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As Bill to End Open Defecation Hits Brick Wall

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Last week, the ministry of finance and major stakeholders from the water sector opposed a Bill seeking to establish a Clean Nigeria Agency to help the federal government in its effort to end open defecation in the country by 2025.

Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside rather than into a toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals or other open space for defecation. They do so probably because they do not have a toilet readily accessible or it’s behavioral. According to statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) couple of years ago, about 892 million are still practicing open defecation, with 90 percent of them residing in rural areas.

This menace, is the major reason water-borne ailments are on the rise. It also makes women and girls vulnerable to sexual violence and other forms of risks. In some places where there may be no bushes, people have to bear the inconvenience of waiting until nightfall to defecate in the open, exposing to different forms of danger on their way to or from the bush.

In Nigeria, about 46 million people lack access to toilets and still practice open defecation, while India with a population of billions has freed itself from the practice.

In 2014, the worsening sanitation situation in the country prompted the National Council on Water Resources to develop a roadmap towards eliminating open defecation in the country, in line with the United Nations global campaign for ending open defecation.

This initiative tagged “Making Nigeria Open Defecation Free by 2025: A National Roadmap” was developed by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources with invaluable support from United Nation Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and other key sector players across Nigeria.

Also, in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order 009 to end open defecation in the country by 2025.

Titled, “The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order 2019,” the Presidency said Buhari’s action became necessary because Nigeria had been ranked the second country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation.

While concerted efforts are being made by the Federal Government and other stakeholders to end open defecation by 2025, the parliament also has waded in to help achieve this target.

A member of the Senate, representing Edo Central, Senator Clifford Ordia recently sponsored a Bill in that regard. The proposed legislation is titled, “A Bill for an Act to Establish Clean Nigeria Agency (Establishment) Bill, 2021.”

In March 2021, the Bill was passed for second reading by the lawmakers. Senator Ordia had while leading the debate on its general principles recalled that on November 20, , 2019, the President issued a Presidential Executive Order 009 on “The Open Defecation Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters.”

He added that pursuant to this Order, a Secretariat in the Ministry of Water Resources called “Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat” was created to coordinate and drive the implementation of the said Presidential Executive Order.

The Public Hearing

Months after the Bill scaled through second reading, on December 6, the Senate Committee on Water Resources, chaired by Senator Bello Mandiya held a public hearing on the Bill with major stakeholders in attendance to make their input. At the hearing, Ordia in his remarks, again made reference to the Executive Order 009 on Open Defecation Free Nigeria by 2025, issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 20, 2019 as the motivation for the conceptualization of the Bill.

He specifically pointed out paragraph Five of the Executive Order which gives the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly the mandate to enact legislation on the practice of open defecation with appropriate sanctions and penalties provided.

He also said further motivation for the conceptualization of the Bill, was derived from extant reports on the menace of the practice of open defecation in Nigeria.

According to him, “It was reported for instance that Nigeria is the leading nation in the world with the highest number of people practicing open urination and defecation, estimated at over 46 million people and which has made it practically impossible for the country to meet the SDG Goal 6 by 2030. Also, apart from the stench that emanates from open urination and defecation sites, it also provides a breeding ground for disease causing organisms that has resulted in huge economic losses to the country. More so, when one considers the negative impacts and the socioeconomic opportunities available in ending the shameful practice of urinating and defecating in the open, there is no gain saying, however, that providing a legal frame work, and creating an agency by an act of the National Assembly to prohibit open urination and defecation in the country is not only eminent but long overdue.

“This Bill when passed into law will establish and empower the Clean Nigeria Agency, to enforce the penalties and sanctions prescribed by this bill. One may argue, will the function of this agency not be a duplication of any other agency of government? The answer is no! Because, after careful observation of existing laws, I discovered that the there is no agency created by the National Assembly with explicit function to control the practice of open urination and defecation in the country. The jobs that will be generated and the moneys that will be raised from the issuance of licenses to private corporation for the operation of commercially owned public toilets, will help in sustaining the running of the agency and also add to the revenue pool of the country, especially in the light of dwindling revenue accruing to the country. I therefore, urge you all to give your support to this Bill, taking into consideration the socio-economic and health benefits it will bring to the country and its citizenry.”

