Despite the creation of a special task force by the Lagos State Government to monitor public sanitary facilities, residents are lamenting the deplorable state of public toilets in major motor parks in the state, noting that they are not only unhygienic but could be fertile grounds for spreading infections. ANGELA ONWUZOO reports
Answering the call of nature to urinate or defecate cannot be delayed most times due to the urgency. However, for many Lagos residents, using public toilets in motor parks in the city is a big health risk, as most of the facilities are not only unhygienic but also in deplorable conditions.
In November 2020, while decrying the poor attitude of Lagos residents to the usage and maintenance of public sanitary facilities, the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tunji Bello, had stated that the government would build more public toilets to curb open defecation and achieve a cleaner city.
The commissioner had also said that the government would place mobile toilets in strategic locations across the state and upgrade already existing facilities to encourage patronage.
Bello explained that the state government had constituted a special task force called Anti-Open Defecation Squad across the state to arrest and arraign defaulters before a Magistrate’s court.
The Lagos State Government had also stated that part of the responsibilities of the squad was to monitor the usage of public toilets and ensure that operators complied with the laid down rules provided by the environmental ministry in running them.
However, investigations by PUNCH HealthWise revealed that most of the public toilets in the metropolis, especially those in public motor parks, are in deplorable states.
Our correspondent, who visited public toilets in five major motor parks in the city – Ketu, Mile 2, Ajah, Oshodi and Idumota – found them in unsanitary conditions. Also, speaking with our correspondent, commuters and residents of the areas where the public toilets are sited lamented that the poor sanitary conditions of the toilets make them a dangerous source of infections.
Some officials of the motor parks, who also spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, equally blamed the state government for the unhygienic environment, arguing that the government fails to monitor the operators, as well as the usage of these facilities, by members of the public.
According to PUNCH HealthWise findings, the Lagos special taskforce does not monitor the usage and maintenance of the sanitary facilities, leaving the operators to behave the way they like, including charging high fees from users.
When asked why the taskforce had not been monitoring the public sanitary facilities, as mandated, the Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Waste Monitoring, Mr. Ayo Williams, told our correspondent during an interview that members of the squad have a lot of ground to cover and can’t be everywhere at the same.
Williams who acknowledged that it is part of the responsibilities of the squad to monitor the usage of the public toilets and ensure that the operators complied with the laid down rules provided by the ministry of the environment in running them, did not dispute the fact that some of them are in a deplorable state.
He said the squad frowns at open defecation and has arrested over 140 defaulters so far.
No running water, handwashing facilities
Apart from poor sanitary conditions, findings by our correspondent also revealed that most of the public toilets lacked adequate water supply.
Most of them also lacked soap, disinfectants, hand washing facilities and toilet rolls.
Our correspondent observed that most of the toilets were without running water, as water was mainly stored in containers and small bowls provided by the operators for people who needed to defecate or urinate.
PUNCH HealthWise also found that most of the public toilet environments could be security hotspots, as miscreants were always milling around them.
The public toilet at Ketu Motor Park, as seen by our correspondent, is sited in a very dirty and wet environment. The environment was littered with used toilet tissues, while the toilet itself was found unflushed during the visit.
A trader, Mrs. Yetunde Afolabi, who spoke with PUNCH HealthWise, said she was only compelled by nature to manage the toilet, noting that she had health concerns about the unhygienic condition of the toilet.
Afolabi, a 47-year-old mother of four, said, “I live and sell fruits at Obalende. But, I normally come to Ketu to buy fruits in bulk, so I came to Ketu market today as usual to buy fruits.
“I was as about boarding a vehicle back to Obalende after buying the quantity that I needed when I became was pressed and needed to use a toilet. So, I decided to come and use this public toilet. But what I saw when I entered the toilet can make one to vomit. The place is dirty and stinking. Are you not perceiving the odour?” she asked our correspondent.
Speaking further, Afolabi said, “It is because I will not be able to wait till I get home that I managed to use the toilet. Using this kind of toilet is not safe. Someone can contract infection by using it.
“And the annoying thing is that the fee is high. I was charged N100 to defecate. The operator charges N100 for defecation and N50 for urination.”
Source of infection
Another resident, who preferred anonymity, said, “Why will people not practise open defecation with this type of unclean toilets? Even at that, you are meant to pay after usage. This Ketu motor park toilet is not hygienic at all. Infact, I had to turn back with what I saw inside.
“How can you use a public toilet just because you are pressed and end up going home to your family with an infection? I can’t take such a risk. The toilet is unhealthy and unsafe.”
Speaking with our correspondent, the operator of the toilet, who declined to give his name, said they are trying their best to keep the facility clean.
Asked if the special task force officials visit the facility regularly for monitoring, the young man simply said, “I am not the owner of the toilet. The task force officials do visit but when they come, they will discuss with my boss and leave. I don’t have an idea of what they discuss.”
The situation of things at the public toilets at Mile 2 motor park during a visit by PUNCH HealthWisewas similar to that of Ketu. As seen by our correspondent, the toilet was in a sorry state. It was dirty and stinking.
A commercial bus driver, who simply identified himself as Babajide, said the unclean state of the public toilets in the park was encouraging open defecation.
Babajide said, “Many passengers don’t like using these toilets. When they get there, they will turn back because they are very dirty and unkempt.
“Even we the drivers find it difficult to use them. They are no longer safe for use, except you want to contract an infection. When people around here are highly pressed, they go to any hidden corner to defecate or urinate.
“But those who don’t have a choice, use the public toilet like that after complaining.”
A young lady in her 20s who was managing the facility, as at the time of the visit, told PUNCH HealthWise that she was not aware of the existence of any task force mandated to ensure proper maintenance.
