Nigeria is said to be one of the nations with highest number of people practising open defecation estimated at 46 million, according to United Nations agency responsible for water and sanitation issues.
The practice of open defection has had a negative impact on the people in many ways in terms of sanitation, health and environmental issues and is believed to be responsible for the country’s inability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
The dangers of open defecation, according to experts including pollution of sources of drinking as a result of erosion carrying human waste to sources of drinking water which they say could result in outbreak of water-borne diseases with the attendant consequences.
Based on this, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources had set 2025 as the target date to end open defection and ensure that states attain Open Defecation Free (ODF) status.
Many strategies were adopted towards the achievement of the ODF, one of which being the involvement of communities in the provision of sanitation facilities in public places as well as concerted efforts by individuals to promote the use of approved and acceptable toilet facilities as well as hand washing.
It is against this background that the recent provision of toilet facilities in a public primary school by a member of Ibeno legislative council, Ekemini Abang Okon should be seen as a bold attempt to contribute to towards an end to open defecation in the area.
Ibeno, an oil producing community at the estuary of the Atlantic Ocean has a beach that stretches several kilometres and has been a tourist attraction for tourists both within and outside Akwa Ibom State.
However, the absence of sanitation facilities in the long sandy beach has been a bane of attracting high numbers of tourist and the resort of the community to using the beach as their toilets had been a major drawback in the sector.
So, the newly constructed toilet facilities at Government Primary School, Mkpanak, Ibeno Local Government Area by an individual could not have better appreciated given the absence of sanitation facilities in the area and is a clear demonstration of how individuals and communities can work hand-in-hand to achieve an ODF status for the good health of the people.
Her efforts are particularly remarkable in the sense that it should have been the local government council itself that should have undertaken the construction of toilet and sanitation facilities in public places including schools, but now that she on her own has elected to take the bull by the horns, it has obviously earned the credit for herself.
In many towns and cities across Nigeria, public sanitation facilities are lacking and it is common to see men and boys when pressed by nature, do openly answer such calls publicly.
In Akwa Ibom State for instance, the provision of sanitation facilities at the Ibom Plaza, a popular resort within the city centre in Uyo, the state capital has not been successful largely because the facilities have been left unattended to and the perennial challenge of inadequate water supply.
Ekemini, who is the councilor representing Ward 3 in Ibeno Legislative Council, wrote her name in gold on Monday, 19th July,2021, at Government Primary School, Mkpanak, after she had observed that the School which is in her home town has no toilet facility for the pupils.
“Before now, each time I would visit the school, human waste would be seen always littering the floor because the pit toilet was no longer safe for use. So I said to myself, I will solve the problem for my people. So, when I was elected to represent them as a Councillor for Ward 3, Mkpanak in November, 2020, I knew the time for me to salvage what I had always wanted had come and I am glad that the dream is today a reality,” she stated.
According to top government officials who attended the brief but impressive ceremony including commissioners and royal fathers, Ekemini is an example of a committed someone who can brighten the little that she finds herself.
“So, whatsoever position you find yourself, always endeavour to do the best you could in order to make a difference,” Bright Archibong, wife of a top government appointee was quoted as saying.
Village Head of Mkpanak, Obong Dennis Esenem lauded Ekemini Abang, for acting wisely, maintaining that she has set the record for good governance by showing the people of Mkpanak how leadership should be.
“Constructing a toilet facility of this standard is expensive considering the type of typography we have here in Ibeno; this act indicates passion and selfless service,” Dennis said.
With the target date of eliminating open defecation a few years away coupled with the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, it does seem the plan to achieve an Open Defecation Free status might not be achieved any time soon, but the step by an individual like Ekemini would have gone a long way in the bumpy road to a healthy and sanitation conscious environment.