But in her presentation, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said there are existing agencies of government whose functions and mandate the Bill will infringe upon.

Represented by the Ministry’s Assistant Director Legal Services, Ati Amali, the Minister while noting that the Bill is laudable, however, said that there are other tiers of government that are dealing with the issues or functions that this Bill is proposing.

She said, “The Water Resources Act, Water Use and License Regulation, Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act and some other Acts of the National Assembly that the functions of this Bill will infringe upon. The ministry of water resources is backed to regulate how water resources are utilized. It is of the ministry opinion that the mandate of this Bill should be domiciled in the Ministry of Water Resources and the department it will be domiciled should ensure that it liaises with states and local governments agencies under the ministry that will ensure that this particular issue is tackled.”

Corroborating the Finance Ministry position, the representative of Ministry of Environment, Helen Obayagbo in her presentation said the Clean Nigeria Campaign is a campaign programme based on the content of the Executive Order 009, a campaign programme, she said, cannot be converted into an agency of the Federal Government.

Obayagbo who’s the Ministry’s Director Legal Services also said the Bill is trying to convert a fragment of waste management component of sanitation into an agency.

She therefore warned that creating an agency for a fragment of one component of sanitation would mean creating more than 15 agencies for sanitation issues alone, in Nigeria.

In his presentation, the National Coordinator Society for Water and Sanitation, Mr. Attah Benson said that the agency will clash with already existing agencies.

He suggested that rather than have duplication of agencies, state governors should strengthen their commitment to WASH sector in their states and release funding for local governments to function better.

On his part, the National Coordinator, Organized Private Sector on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (OPS-WASH), Dr. Nicholas Igwe opined that with or without any agency, financial gap, technological gap, efficiency gap are still the reasons why sanitation goals haven’t been met.

While describing the Bill as retrogressive and not progressive, he said what is needed is more collaboration not a new agency.

In their reactions, the lawmakers while disagreeing with the views of the stakeholders, wondered why the country is still a mess and is yet to achieve it’s open defecation free target.

Senator Ordia in his reaction said one of the nation’s problem is that people don’t want to be regulated.

He said, “The problem we have as a nation is that we don’t want to be regulated. There’s nothing a committee can do that will bring about the efforts of government to put in place a system where every human being in this country can be regulated. This is where the problem of this country is centered on right now. How can a nation survive on committees, it’s disheartening. If you’re not regulated and you think you are going to get the best out of what government is putting in place. Go outside and see people defecating in public, where’s the organizations?”

Also reacting, Senator Kola Balogun asked, “In spite of all the functions of the agencies you mentioned, why is the country still where it is in terms of open defecation. When you look at a particular direction, we have agencies that are functioning yet we are not getting the desired results. Why do we still have environmental issues in our country?”

On his part, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Bello Mandiya asked, “You mentioned that there are so many agencies yet Nigeria has the highest number of people practicing open defecation. Where are all these agencies, why are they not performing their functions. We have 774 local governments but only 72 has been declared open defecation free. So why are the agencies not doing what they are supposed to do?”

Thereafter, Mandiya expressing dissatisfaction with the responses from the stakeholders, ruled that the hearing be adjourned sine die.

Will Nigeria be Open Defecation Free by 2025?

Of the 774 LGAs in the country, only 72 are currently Open Defecation Free (ODF), meaning every resident has toilet facilities at home and in public places. Without willingness to embrace efforts and ideologies aimed at hastening the process to achieve the target, meeting the 2025 target may not be possible given that it’s barely four years away.

Speaking on the issue in a recent interview with THISDAY, the Minister of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu expressed optimism that the target will be met.

His words, “We are very optimistic that it will happen. Even today we had our steering committee meeting, where we reported. We are supposed to be meeting twice a year to report. His Excellency the Vice President is the Chair of that steering committee and recall we started with one local government that was open defecation free in 2017, today as I am talking to you we have 71. In the last three months we’ve had 33 local governments that have become open defecation free. Before the end of this year, I expect we are going to get close to 100. Yes we have 774 local government, we had a set back because of COVID-19 lockdown we could have done better. But the rates at which the local governments are becoming open defecation free is quite amazing and encouraging but there’s a lot of work to be done. So we remain optimistic.”

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