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25.10.2023 Featured SPECIAL REPORT: How Poor Toilet Facilities Threaten Girl-Child Education in Akwa Ibom Schools

Published 25th Oct, 2023

By Blessing Udeobasi

It was a few minutes past 11 am on a Friday. It had rained heavily all morning in Adadia Community, Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, and the untarred roads still harboured a reasonable quantity of rainwater, at least much more than the grasses in the vast field surrounding the Adadia Secondary School building.

A female student walked from her classroom through the side of the building and into the close-by bush surrounding the unfenced school. With eyes wide open and moving from one direction to another in the manner a thief would scan an area before attacking, the female student soon squatted and went out of sight, covered by the surrounding tall grasses.

Within two minutes, she emerged from the bush while adjusting her dress which the rainwater from the grasses had wetted.

Schoolgirl walking to class after urinating in the bush
Schoolgirl walking to class after urinating in the bush. Credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

Unwana (not real name) had not just gone to answer the call of nature, she had also exposed herself to potential insect bite, snakebite, physical injury or sexual assault, all because there’s no single toilet facility in her school.

A 2018 National Personnel Audit (NPA) report by Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) revealed that 50 percent of public primary schools in Nigeria did not have toilets. The report also revealed that toilets are critical to schools because they encourage attendance and reverse dropouts besides guaranteeing hygiene and good health.

FEMALE STUDENTS SUFFER MORE

The absence of toilets and sanitation facilities in schools indeed affects all students. However, FIJ’s findings reveal that female students suffer the consequences more.

While Unwana and every other female student in the school endured such a dehumanising experience just to urinate, their male counterparts simply had to stand by the roadside to do the same without venturing into the bush.

As far back as 2014, a UNESCO report found that one in every ten school girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle. This is due to the unavailability of toilets, poor sanitation and a lack of privacy in existing toilets.

FIJ visited four public secondary schools in Akwa Ibom State to investigate the condition of toilet/sanitation facilities in such schools and to speak with students about their experiences coping with studies while maintaining proper hygiene in the environment.

While two of the four schools visited did not have any toilets for students, the other two had toilets but lacked proper maintenance and did not adhere to the United Nations global standard for washrooms in schools, which is one toilet per 20 students.

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The World Health Organisation also recommends that schools provide not just toilets but in the ratio of 1:30 learners, that is at least a toilet for every 30 learners.

FIJ found that a lack of proper sanitation, water and toilet facilities affects attendance and concentration at school, especially among girls who are at greater risk of getting infected, skipping classes or getting exposed to sexual assault or violence among others while easing themselves in nearby bushes.

NO TOILET FOR STUDENTS AT SECONDARY SCHOOL ADADIA

Secondary school Adadia is a state-owned public school located in the Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.

The only toilet in the school is located just beside the teachers’ office and serves both male and female staff of the school.

However, it has no single toilet facility for the 900-1000 students enrolled in the school.

“Well, there’s bush and it is big enough,” said Blessing, a 16-year-old student of the school, who added that she usually went into the bush to urinate.

While the bush is indeed big enough, Blessing said she found it difficult to defecate in it. She would rather suppress the urge till she got home after school. In situations when she could not hold on to it, or during her menstrual flow when she needed to change, she took permission to go home even during school hours.

But often came with its consequences.

“There was a day I went home to use the toilet. By the time I returned, I had missed out on what the teacher was teaching. I felt really bad and said to myself that next time, I’d just have to hold the urge. But it’s not always possible,” she said; adding that to get good grades, she then had to put in extra effort to meet up with whatever she lost during those times.

While Blessing could go home because of the proximity of her house to the school, the case was different for Rejoice, a 17-year-old student who said she usually went into the bush to take care of herself even during her menstrual flow.

“I usually go into the bush with a friend who would be on the lookout for me,” Rejoice told this reporter.

Schoolgirls at Secondary school, Adadia.
Schoolgirls at Secondary school, Adadia. Photo credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

For 15-year-old Enobong, her worst days at school are usually during her menstrual flow which can last five days. This is because she can neither go home nor use the bush like others because she does not like entering the bush.

“I don’t like going into the bush to check or change my pad. I prefer to wait till after school and this affects my concentration in class. I keep thinking about getting stained and the embarrassment that comes with it,” Enobong said, adding that it gave her serious worries but that she’d rather deal with the worries than skip classes on those days.

CASES OF ASSAULT

Female students of the school started going into the bush in groups of two or three ever since a classmate ran into the class screaming. She had seen a man wielding a machete in the bush where she had gone to ease herself. “Everyone in the class became scared of going alone after the student shared her experience,” Rejoice said.

She added that this is also very difficult because most of the time, the teacher would not permit more than one person to leave the class.

Blessing also recounted her personal experience of assault. About a year earlier, she had finished easing herself and was about to leave the bush when a group of senior male students also came into the bush.

“I tried to leave immediately and they asked why I was leaving in a hurry. I told them I was already done and about to leave before they came in,” she said.

“One of them ordered me to come back, but I continued on my way. They tried to force me back ,and I had to help myself out by shaking the small trees around while running back to the school compound. I escaped but have been living with the trauma since then. Blessing said it was part of the reasons she no longer urinated in the bush alone. I’d rather suppress the urine or take permission to go home and ease myself,” she said.

Secondary school, Adadia.
Secondary School, Adadia. Photo credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

GOVERNMENT NEGLECT

Dr Umoren Usoro, the principal of Secondary Schools Adadia told this reporter that the school had suffered prolonged neglect by the government in terms of infrastructural development.

“Government tends to give more attention to schools in towns or along major roads because people will see and praise them for whatever they build there. But for schools like ours located in a hidden place like this, we do not fit any of those criteria,” Dr Usoro said.

