Open Defecation Free Movement in Nigeria is Saving Lives
A lifesaving feat in the largest LGA in Nigeria reassures that the country can prevent thousands of child deaths
Toro Local Government Area (LGA) is Nigeria’s largest. Nearly 7,000 square kilometers, this LGA in Bauchi state is about three times the size of Mauritius or more than half the size of The Gambia.
Yusuf Sambo, like many Toro residents, is a farmer who depends on the Gwolchaski river for cultivating his crop and for other needs. “For many years, the Gwolchaski river was the sole source of water for drinking, agricultural and domestic purposes in our community” said the 56-year-old, who has spent a good part of his life in the LGA. He recalls the river happened to be a place where the villagers defecated openly. “When I was growing up, open defecation was a norm and commonplace. We did not bother about the negative effects.”
He attributed the negative hygiene practice to the lack of awareness and inadequate toilet facilities in the communities, at that time. “We only had few pit toilets, which were often uncovered and used by 10 to 15 people for one.”
Things changed for the better in 2018. The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency and launched a campaign to end open defecation in the country by 2025. That same year, UNICEF and the Bauchi state government launched an action plan to end open defecation in Toro LGA.
The action plan included the promotion of behavioural change, the implementation of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), and the formation of the WASH committees (WASHCOM), made up of community members — Yusuf is the WASHCOM chairperson in Legga community. The action plan also incorporated economic opportunities through the toilet-business-owners initiative, which increased the number of improved toilet facilities in the LGA and resulted in an average of five persons to one toilet in some communities. Furthermore, advocacy by UNICEF fast-tracked the passage of the sanitation byelaw in the LGA. The law established the legal framework for enforcement and disciplinary measures against defaulters.
In 2022, the National Sanitation Taskforce validated Toro open defecation free (ODF).
“When we received the news that we have been validated open defecation free, we were excited because we worked hard for it,” said Yusuf.
To maintain the ODF validation, the WASH unit co-opted schoolchildren into its awareness campaigns, using drama and presentations to educate the community about the risks associated with open defecation. The children perform during community events and report any violations to the local traditional ruler.
Toro is one of the seven LGAs, which have been validated ODF out of 20 LGAs in Bauchi state. In Nigeria, only 93 out of 774 LGAs have been validated ODF. However, Toro's success shows that Nigeria can end open defecation in other LGAs, where 47 million people still defecate in the open. By replicating the efforts and strategies that led to Toro's ODF validation, Nigeria can make significant progress towards ending open defecation.
About 90,000 children die every year sanitation-related diseases. The Toro ODF journey is a pointer that these children do not have to die.
Standing on the banks of the Gwolchaski river, Yusuf reflects on his community’s journey to the open defecation free status., He knows truly that his community has evolved.