Why Does the ‘giant’ of Africa Still Widely Practice Open Defecation?

‘Why does the ‘giant’ of Africa still widely practice open defecation?’

Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside, rather than into a toilet, and Nigeria ranks first in Africa in the practice, second globally behind India. As a result of unsafe water and poor sanitary conditions, more than 120,000 children die annually in Nigeria from diarrhoeal diseases, out of which 70,000 are children under 5 years (FMoWR, 2016)

Although Nigeria’s plan to end open defecation by 2025 had been approved by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources since 2016, at least 24% (47 million people) of the Nigerian population still practice open defecation (NBS, 2018). “Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet” launched in April, 2019 to jumpstart the implementation of the national action plan, and so far, only 13 out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria have been certified free of open defecation as at July, 2019.

Open defecation perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty, as contact with human waste causes diseases that can be deadly and require long periods of treatment.

In 4 years (from 2014 to 2018), India stopped about 500 million people from practising open defecation (NBS, 2018). What can Nigeria do in 6 years?

So why does open defecation thrive in Nigeria? Ignorance? Carelessness and refusal to see its multidimensional effects as long as we think it doesn’t directly interfere with everyday life? What exactly makes it easy for the average Nigerian to openly defecate? And what new strategies can be used to turn this around?


The average Nigerian that practices open defecation does so mostly because they have little choice. A lot of people lack the facilities to maintain clean toilets, mostly clean running water and as such they do what they think is best and defecate anywhere.
They also don’t know the dangers of what they do so they poop in Rivers and beside Wells.
Education and provision of amenities will do a long way to reducing the practice.


@janet.nwoshai, @Danex is right. Some people may have little or no choice due to lack of facilities to run and maintain toilets. However, There’s need to also go in-depth on this same issue.

Is open defecation practiced only by certain category of communities?

To begin with, I want to believe that we are not only focusing on rural communities as the major, if not only practicers of open defecation, for the urban communities do have these facilities, yet practice the same. In areas of transactions (market places), and infrequent roads, open defecation is unbelievably practiced in the urban communities. And this is despite the availability of facilities in the homes, and even reserved toilet facilities around these places where little tokens may be requested to help maintain the facilities.

So what really is the problem?

In my opinion, the problem is not the action; open defecation. Open Defecation is merely the result of how we perceive the environment around us and behave, which is very key to almost every, if not every societal issue.

See, perception shapes our every behavior. Your mom says “stop”, you do so because of how you perceive her. If she was not, or a bad mom and you are old enough to resist, you probably (you may still love your bad mom) would refuse to obey. We basically weigh out the information we receive before we respond; call it involuntarily if you like, but we do, no matter how short the time to decide the response. This is how we treat norms too. Our minds are designed that way. It’s why we are able to consider something as “good/bad”, “worthy/unworthy”, etc. We are constantly doing a background logical analysis of everything sensed by our five (5) sense organs, also having in mind that this analysis is affected by our feelings; love, anger, happiness, etc. This is the basis of open defecation as a supposed problem, at least in my opinion.

Can we make things right?

We can make things “better” hopefully, for unfortunately “right” is relative, and may mean different things to different individuals. We must not assume that everybody takes in information the same way. We are not fully the same. We may all be humans technically, but our functions differ. A “simple maths” to one may be a “rocket science” to another. This is the foundation of solving problems in my opinion.

Now, to make things better regards open defecation, we need to at least start by reestablishing the need for privacy; that norm that makes it embarrassing to come out in public and expose private parts. This can then be complimented with how threatening it is to our health as individuals and communities.

Sadly, it’s not as easy as it sounds, for our generation has already become almost impossible to bend. However, we can help generations to come by instilling these good morals in our children and younger ones. It has to start from the roots. We have to take responsibility. We must equally not lose hope in our generation. We can be relentless with advocacy about it. It doesn’t have to impact the majority. Every impact should be an impact and taken seriously, for that one impact may be on a father/mother, and like genes, gets transmitted from generation to generation.

To sum up, behaviors, like diseases, are contagious. It is our duty to prevent ourselves by being even more responsible, and to vaccinate our younger generation through good upbringing. Indeed, children are the leaders of tomorrow, as leadership is not merely the assumption of office, but we are leaders to ourselves; that’s why we need to “lead” healthy lives.