He said their hope is on NGOs who may want to consider building a toilet for them to end the sufferings of the students.

FIVE TOILETS FOR THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS AT GOVERNMENT TECHNICAL COLLEGE, EWET

FIJ visited Government Technical College, a large compound with several building complexes located in the state capital, Uyo, and gathered that the school has at least 1,500 enrolled students.


Government Technical College, Ewet, Uyo.
Government Technical College, Ewet, Uyo. Photo credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

Despite this population, the school has three toilets for female students and two toilets for male students. This is against the UN and WHO standards of one toilet for every 20 students and one toilet for 30 students respectively.

This reporter visited the school on two occasions in October and spent at least four hours each day monitoring students’ use of the toilet.

In eight hours, only three students opened the female toilet which was found locked. Other students, including a male staff urinated indiscriminately in the bushy area behind the toilet blocks.

When asked the reason for urinating in the bushy area and not in the toilet, students had varying reasons ranging from inaccessibility of the toilet key, unavailability of water to flush the dirty toilet and fear of infection.

Mercy (not real name), a JSS 2 student, said students were strictly warned by the principal not to use the toilet. This was after students allegedly messed it up.

“If I want to poo, the sanitary prefect usually opens the door for us to use it. But we pee outside,” Mercy told this reporter.

Success (not real name), another student found urinating behind the toilet said she preferred outside because the toilet was usually dirty.

“Seniors in the school abhor washing toilets. They usually delegate it to junior students who abscond as soon as the senior is out of sight. That is why it is always dirty,” Success said.

Glory, (not real name), another student found urinating behind the toilet, said she neither knew the sanitary prefect nor where to find her and get the toilet keys.

Uboho, another student who confessed to deliberately urinating outside said it’s because there’s no water inside the toilet. According to her, the water reservoir is a bit far from the toilet block and there’s no guarantee of getting water there. “That’s why students prefer to urinate outside,” she said.

Uboho (not real name) was aware that it is not hygienic to urinate outside but maintained that it was safer outside than inside the dirty toilet.

Uboho said she stopped using the toilet about a year earlier, after she contracted an infection from it.

“I started having rashes in my private part. It was very itchy, so my mother had to take me to the hospital,” she said.

This reporter inspected the three girls’ toilets in the school and found that they were indeed dirty as some students had defecated in it without flushing. There was also no running water nor buckets inside the toilet.

NO STUDENT TOILET IN COMMUNITY SECONDARY SCHOOL, MBAK-ETOI

FIJ visited the community secondary school in Mbak-Etoi, Uyo, and found no toilet for the student population numbering at least 300.

Community Secondary School Mbak-Etoi entrance
Community Secondary School Mbak-Etoi entrance. Photo credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

Like the secondary school in Adadia, the students of Community Secondary School, Mbak-Etoi, have nothing but a see-through facility built with dry palm fronds. The other option is a vast expanse of bushy farmland behind the school with grasses tall enough to offer students much more privacy than the makeshift facility.

Makeshift toilet at Community School, Mbak-Etoi Credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

Female students were seen walking into the bush to ease themselves, while the male students stood by the narrow road leading into the bush to do the same. No student was seen urinating inside the makeshift toilet facility.

“Only the teachers have toilets inside their staff rooms. All students urinate and defecate inside this bush,” Etim, a student of the school, told this reporter.

SIX TOILETS IN UYO HIGH SCHOOL

At Uyo High School, another public secondary school located in Oron Road, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, this reporter found just four toilets for female students and two toilets for male students.

Uyo High School, Akwa Ibom State
Uyo High School, Akwa Ibom State Photo Credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

FIJ also saw students urinating behind the toilet facility for the same reasons students of Government Technical College boycotted their toilets.

Student urinating behind the toilet in Uyo High School
Student urinating behind the toilet in Uyo High School Credit: Blessing Udeobasi/FIJ

A close inspection of the newly renovated toilet facility showed it was not properly maintained, as all the toilet seats contained unflushed urine and faeces.

Although there was a basin where students washed their hands, there was no water available for flushing the toilet

“We are more than a hundred in my class and we have over eight classes for just JSS 2 students,” said one of the students found urinating behind the toilet facility.

SCHOOLGIRLS RISK INFECTION, KIDNEY STONES AND URINE INCONTINENCE FOR EDUCATION

Food, shelter and clothing have been described as the three basic needs for human survival, with food being top on the list in descending order of importance. However, it is a known fact that the human body can not function properly without adequate excretion of body waste.

While other human basic needs are given the required priority, the need for proper means of disposing of faeces and urine produced by the body is rarely given a second thought in public schools across Nigeria, including Akwa Ibom State. The government build schools for hundreds of students without provision for toilet facilities to cater for the needs of students, which translates to academic success.

Students are then torn among using dirty toilets, open defecation and suppression of the need to use the toilets at the expense of their health. While students understand the health implications of these practices, they also understand the need to acquire proper education despite the hurdles. Hence, they pay the price for education with their health, because leaders do not attach proper importance to providing adequate toilet facilities.

“Holding your urine for too long can weaken the muscles of the bladder, leading to incontinence and bacteria build-up leading to urinary tract infection,” says Esther, a health practitioner at the Primary Health Centre, Mbak-Etoi.

Esther added that open urination and defecation also lead to infection, especially for girls whose genitals are more open and exposed than that of the boychild. “If someone urinates on the same spot where someone else with infection has urinated, the second person is likely going to get infected,” She told FIJ.

The medical practitioner noted that a water system toilet is even worse than open defecation, especially when a lot of persons are using the same toilet and it is not well-sanitised or flushed after each use.

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Published 25th Oct, 2023

By Blessing Udeobasi

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