By Stanley Onyekwere
Recently, in furtherance to its intensified campaign against the menace of open defecation, the Environmental Health Department of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), conducted a house-to-house inspection of toilet facilities at Jikowyi phase 1, Abuja.
Peoples Daily reports that a team of officials from the department with some environmental health officers from the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) assigned to AMAC, carried out the exercise in the area, on Tuesday.
The exercise, which was part of the council’s reinvigorated sanitation campaign tagged: ‘Operation Clean Up AMAC”, aimed at identifying and validating toilet facilities in households, to help tackle some of serious environmental health problems in the area.
For the officials, it provided them the opportunity to sensitize the residents on the dangers of open defecation and other unwholesome sanitary habits as well as its grave consequences to their lives.
Speaking to newsmen during the exercise, the HOD of Environment, AMAC, Hajiya Maimunatu Abubakar, said the essence of the programme is to amend the amendable, as if something has gone wrong, then it will take a gradual process to amend it.
According to her, the information they want to gather from the people includes population of those living there, available and type of toilet facilities as well as water source to serve them.
She noted that recently the United Nations ranked Nigeria as one of the fifth dirtiest countries in the world, saying ‘that’s so worrisome that we decided to inspect peoples’ homes in the council.’
She therefore decried the situation whereby a lot of landlords build houses without adequate toilet facilities to carter for the occupants.
Interestingly, the HOD listed the benefits of toilets to include- a place to relieve oneself (urinate and defecate), prevention of diseases, protection from adverse weather conditions and biological hazards, safe cost of treatments of diseases resulting from open defecation, and boosting and empowering communities on economic growth.
“You can imagine when you go to a big house with a lot of people living inside but there is no single toilet facility, but by the time we come for inspection to get this information.
“The information from the programme would guide us and the future generations; if for instance, from the exercise in Jikowyi, we are able to know the number of households as well as their available toilet facilities, it will help the government to site some public conveniences in the area,” she stressed.
Similarly, on the measures to be taken against households without toilets, the HOD said; “when we found out that somebody has built houses without providing toilet facility, in such instance, we issue abatement notice and invite the owner of the property to come and meet at the office.
“And if the person is around we will talk to him or her, and thereafter give the person at least two weeks to put the facility in order otherwise we will head to the mobile court.
“But with the exercise, now people who don’t have toilet facilities in their homes would be reawaken to build a toilet.”
On the department’s next point of call, she said that: “when we are through with Jikowyi, we will proceed to Kurudu, it is another eyesore environment, which we are still battling to see how we can make them to understand the need to keep their environment clean.
“Because, most of the environmental problems we have today are caused by ignorance, people are very ignorant about a lot of these issues.
“So, it is taking us time, but we are reawakening the people, educating them and creating a lot of awareness on the environment, so that they will know the importance of maintaining a clean environment,” the HOD further explained.
Furthermore, Abubakar disclosed that after going into households, they are going round hospitals and schools, and if there is any school that doesn’t have toilet facility for the use of the pupils there, will be closed down, and while the council will carry out sanctions against such defaulter.
While urging stakeholders to see the need to provide toilet facilities in their homes and offices as well as to observe regular environmental sanitation exercises, she decried that it was unfortunate people no longer observe general mandatory sanitation day.
“Before, when we used to observe general mandatory sanitation day, people used to come out and clean up their surroundings, but suddenly they are no longer doing so.
“But, even without doing the national environmental sanitation, we can be doing it in AMAC, that’s why we are urging every community to clean up their environment, every Saturday,” she stressed.
Not left out, District head of Jikwoyi, described the exercise as a welcome development, which will enhance living condition of people in the community and the council as a whole.
Declaring his support for the programme, he called on the leadership of the council to sustain the initiative for the attainment of a sustainable environment in the area.
He therefore called on the people to take advantage of the exercise to improve on the sanitary condition of their households and the area in general.
However, one common thing was that most of the residents living in homes with over filled toilets complained that the landlords have shifted the responsibility evacuating such to their tenants, leading to mass exodus and intake of new occupants, thereby prolonging the problem.
At one of the houses inspected, a resident, Emmanuel Attah, said that there is only one substandard toilet and a bath room serving over twenty people in the compound.
According to him, although the one toilet facility was inadequate for the people living there, they have no problem using the facility as most of them only stay out in the town, only to return there during weekends.
In the same vein, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) has repeatedly advised residents of Abuja to desist from open defecation and cultivate the habit of using toilet facilities to avoid spread of diseases.
According to the AEPB’s Assistant Director, Environmental Health and Safety, Mrs. Kate Ocheze, gave the advice in a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) the human waste, if not properly managed, posed a serious threat to public health and the environment.
She said that in spite of the health hazards associated with open defecation, many residents of some slums in Abuja still indulged in the act.
“Human- excreta are a major threat to public health and the environment if not properly managed through provision of toilet facilities.
“Many people end up in hospitals as a result of consuming water contaminated by faecal water or untreated sewage,’’ she said.
The assistant director said that the absence of public toilets for Abuja residents would endanger the capital city and advised business owners to allow the public to use their toilet facilities as a social responsibility.
“If toilet facilities are not adequately provided in the FCT, the territory would risk being polluted, resulting in a rise in preventable diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea and polio among others,” she stressed.
“Some people residing in the suburbs of FCT sleep in shopping malls, markets and under the bridges and they end up polluting the city by defecating and urinating into drains and open spaces.
“The need for corporate outfits to provide toilets for public use should therefore be encouraged to prevent environmental pollution,’’ she said.
Echeze advised residents to collaborate with the FCT administration in its campaign to eradicate polio and other preventable diseases by avoiding the culture of open and indiscriminate defecation.
On a general note, the FCT Administration has sealed up a total of 2,491 facilities and sites in the Territory, for non-compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment/Environmental Audit (EIA/EA) regulations.
The FCTA explained that some of these facilities were also sealed up due to default in payment of service charges and other environmental offences between January and April 2014.
According to the FCT minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, who disclosed this, after a meeting with some senior officials of theAEPB recently, revealed that a new FCT Policy Guideline on Solid Waste Management is being packaged and stakeholders would soon brainstorm on its review, preparatory to its approval by the FCT Executive Committee (EXCO).
The minister noted that the FCT Resident Sanitation Forum has been resuscitated with the objectives of increasing general awareness and full participation of the residents in environmental protection programmes.
According to him, 3,195 Premises were inspected and given health talk on the importance of sanitation, while 93 Premises were fumigated in the process.
However, the minister warned that hard times await environmental offenders in the Federal Capital Territory, as all efforts would be put in, to rid Abuja of all environmental nuisances.
He therefore solicited for cooperation and understanding of all residents of the Territory as well as closer collaboration of all stakeholders.