By Akanimo Sampson
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State is currently waging a silent health war that is likely to see the state coming tops in Nigeria as Open Defecation Free.
The Director General of the state’s Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, Ita Ikpeme, who dropped this hints said the Ayade administration (Peoples Democratic Party) is proud of their latest feat in two local government areas already, and hoping to make Cross River the first to achieve statewide ODF status.
According to Ikpeme, ‘’in four years of the Ayade administration, four local governments have attained Open Defecation Free status. This is wonderful because in the whole country, out of six local governments, Cross River has attained four.’’
Currently, Nigeria is the only country in Africa with the highest number of people practicing open defecation and ranks second globally with an estimated 47 million people involved in the act.
Statistics tend to show that more than two-thirds of the population is without access to basic sanitation facilities. As Abuja appears to be worried, a critical look at the situation shows that it cannot be business as usual in tackling this embarrassing challenge.
In the mean time, more than 500,000 citizens in Governor Ayade’s Cross River are said to be living healthier lives following the declaration of Ikom and Yala Local Government Areas as the fifth and sixth Open Defecation Free council areas in Nigeria.
The two council areas have a combined population of 501,500. They are the first and second to be declared OD free under the Community – led Health Improvement through Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (CHISHPIN) programme in the state as well as fifth and sixth in Nigeria.
They are joining Obanliku and Bekwarra Local Government Areas with the ODF title which tends to imply that the state is leading in the number of local government areas (4) from the six declared so far in the country.
The declaration follows the completion of the three-stage verification, certification and final validation by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the National Task Group on Sanitation (NTGS) in line with the national ODF protocol, says Oliver Okon, the Project Manager of CHISHPIN.
The elated Okon has commended all residents, development partners and the funding partner, UK-Aid for the result which according to him, did not come easy.
‘’In the course of engaging with the community members, we harvested natural leaders who voluntarily agreed to support their communities to reach ODF status, and extend their services to other communities.
‘’Thousands of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCom) members and hundreds of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) communities were trained in both local government areas and in groups.
‘’The project did not progress steadily from beginning till now without challenges. In October 2017, the donor suspended the project due to non-release of counterpart fund by our state government – a situation also suffered by the sister programme – RUSHPIN. We all lost hope that the project had ended abruptly.
‘’The donor sent in two separate consultants to audit work done and report back to them. On submission of the report, UK-Aid was really impressed with the result of the project and had to loft the suspension, approved a no cost extension for us to r-scope and complete the project with the balance of finds from the UK-Aid’’, the project manager said.
Water Resources Minister, Suleiman Adamu, an engineer, who presented the certificate, plaque and flag for Ikom however, lamented that despite making significant progress in the provision of safe water supply in 10 years, Nigeria has remained backwards in sanitation and hygiene which completes the tripod in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.
He also decried the slow implementation of the roadmap to eliminate open defecation in 2025 which was launched in 2016 while disclosing that only 10 out of the country’s 774 local government areas have so far been declared ODF.
At Yala, the minister said that Sustainable Development Goal 6 which ensures the provision of all WASH needs, directly impacts on the attainment of Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 17 and contributes indirectly to other Goals.
He commended the roles of the implementing partners and charged residents of both local government areas to remain steadfast as the main task was ensuring the sustainability of the status they have attained.