By Ndidichukwu Odoh

Beatrice picked green leaves from a nearby tree in her home and bends to pick her son’s feces when a group of journalists on field trip in Efut Akai Eta Mbutu Village of Cross Rivers state met her.

She noticed there were visitors, unknown faces to her little community, and quickly goes over to the river behind her house to drop the feces she had in her hands

“hey madam, why drop that in the river?” inquired our reporter. “where I for drop am?” she asked, her gestures shows confidence in the face of the dark skinned mother of three.

“no be small pikin shit?, this is where I throw my children shit, no wahala, water go carry am go” She said. “

Sadly the river behind Beatrice’s house in Efut Akai Eta Mbutu Village, of Cross Rivers South Local Government of Cross Rivers State, is where all the residents defecate in, in the same river, they drink and fish.

While 6 out of 18 Local Governments in Cross  Rivers State of Nigeria are celebrated for being sanitation and Hygiene conscious and are already certified Open Defecation free, a visit to Efut Akai Eta Mbutu Village is a different ball game.

As Obieyan John prepares his fishing net in his canoe boat, on the same water Beatrice and her children defecate in, he finds no problem with his community defecating in the river.

“yes I fish in this river, we also drink water from here when the river goes down in the afternoon” said Obieyan, who told our reporter that it is not a problem to defecate in the water because the river flows back by noon and a cleaner water sprouts from the banks which is fetched and used for cooking and drinking.

“Do you know drinking from this river where people defecate in is dangerous to your health?” our reporter inquired, Obieyan replied “What can we do? This is how we have been drinking it, we do not have toilets in this area, and something must kill a man” he added.

From morning to noon, over 100 people visit the river bank to fish, defecate, fetch drinking water or buy freshly harvested fish from the shit river.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), commenced intervention to end Open Defecation while considering the health impact on children. The Project Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet, prompted an advocacy visit to Efut Akai Eta Mbutu Community.

In Nigeria, out of 774, Local Governments, only 13 are certified Opened Defecation free, Nigeria in October took over from India as the World’s most endemic country with Highest open defection cases.

World Bank report suggests that about 1.3 percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) amounting to N455 billion is lost to poor sanitation every year.

The Federal Ministry of Water Resources approximates Open defecation to cost over US$ 1 billion every year due to the health risks that come with poor sanitation, hygiene and uncontrolled open defecation practices in Nigeria.

“Fecal contamination and poor sanitation is a leading cause of child mortality, disease, under nutrition and stunting, these are disease that are very endemic in Nigeria, if we are able to end open defecation we would have reduced the presence of these diseases in our statistics to its barest minimum” said Bioye Ogunjobi, a WASH Specialist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), during a media dialogue on Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet in Cross Rivers State.

Knowledge Gap

Like in Efut Akai Eta Mbutu Village, majority of Nigerians do not know that fecal contamination caused by 0pen defecation is responsible for diseases that are disastrous to human life.

While some like Beatrice “feel” it is wrong to do it in the open, because of the cost of constructing a new toilet, most Nigerians do not know that more money could be saved when a family have a toilet, use it all the time and imbibe the culture of regular handwashing.

Ending open defecation in Nigeria requires a multi-sectoral approach. Ministries for water resources, education, health, finance and other agencies must work together to launch a mass national campaign to sensitize and enlighten the public on the danger of defecating in the open. If this approach worked for India, how much time will it take Nigeria to learn and use available resources to end its demeaning open defecation crisis?