•Authorities, residents strive to reclaim beauty of FCT


From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja



In the heart of Nigeria’s capital lies an open secret menace that tarnishes the city’s charm and beauty. It is the issue of open defecation.

Public toilet misuse and outdoor bowel movements persist in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Journeying through the streets, one cannot ignore the troubling sight of makeshift toilets in disarray and the lingering stench of human waste in public spaces. This stark reality unveils a pressing issue that demands attention and action.

Authorities grapple with outdated laws, rebellious attitudes and population bloat due to insurgency in neighboring states in the fight against open defecation that threatens to impede progress in achieving a cleaner and healthier environment.

Residents described the menace as a nightmare, imploring government to intervene promptly to prevent it from escalating into a serious health crisis. A resident, Mr. Fidelis Nok, warned that open defecation not only jeopardises public health but also pollutes the environment, fostering disease spread and water source contamination.

He proposed street electrification and enforcement of sanitary regulations: “Almost every gutter or drain along the expressways, from Airport Road to Kubwa, is tainted with human feces. These acts likely occur at night. The foul odor encountered while crossing roads during the day or in the morning is distressing.”

He suggested the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) should prioritise combating open defecation, instead of focusing solely on pursuing street vendors and traders. He emphasised the need for increased vigilance during nighttime when these activities typically occur: “Improving street lighting at night would also aid in deterring such actions, as darkness provides cover for such behaviours.

“Laws must be strengthened to ensure that there are penalties. Also, there should be orientation and re-orientation of the public against such.”

Another resident, Mr. Idris Amoo, a lawyer, said: “There is a spot I regularly pass by on my way to and from work near Mabushi Express, close to the Ministry of Transportation, opposite the Mabushi Divisional Police Station. I detest that location. It is dreadful.

“Each time I pass by, I have to quickly move past, wind up the car window or hold my breath. If you visit there now, you will witness it. It is a clear example of open defecation.

“Most of those engaging in open defecation in that vicinity are commercial drivers and traders without access to public toilets in the area. This lack drives them to resort to such practices.

“Arresting offenders isn’t a practical solution as many are involved. Instead, the FCTA’s social welfare department and the environmental protection and sanitation agency should construct a public toilet in the vicinity, preferably near the police station. Users could pay a small fee like N20 or N50 for maintenance, thereby curbing the problem.

“If you look around that area, you would see the Ministry of Works, police station and other public buildings. But there is no public toilet there.

“Secondly, since the area is very close to the Mabushi Divisional Police Station, it will be easier to enforce. They can use the DPO to arrange some men that can serve as watch dogs around there so that anybody that is caught red handed, is prosecuted. That way it can be curbed permanently.

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“There should also be increased sensitisation. The government should collaborate with the leadership of the drivers there to sensitise and warn the drivers to desist from the behavour of open defecation. All hands must be on deck to solve this menace once and for all.”

Miss Happy John, a civil servant, expressed dissatisfaction with the unpleasant odors in the vicinity of Utako during her commute to the office. She noted a specific location along her route, past the Beger Roundabout, near the Arab Junction, where she encountered an offensive smell.

She disclosed another area near Utako Market: “I think it is done by those touts around the area that defecate there. They are always hanging around the place. Some of them are doing petty businesses around there.”

She suggested deployment of a task force in the vicinity to ensure compliance with sanitation laws.

A Nurse, Mrs. Oge Duru, was concerned about open defecation occurring inside an unfinished building near her shop in Lugbe. She lamented that this significantly affected the livability of the area for both herself and her customers: “I wish the owner of the place can finish building in good time so that people will stop going there to defecate.”

Mrs Janet Peni, Public Relations Officer AEPB, blamed the growing issue of open defections in Abuja on obsolete laws, insurgency, social and cultural factors. She added that insurgency in neighbouring states which induced the exodus of people into the nation’s capital is a huge contributor to the problem, suggesting population control as a way of tackling it:

“We have a department called Environmental Health and Safety. You might have seen them around the city wearing white and brown trousers or skirts.

“My unit, which is the information and outreach unit,  works hand in hand with them on community sensitisation and education.

“We go round to visit communities and people at shopping centres. Anywhere we find a group of people, we talk to them. We also work in synergy with the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA). During the last administration, they built so many public toilets in the FCT. The problem is that I learnt that you have to pay to use them. You pay about N50 to N100 to use them.

“But, you know our people, they do not like to pay for things. They prefer to just go to any open space and do it there for free.”

“Insurgency is another issue. Influx of people into the city. You see people in the city, they do not have any business, they do not have any work, they do not have anything doing.You see them hanging around mosques, hanging around shopping centres, sleeping. They have no homes. So, they just go anywhere and defecate whenever they are pressed.

“You see a truck load of people being shipped into the city, what are they coming here to do? Must everyone stay in Abuja? You see them lying around under bridges and in different places. Women with kids, even children.  You ask them what they are doing here they say they are here to beg. Is begging for a job? When we remove them from the streets before you know it, they are back again.

“I do not know if we can have population control. If we do not have any business in the city you should not be here. If I do not have any business here why should I continue to stay? Abuja is expensive.

“Our enforcement team, sometimes, when they see them, they chase them away. But, you know, our Act is not very strong on that. There is no specific fine that we can give them.

“But we are working on that. In fact, it is in the National Assembly because the Act has been in existence since 1997. So, there are many things that we really need to update.

“Such people, we just talk to them, we chase them away, we beat them. But then, usually when people see them and call us, before we get there, they have gone. You can just catch them like that. But usually, when our enforcement officers go on duty and see people like that, they chase them away.

“We need a change of attitude. We are trying to increase serious sensitisation on that. Again, people do not even know that all these filling stations, hotels and markets have toilets. There were even times we had to go out and sensitise people, letting time know that once you are moving and you feel pressed you can use any of those facilities.

“Likewise shopping centres. Our officers go round to make sure that these things are there and that they are accessible to the public. But people do not like using them. Why? Because of the same issue of attitude. Most of them are dirty.”