The lady, who preferred anonymity, said no member of the squad had visited the facility for monitoring since 2020.
The story was the same at Idumota motor park, as our correspondent gathered during a visit that passengers and traders dread the use of the public toilets in the park, due to their unhygienic state.
PUNCH HealthWise learnt that most passengers don’t find them convenient and therefore, scarcely use them.
Poor management of human waste can cause infections
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the absence of basic sanitation facilities can result in the contamination of the environment by human waste.
“Without proper sanitation facilities, waste from infected individuals can contaminate a community’s land and water, increasing the risk of infection for other individuals.
“Proper waste disposal can slow the infection cycle of many disease-causing agents.
“Without proper sanitation facilities, people often have no choice but to live in and drink water from an environment contaminated with waste from infected individuals, thereby putting themselves at risk for future infection,” CDC said.
At Oshodi motor park, our correspondent observed that most mobile toilets in the area were also in a pitiable state.
High fees discouraging patronage
The story is however different at Oshodi Transport Interchange (BRT park), which was commissioned by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd ), in April 24, 2019, during the administration of Governor Akinwumi Ambode.
Many passengers were seen patronising public toilets in this park, while some were restrained by the high fee.
A passenger, Mr. Mathew Ogu, told PUNCH HealthWise that the facility is clean but he was uncomfortable with the fee.
“I paid N100 to urinate. Both defecation and urination cost N100 each. But outside they collect N50 from people that want to urinate and N100 from those that want to defecate.
“This is a government-owned facility; the fee is high. So, the government should try to reduce the fee, considering the state of the economy; and to enable more residents to have access to it.
“I know that the facility is neat. The toilet flushes well, unlike what you have at the one outside, which is almost a death trap. That notwithstanding, the government can still do something about it.
“I noticed that some passengers went back when they were told to pay N100 to urinate,” Ogu said.
One of the cleaners, who preferred anonymity, told our correspondent during the visit that the task force does visit the facility regularly.
The public toilets in Ajah motor park were, however, clean when our reporter visited.
Lack of standard public toilets
A public toilet operator at the park and Secretary of Public Toilet Association in Lagos State, Mr. Samsudeen Adeniran, told PUNCH HealthWise during the visit that many public toilets in the state were actually below standard and in poor sanitary conditions.
Adeniran said only a few public toilets in Lagos were up to standard.
He noted that the special taskforce does monitor his facility and other public toilets in the Ajah area, adding that the officials visit the facilities unannounced.
“I know the task force very well. If they want to visit you, they will not let you know that they are coming.
“They visit at least once a month. They have arrested some people in this area who were defecating in the open.
“They have a mobile court inside their vehicle where they try defaulters. And if they are found guilty, some of them are asked to do community service,” he said.
Adeniran, however, stated that Lagos does not have enough public toilets, adding that the government should support the association to penetrate the grassroots to curb open defecation.
Speaking further with PUNCH HealthWise, the SSA to the Governor on Waste Monitoring said the taskforce was carrying out its monitoring duty in the state.
He said, “Some of these public toilets are privately owned. These areas you have mentioned, I will note them and ask our intelligence team to go and check on them. It is possible they are in a deplorable state. I have not been to those areas for now. I will send my team there to go and investigate and after investigation, we are going to do the needful.”
According to him, there is a standard set for all public toilets by the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
He explained, “The standard is simple. They must have an operating borehole; there must be no miscreants there; the toilet must be flushable, and must be cleaned and washed at every use.
“There must be no loitering around the public toilets. They must be washed every day, morning and night. And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the operators have been asked to provide handwashing facilities and soap at the entrance.”
He noted that during the monitoring of public toilets by the squad, private operators whose facilities were found unclean were warned and in some cases sectioned.
“For government-owned public toilets, we change the operators when we find the facilities unclean,” he added.
Over 140 defaulters arrested
Commenting on the arrest of those who still practice open defecation, Williams said, “This year, the squad has arrested 82 defaulters. In 2020, over 60 were arrested because we concentrated on the Lagos Island axis. They were all charged to court.”
On the provision of mobile toilets in strategic locations in the state, the SSA to the Governor said the process was ongoing.
Williams said the toilets would be privately owned, stating that licence had been given to some private individuals to commence operation.
“A lot of people have applied and we are screening them,” he said.
People could acquire hepatitis B and C from public toilets –Expert
A Retired Chief Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Dan Onwujekwe, told our correspondent that to avoid acquiring infections from public toilets, users must ensure that they disinfect the seat before using it.
Onwujekwe said people could acquire infections such as hepatitis B and C from public toilets if the seats are contaminated with blood or faecal matter.
The researcher said COVID-19 has taught the world a lot of things and the need for people to be health-conscious anywhere they are.
He noted that many people are not aware of the risk involved in using public toilets without disinfecting the seat with bleach or detergent.
“There are infections that you can acquire from public toilets.
“If the seat is contaminated with blood or faecal matter, infections like hepatitis B or C that don’t die off immediately can be acquired.
“If a person with a wound or cut sits on it and the wound gets contaminated with that fluid that was dropped there, then the person will acquire hepatitis B or C from such a toilet seat.
“So, the simple thing is to disinfect the toilet seat before using it. It will render it safe because these things die off when seats are disinfected.
“But a lot of people don’t do that. When they go and acquire other infections, they will come and tell you it is toilet infection. But it is not,” he explained.
According to him, hepatitis B and C don’t die off quickly, unlike HIV that dies of quickly when exposed to air.
“Public toilets should constantly have disinfectants and 10 per cent bleach so that users can wipe the seat before using it.
“Those who manage the toilets should be educated on the importance of keeping them clean at all times and making disinfectants available, especially 10 per cent bleach.
“These simple measures will reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis and protect the other users,” he said.
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