By Udeme Nana
Last Saturday, August 27, the heavens opened and rain descended across Akwa Ibom state.
It was a cold and wet day. But Ikot Akpan Nkuk, the headquarters of Ukanafun Local Government Council, one of the pioneer local government areas in the oil-rich state, braved the downpour to host the commissioning of modern public conveniences donated by an indigene of the area for use by workers in the Council.
Although erroneously described as “ultra modern”, what was commissioned cannot, by any standard, be termed “ultra modern”, because what would pass as ultra-modern toilets now do not use water. They are digitally operated, and faeces and urine disappear as the user leaves the toilet seat.
These are used in smart buildings where everything is controlled digitally.
The dignitaries at the commissioning included the deputy Governor of the state, Moses Ekpo; traditional rulers; one of the leading Advertising practitioners in Nigeria,Udeme Ufot; the Managing Partner and Head of Banking & Finance practice,Aniekan Ukpanah; Udo Udoma & Bello-Osagie law firm , Lagos; a member of the House of Representatives, Aniekan Umanah; a former National Legal Adviser of the Peoles Democratic Party, Emmanuel Enoidem, and Senatorial Candidate of the party in the district, and a bevy of political chieftains from the environs.
The building housing the public conveniences was donated by the President, Nung Ukpanah family Union, Ekan Ukpanah, to the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Ukanafun Chapter.
The donor was worried about the non-existence of such a facility in the work environment of a local government headquarters, which had been in existence for more than four decades.
“As an environmentalist, I know the importance of public conveniences. And as a town planner, I can’t approve permits for buildings without such facilities,” Ukpanah said at the occasion.
In his address, the Deputy Governor popularly called “Uncle MO”, described the public conveniences as a vital facility in public buildings.
He said the existence of such a facility in the council premises would encourage seriousness at work by the staff, observing that ‘nobody now has any excuse to abscond from work in the name of going to the toilet’.
Uncle MO further stated that the contribution by the Ukpanah family would promote efficiency at work, improve sanitation, apart from checking truancy, adding that it wasn’t a flimsy excuse to go to the toilet.
The Deputy Governor paid tributes to the Ukpanah family for sustaining the legacy started by their forebears, recalling that it was the late Asuquo Ukpanah who led the chase for the creation of the local Government council, while his younger brother, the late Akaninyene Ukpanah, a Senator, who served as its pioneer Chairman.
But no sooner than the news spread that the Deputy Governor attended the event in person to commission the facilities, that hell was let loose in condemnation in various media of the Deputy Governor for lending the weight of his big office to the commissioning of ‘toilets’ in the area.
One community member, Dean Evergreen, screamed:’In this era, people are still commissioning toilets. The Deputy Governor is not even ashamed to be engaged in such scrimmage’
Another community member, who is an Abuja-based public affairs commentator, Celestine Mel, was aghast and fumed: ‘Where did the NULGE folks in Ukanafun go to answer the call of nature all these years? The bushes? We play too much with serious matters in this country’
He wrote:‘In 2022, when Elon Musk is finalizing preparation to relocate some folks to Mars on a one-way ticket; when the constellation of starlink satellites is set to beam high-speed wireless internet to the remotest corners of the earth from space; when Dubai has already launched the first metropolitan drone taxi service; when MTN is rolling out 5G wireless internet to most urban centres in Nigeria; when speed trains are connecting European capitals at 350 km/h; when cars are about to migrate from dependence on fossil fuels to renewables; when the wealth of nations are no longer measured by the size of their natural resources, but the depth of their knowledge base, we in our dear state are holding intellectual discussions about the propriety or otherwise of commissioning modern toilets in a local government council by the deputy governor.‘ he further penned in an article published a local newspaper.
Someone in tandem with Celestine Mel complained in the following words ‘there is nothing “ENGLISH” will not do to us.Imagine renaming “toilet convenience”!
Those who made so much fuss about the commissioning of those basic facilities may have forgotten that provision of such facilities aligned with one of the basic items of the millennium development goals (MDG’s) and its successor programme, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have good health, well being and sanitation as important concerns.
But the critics met their match in another Public Affairs commentator, Vincent Aluu , who pooh-poohed their vituperations.
Vincent responded ‘Shit business is a very serious business that some Nigerians don’t want to talk about. But there is no one that does not do shit business in their homes.’
Aluu argued that ‘The hard truth is that shit exists because we produce it. It’s a natural consequence of the things we eat, and as long as we exist, shit always will! And like all the other tons of waste we produce everyday (including garbage), someone has to get rid of it, or else our environment will be impossible to live in.’
‘The way we think of toilets must undergo a fundamental shift if we are to see meaningful progress. We must put the user experience front and centre. A young girl experiencing good smelling and safe toilets will grow into a woman who will appreciate and ensure that she provides a similar experience to her family, and will expect it as a right.’
Aluu alluded to the fact that Nigeria had become the number one open defecation nation globally.
‘How Nigeria overtook India is a matter of serious concern’, noting that India has a population of 1.353 billion people and 3.287 million km2 land area, against Nigeria’s estimated 200 million people and 923,769km2 land area.
‘Apart from bringing a negative social stigma to Nigeria, which is touted as the Giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world, open defecation also poses obvious environmental, health and economic problems for Nigeria and its nationals.
“It pollutes the environment and exposes children and adults to critical health problems like diarrhoea (hence leading to untimely deaths)’, Aluu said.
To solve this problem of open defecation and inadequate toilet facilities, that writer noted: “There is a need for collaboration between the government at all levels and relevant agencies.
The Public Affairs analyst urged organisations like banks, oil, insurance and manufacturing companies to donate latrines/toilets where needed across the nation as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).
A Medical Doctor, Etido Ibekwe, while underscoring the importance of public conveniences said that ’emptying of bowels is actually an involuntary action by the peristaltic movement of the intestines. Once the descending colon is full, the urge to defecate comes naturally. However, if this urge is controlled habitually by the individual, it predisposes to constipation. The resultant effect of this to the body is that of retaining toxins that would otherwise have been excreted and expelled from the body.
“When toxins are retained, it predisposes to ailments that can lead to liver & kidney failures or other organ failure’.
In a society consumed by poverty and superstition and without adequate medical facilities , who knows how many people from that area have died from complications arising from their inability to empty their bowels as and when they had the urge?
The provision of the modern public conveniences at Ikot Akpan Nkuk by an indigene and the involvement of the Deputy Governor in its commissioning may not have been well received by a section of the people, but the love of one privileged indigene for his people cannot be lost on discerning minds.
The concerned citizen , Ekan Ukpanah, met a felt need of the local Government employees Union, and as the former National Legal Adviser of the PDP, Emmanuel Enoidem, highlighted, “the provision of the public conveniences and it’s official commissioning “signposts the evolution from outright open and indiscriminate defecation, using the bush and pit latrines by our people.”
There is a possibility that there are hundreds of local Council headquarters in Nigeria, public schools, offices, places of worship, marketplaces, shopping malls, motor parks and health facilities lacking in such critical infrastructure.
This little but vital contribution by Ekan Ukpanah shows that well to do individuals could do whatever they can to help their communities and not just stand, stare and complain.
That may have been what was racing through the minds of the political leaders who gathered to witness the event since some of them had occupied high positions of responsibility in that local Council at one time or another, at the state and national level. What isn’t clear is whether those among them who served as Chairmen of the Local Government Council previously were proud of themselves on that occasion.
NANA is the Founder, Uyo Book Club, and promoter of the Book Club initiative in Akwa Ibom State.