Tackling open defecation in Nigeria

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Dele Akindayo

Excellent Leadership Advocacy Network (ELAN)


In October 2019, Nigeria became the number one open defecation nation globally,[1]passing India. It is estimated that 50 million Nigerians (or 10 million households) defecate in the open.[2] How Nigeria overtook India is a matter of serious concern. India has a population of 1.353 billion people and 3.287 million km2 land area, against Nigeria’s 200 million people and 923,769km2 land area. It took seriousness, determination and great efforts for India to improve. Now that Nigeria is where India used to be on this index, it will need do similar things – but even more seriously.

Open defecation is the act of passing excreta in open air locations instead of in hygienic, covered locations. The phenomenon does not just occur in the rural areas of Nigeria but also in the cities, and among the educated class in public tertiary institutions, business and residential areas. Over 47 million Nigerians defecate openly in and on bushes, gutters, sidewalks, motor parks, recreation parks, rivers and streets amongst others. Some efforts have been made over the decades to reduce the cases of open defecation in Nigeria. Regrettably, they remain mainly efforts, with only 14 of 774 local governments in the country free of open defecation.[3]

In 2019, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari  signed Executive Order 009 to tackle open defecation. In the same year, Nigeria’s Ministry of Water Resources¸ in collaboration with UNICEF and some other key agencies, launched the initiative tagged ‘Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free By 2025: A National Road Map’ in order to end the inimical practice by 2025. Apart from bringing a negative social stigma to Nigeria, which is touted as the Giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world, open defecation also poses obvious environmental, health and economic problems for Nigeria and its nationals. It pollutes the environment and exposes children and adults to critical health problems like diarrhoea (hence leading to untimely deaths).

Economically, Nigeria’s Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman H. Adamu declared:

‘As per a World Bank Report (2012), Nigeria loses NGN 455bn or US$3bn annually due to poor sanitation. This works out to US$20 per capita/year and constitutes 1.3 per cent of Nigeria's GDP. According to the same report, open defecation alone costs Nigeria over US$1bn a year. The market potential of sanitation in the country is huge. If the 46 million people that defecate in the open at present opt for a toilet, the demand for material and labour, on a conservative estimate, will work out to NGN 1250bn or over US$8bn’.[4]

Obiezu declaref that ‘about 25 per cent, or more than 47 million Nigerians, lack access to toilet facilities. The majority are in rural areas, where many poor people can't afford to install toilets in their homes.”[5]

Foremost Nigerian legal luminary Afe Babalola said:

‘Interestingly, this practice is not limited to inhabitants of rural, underdeveloped, areas alone – sadly, it is a rather common experience in some of our federal and state-owned tertiary institutions in a parlance popularly known as ‘throwing shotput’. The existence of this practice in our tertiary institutions perhaps accounts for the failure of the institution’s management – and by extension the government – in providing a conducive learning atmosphere for students whereby basic human needs such as the need to use toilet facilities should not be accounted as a luxury’.[6]

Contributing factors to open defecation in Nigeria include:

  • ignorance and primitive lifestyles;
  • lack of water supply;
  • lack of necessary technology (especially in rural areas) for the appropriate toilet models;
  • poor maintenance of facilities; and
  • the heavy financial requirement in tackling the menace (Nigeria needs an estimated NGN 959bn (US$2.7bn) to end open defecation by 2025).[7]

With Nigeria in the imminent danger of population growth, estimated to be about 239 million people in 2025, the Water Resource’s Minister declares that:

‘The Roadmap provides a guide towards achieving an open defecation-free country using different approaches such as capacity development; promotion of improved technology options through sanitation marketing; provision of sanitation facilities in public places; Community-Led Total Sanitation; promotional and media campaigns; creating enabling environment and coordination mechanism.’[8]

Adepoju adds that ‘the plan involves providing equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation.’[9]

The solutions to open defecation include intensified advocacy to the Nigerian populace to sensitise them to the prevalence, danger and solutions to open defecation. Private and public media originations should massively enlighten people on these.

Second, ‘hygiene laws’ ought to be made at the state and federal houses of assemblies criminalising open defecation, especially in the cities. Motor parks, shopping complexes, markets, restaurants, educational, financial institutions, all public and private buildings, communities, petrol stations, and recreation areas must have toilets with running water. No private building or business site plan should be approved without provision for toilet facilities. Those whose toilets are not properly maintained will be sanctioned appropriately. Each local government must have sanitary officials that bring the hygiene laws to bear by ensuring compliance.

Third, water supply should be made an important priority all over Nigeria. Each state and local government should acquire borehole drilling machines and sink boreholes in strategic areas, especially in rural areas.

Fourth, private organisations like banks, oil, insurance and manufacturing companies should donate latrines/toilets where needed across the nation as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR). Fifth, technological innovations should be encouraged to building toilet models suitable to the environment and for the needs of the people. 

All senior government officials (representatives, civil servants, ministers, commissioners, governors, as well as heads of private companies) should champion this campaign. Finally, cash and gift awards (including plaques) should be given in recognition and appreciation of those that make outstanding contributions to this campaign in other to motivate others.


If India, with a population of almost seven times bigger and a land area three-and-a-half times bigger than Nigeria, can eradicate or drastically reduce open defecation, Nigeria should also be able to do so. What it requires is the will backed up by consistent, deliberate actions.

[1]‘Open defecation: Nigeria ranks Number 1 in the World – Minister’ (Punch, 28 October 2019), see https://punchng.com/open-defecation-nigeria-ranks-no-1-in-the-world-minister/.

[2]‘Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free By 2025: A National Road Map’, (UNICEF, 2019), see www.unicef.org/nigeria/media/1491/file/Nigeria-making-Nigeria-open-defecation-free-by-2025.pdf.pdf.

[3]Paul Adepoju, ‘Why Nigeria's campaign to end open defecation is failing’ (Devex, 13 August 2019) www.devex.com/news/why-nigeria-s-campaign-to-end-open-defecation-is-failing-95448.

[4]Making Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free By 2025: A National Road Map.

[5]Timothy Obiezu, ‘Nigerian Authorities Launch Campaign Against Open Defecation’ (Voa, 19 November 2019) www.voanews.com/africa/nigerian-authorities-launch-campaign-against-open-defecation.

[6]Afe Babalola, ‘The scourge of open defecation in Nigeria: Need for immediate and urgent intervention’ (Vanguard, 25 December 2019), www.vanguardngr.com/2019/12/the-scourge-of-open-defecation-in-nigeria-need-for-immediate-and-urgent-intervention/

[7]Paul Adepoju, ‘Why Nigeria's campaign to end open defecation is failing’ (Devex, 13 August 2019)

[8]‘Making Nigeria Open-Defecation-Free By 2025: A National Road Map’

[9]Paul Adepoju, ‘Why Nigeria's campaign to end open defecation is failing’ (Devex, 13 August 2019)

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