The Toilet Named Nigeria

Okey Ndibe. Photo: Trinity CollegeIn his latest column, government critic and Professor of Creative Writing at Trinity College (USA) Okey Ndibe, voices his disgust at the practice of open defecation in his homeland Nigeria.

If you want to gauge how badly Nigerians have been animalized, then pay attention to how, and where, many of them defecate. Just recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 33 million Nigerians have no access to decent toilets. As a consequence, said the report, these citizens of Africa’s most populous nation answer the call of nature in the open.

Is it really only 33 million Nigerians? One is afraid that here’s one occasion when statisticians have pegged the figure too low. Nigeria – as I wrote three years ago – may be described as one vast toilet. Anybody who has traveled from Lagos to Onitsha by road knows that there isn’t one single rest area with toilet facilities along the route. At stops in Ore or Benin City, pressed passengers must hurry off into the brushes, gingerly skating around others’ feces, in order to relieve themselves.

In Ndibe’s eyes the “habit of doing in public what ought to be done in private” points to a deep cultural crisis.

Long habituated to inhuman conditions, many Nigerians have ceased noticing those peeing or defecating in the open. Or, when we notice, too many of us have lost our sense of outrage at the oddity. Public acts of pissing and defecation have become – more or less – normal, part and parcel of our social experience and landscape.

Open defecation in Oshodi, Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Kola Aliyu / PM News

The associated health risks of Nigeria’s insanitary conditions have made Ndibe feel uneasy about shaking hands.

For me, it’s often a dilemma. I know how scandalous it would be to refuse to offer one’s hand. Yet, I can’t help wondering where the hands I shake have been, and whether they’ve been washed.

Ndibe retells an revealing anecdote about local government staff who staunchly opposed a plan to build staff toilets. They told the local government administrator to “just give them a share of the public funds – and to leave it up to them to decide on toilet matters”.

Read the full column published posted on Okey Ndibe’s web site on 4 July 2011.

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3 responses to “The Toilet Named Nigeria

  1. This problem is not limited to Nigeria…is a general problem all over africa…

  2. I agree, its a general problem which can actually be fixed if the people/communities are ‘enabled’..and thats a big word…as well as sensitized about the dangers! :) All I need to see is a healthy public policy at work ;)

  3. I also voice my disgust at ingrates like Okey Ndibe who goes and seat in other peoples land and enjoy stuped pictures from artificial fire place with unshamed authority to write about Nigeria. what gives him the rights to tanish our name with a title like the toilet call Nigeria! Stupid traitor who cannot distingush between telling the truth and fabrication huge hidious lies just to justify his shamefull flight from his motherland with pathetic pictures of people doing what they have to do! dont get me wrong am not encouraging public defication but if you have an issue and you notice it do something about it- take it up as a course – worry the government – donate toilets – or something! instead of standing in front of an artificial fire place and feeling like exported slave that you have become, insulting a nation and its people! Shame on you! Big Shame on you:(

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