MR Ode Manasseh is a community leader in Beven Ben-Hirie, a community in Obanlinku Local Government Area of Cross River State.
He has worked so tirelessly to promote the sanitation of Beven Ben-Hirie, to such an extent that members of the community often acknowledge his efforts and dedication to work publicly.
Every morning and evening, Manasseh moves from house to house, motivating members of the community to construct toilets for their use.
His main motive is how to ensure that all the households abide by the Open Defecation-Free (ODF) scheme and that has been the focus of his routine visits to each household within the community.
As luck would have it, Manasseh has been able to persuade the leaders of the community to enact a law prohibiting open defecation in the neighbourhood.
Even passers-by are aware of the law, which stipulates a fine of N3, 000 for anyone caught defecating in the open.
According to UNICEF and WHO estimates published in 2013, a staggering 768 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
The two global agencies claim that the development causes illnesses and preventable deaths of thousands of children each year, while most of the affected people are poor persons who live in rural areas or urban slums.
Mr Bisi Agberemi, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Specialist in UNICEF, said that no fewer than 49 million Nigerians still defecate openly.
He also cited the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey which indicated that no fewer than 29 million Nigerians had access to basic sanitation facilities.
This, he added, needed to be scaled up via continued sustainability of hygienic practices such as hand washing, so as to achieve an open defecation-free Nigeria.
“Every year, over 150,000 Nigerian children die from diarrhoea, largely caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
“The UN has urged member countries to prioritise investments in sanitation and develop appropriate interventions to end this menace.
“In response to this call, the Nigerian government has shown commitments to end open defecation by 2025; a target which is not only commendable but also achievable, considering Nigeria’s potential.
“A country, which has 75 per cent of its households having mobile phones, can easily mobilise the people to have simple toilets and end open defecation,’’ Agberemi added.
The Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN) programme of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) targets three local government areas (LGAs) in two states — Cross River and Benue.
The programme is aimed at ensuring that sanitation facilities are put in place in all public places and institutions such as health centres, schools and markets.
The main sub-grantees are LGAs and states supported by civil society organisations (CSOs), while the federal, state and local governments are expected to provide counterpart funds to expand the programme to additional three LGAs in each of the two beneficiary states.
The major activities of the programme are Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), training for the WASH staff in the areas covered, and it also includes triggering several communities to participate and take ownership of the programme.
At the just concluded monitoring exercise by RUSHPIN’s Coordinating Team in Cross River, the team observed that there were several toilets under construction, while there was an improved understanding of the CLTS programme.
Mr Paul Ushie, Local Technical Officer, Concern Universal, the executing agency of the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), urged local government authorities to accept responsibility for environmental sanitation so as to prevent outbreak of epidemics in their communities.
He insisted that sanitation was a big issue which should not be left alone for the federal and state governments to handle.
Ushie stressed that open defecation was the leading cause of faecal-oral transmission of diseases, saying that people should also be mobilised to cultivate the habit of hand washing after using toilets.
He said the importance of toilets in households could not be over-emphasised, as the existence of toilets reduced the incidences of individuals “consuming’’ their faeces.
“When we say people eat their ‘shit’, what we mean is that when they defecate openly, flies perch on them and carry the excrement to food substances.
“So, it is very important for every household to have a toilet, as this will enable it to meet the Open-Defecation Free (ODF) criteria,’’ he said.
Ushie said that his organisation was striving to ensure that more communities were certified ODF, through the practice of hand washing with water, soap or ash, and construction of fly-proof latrines, among others.
He also commended the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) programme for funding the WASH project in selected communities, saying that the project had reduced illnesses and hospital visits in the communities.
However, Mr Patrick Emori, the General Manager of Cross River Rural Water Supply Sanitation Agency (RUWATSSA), urged the state government to pay its counterpart funds for the programme.
He stressed that this would enable more local councils in the state to benefit from the rural sanitation and hygiene programme aimed at stemming open defecation.
Emori said that the payment of the counterpart funds had been a major challenge, adding that this had frustrated efforts to include three more local governments in the state in the GSF programme.
“Cross River Government is to provide a counterpart fund of N337 million for the replication of the programme in Akamkpa, Obudu and Ogoja LGAs.
“We are calling on the state government to bring its contribution to enable us to implement this programme to meet basic hygiene and sanitation targets, so as to reduce preventable deaths,’’ he said.
He said that three local government councils — Abi, Bekwarra and Obanliku — were benefiting from the GSF programme, adding that their participation had engendered positive results.
He, however, said that efforts were being made by the state government to ensure that the programme was replicated in more local governments across the state.
Emori said that RUWATSSA had embarked on public sensitisation programmes on basic hygiene practices across the state so as to sensitise the citizens to the benefits of sanitation.
He also said that priority attention was given to rural areas because 75 per cent of the citizens lived in rural areas, adding that water-borne diseases would be prevented if the rural areas had access to water and sanitation.
Mr Joe Ekpata, the Desk Officer, Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) in Cross River, said that through the CLTS programme, more communities had been empowered to improve their sanitation and hygiene practices.
He said since the inception of the GSF programme in Cross River, no fewer than 205 communities had been triggered to adopt Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) practices.
He emphasised that 36 of these communities claimed that they had attained open defecation-free status.
Besides, Ekpata said that the GSF programme had facilitated the construction of 536 household toilets, adding that the toilets led to a remarkable reduction in water-borne diseases in the communities.
The desk officer, nonetheless, underscored the need to strengthen collaboration with all stakeholders to avoid duplication of efforts.
Mr Oliver Okon, Programme Manager, Concern Universal, in the course of a visit to Bekwarra LGA, urged all WASH officials to show more commitment towards improving hygiene and sanitation in their communities.
He said that the goals of ending open defecation and improving basic hygiene could only be achieved through the commitment of the officials.
“Moreover, there is a need for continuous efforts at building the capacity of WASH officials to enable them to meet the demands of the RUSHPIN programme,’’ he said.
Okon, however, commended the officials for their efforts to increase the number of communities which were triggered by the CLTS project.
“The triggering process involves the task of sensitising communities to the need to construct toilets and engage in hand washing with water, soap or ash.
“We urge WASH officials to continue to sensitise community members to the benefits of hygiene,’’ he said, adding: “Increased commitment is, however, needed to sustain this project.’’
All the same, observers express the optimism that all the communities of Cross River State will soon be open-defecation free.
They insist that with the implementation of the Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme of the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) in most of the communities, the state will definitely attain the feat.

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