Nigerians without access to improved drinking water,” it stated.
Nowhere is this more true and evident than in schools in the FCT. Our investigations show that most schools across the capital territory’s six area councils do not have a functioning borehole or source of improved drinking water, despite FG’s appropriation of N3.89billion for the construction/provision of water facilities in the FCT, as contained in the 2014 Appropriation Act.
In an interview with our reporter, the UNICEF Nigeria, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, WASH, Chief, Kannan Nadar, admitted that though the UNICEF does not have “a current comprehensive data of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) in schools situation at the national level,” his organisation “is supporting the development of education management information systems in some states.
According to him, “four states are almost done; which will give the data for 2013 for those states in terms of the information on variety of parameters for the school, including WASH in schools.”
“If you look at the water and sanitation simultaneously, you will find a number of states in the north/south that have poor access to water and sanitation simultaneously. But Abuja, as the Federal CapitalTerritory, is relatively better because of its proximity to the federal government,” he said.
Nadar stated further: “Our support to the FCT, in terms of actual service delivery, is very limited. But based on the information that I have, we’ve supported provision of WASH facilities in about six primary schools in the FCT. e.g. Bwari, Byazhin, and Abaji etc.”
The WASH boss admitted that most schools’ WASH facilities are not functioning optimally because operational maintenance is given ‘very low priority.’
Commenting on the issue, the chairman of the FCT Secondary Education Board, Akinwande Moroof Adebayo, said he was not aware that students in public schools under his jurisdiction practice open defecation, claiming that there is no school in the FCT that is without a toilet.
He said the only thing he could admit was that facilities were being overstretched in the FCT because of the influx of people daily. “To the best of my knowledge, owing to the influx of people into the city, toilet facilities in most of the FCT schools are overstretched.”
Similarly, the public relations officer of the FCT Universal Basic Education Board (FCT-UBEB), Sani Mohammed, said the board is taking the issue of provision of water and improved sanitation for schools very serious in 2015.
He said that there is provision for schools without access to improved water supply and sanitation in the FCT budget, noting that the problems being faced in those schools would be rectified as soon as the government releases money for the projects.
He urged schools, especially pupils, to exercise patience as the education board would go round to ascertain the state of each school’s facilities, with a view to meeting the needs of those lacking adequate facilities that will enhance learning in FCT schools.
This report was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.