CHIEF JUDE PULEMOTE, is the Director, Primary Healthcare and also serving as the Secretary to the Nembe Local Government Authority, Bayelsa State. He is a professional Environmental Health Officer.
In this interview with our Correspondent, DANMARYAM ZAYAMU, Chief Pulemote insisted that only the environmental health officers that can deliver the Executive Order 009 issued by President Muhammadu Buhari, to ensure that Nigeria is open defecation free by 2025.
How can Nigeria approach the Executive Order 009 issued by the president to end open defecation by 2025?
I cannot discuss open defecation in its entirety without going back to the background.
In west management generally, we have two divisions, solid waste and sewage management. Sewage management deals specifically with all forms of liquid waste under which we also have other subdivisions. But let me narrow myself to fecal waste.
Fecal waste as we know is called feces or others call it shit.
Open defecation is the act is shitting in the open. Others even describe it as outdoor defecation. No matter what it is called, we are not looking at the concept but the consequences of open defecation.
It has a lot of impact in our health, social life and our economy as well. Let me limit myself to the health hazard and most importantly I will emphasis the way out.
Once we have been able to eliminate open defecation, we will say we have attain Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. That is what we are driving at going by the Executive Order 009 given by the president of Nigeria.
Seeing there are no infrastructure on ground, is attaining the order to end open defecation by 2025 feasible?
It quite appalling for one to say that within five years we will end open defecation in Nigeria but there is nothing wrong in planning.
For me, I see it as a plan but honestly, there must be a road map, a concrete plan other wise it will be very difficult. Otherwise, for us to achieve this, we must not just have latrines, but we must have the desired latrines both in quantity/number in design and they must be environment friendly.
You might have the latrines but if they are not environment friendly, we will still end up continuing with open defecation. That is why of recent we are preaching eco- friendly latrines which serves some of the options we have been using.
Even the traditional old latrine still ends up as open defecation. Because fecal matters are recycled back to the society and humanity in general.
In most cities in Nigeria, there are no central sewage systems, let alone in villages, what will be the way out of this in order to prevent us from recycling open defecation in the country?
This is very simple. Nigeria, as we all know is a blessed nation with enough man power and resources. It is the technique, we have it, is it the resources, we have it. Is it space, we have it. If you want to construct a sewage system from Abuja to Rivers state, it is possible if there is the will and if we chose to do the right thing.
Why are we not having good sewage system in Nigeria? Among other things, we all know that the will had not been there. Since the president is a man of his words, since he has declared, he will stand by his promise.
The most important thing, using the right personnel. Most projects have failed in Nigeria and will continue to fail because we always politicize everything.
Look at where you need to use sanitarians, health officers, you will go and use engineers or accountants. No one can deliver what he does not have.
So, for us to succeed both in this ODF dream as well as proper waste management or attaining the SDG on water and sanitationin in this country by 2025 going by the order of the president, we must use the right personnel.
We have health officers laying waste in their offices. Although we know that the number of environmental health officers is grossly inadequate in some areas because they have not employed for many years. Example, in my office, they have not employed environmental health officers for more than 12 years.
Especially, our senior brothers, the medical doctors and others who are privileged to be in positions of authority. When they notice that the government or international agency is funding a particular project, they always come with a claim that they are the team lead so the job should be given to them.
Most times they don’t deliver because it is not their field. That has been a major problem in Nigeria. So for us to succeed in ending open defecation, the President must maintain his word by putting the round peg in the round holes otherwise we will make mockery of ourselves.
In the late 70s and early 80s we do see environmental health workers going round villages to ensure that people are conscious of their health, but they are no more there, what happened?
We have environmental health workers in their numbers rooming the streets without employment. The few ones in service are not being used.
Let us visit all the sanitation authority no matter the name, be it waste management authority, the functions are the same. Look at the chairmen of these agencies, you will see that they are politicians whose background is unconnected to environmental management or environmental health. The secretary or the top officials, you will even be surprise to see that it is someone who read political science. That has been the challenge.
Go to Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Capacity Development (RUWASA), I am challenging everybody in this country, let them go and take the staff profile of the agency, you will discover that we have engineers on top, Hydrologies, admin officers manning and heading both sanitation and water supply agencies, sanitation authorities, ministry of environment. How can these agencies and ministries function well if the trained people are not placed to head the places.
The environmental health officers have been relegated to the background because their functions have been usurped by others. It will surprise you to know that most sanitation authorities make use of Agberos (touts) where they arrest and molest people arbitrarily, when the professionals with ethical code of conduct are their to serve Nigerians with decorum and to deliver on our professional goals, we are abandoned and relegated to the background.
In this open defecation campaign, what will be the role of states and local governments?
First and foremost, if this campaign must succeed, it must be domesticated. The primary functions of the local governments are spelt out in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it is also there in the local government scheme of services, local government standing order and other enabling documents which include infrastructure, primary healthcare, primary education and so on.
Therefore, let the presidency give the local governments that directive on one hand; two; if we must succeed, let them set up task force, committees to steer this process.
This is because if one is building latrine from the design to the completion, it will be professionally monitored; two, after completion, we must make sure that it is being put into use as expected. You know that latrines cannot be properly put into use without having water supply constantly. All these must go together.
If it is a dry pit latrine like the alternative volt latrine, there are some accessories you need so that you can separate urine from the feces and the feces will be dry and there are periodic application of ashes so that all pathogens in the feces will be destroyed.
These things, it is only the environmental health officers that know and have then in their finger tips. But we are not involved. Go to RUWASA, you will not see any environmental health officer, go to WASH unit, you will hardly find environmental health officers, that Nigeria for you.
We are urging the leadership of the country, that for once, let us do the right thing so we will succeed within the time line. Five years is time enough for us to end open defecation in Nigeria, but if we still play with it, I doubt it.
As an environmental health officer, if given the opportunity to lead the ODF campaign in Nigeria, where will you start to ensure that we end open defecation in the country?
First and foremost, the globally accepted approach to community sanitation is community led total sanitation. Because I am a health officer and a professional with all expertise, I don’t mean we will achieve this campaign in isolation. We will bring in the relevant stakeholders.
The number among them are community leaders and all segments of the community. By the time we bring them and trigger them, they will have the consciousness and the need to end it. With this, 50 per cent of our work is done.
So that is how we need to start it. We have experimented it in some local government areas and it has worked.
When I was WASH coordinator, we did community sensitization, trigging and in all those communities, most of them have attained ODF without even support from the government.
So, if we have the opportunity, this is what we know best how to deliver, we will do it for our country.
There is no doubt, the government and other international partners will inject money into this campaign, do you foresee any subtle war in the health sector on who or which professional group should be in charge of the campaign?
This war has been from time immemorial, let us not pretend about it. Anytime health programmes are floated and they capture both national and international attention or even state attention, different professionals will begin to scramble to be in charge of the programme not minding weather it is their core professional area or not.
It is shameful that up till now Nigeria is still battling with polio eradication.
Polio eradication campaign started in 1998 till now we are still battling with it. Do you know why? People who are trained as clinicians that should be handling curative healthcare services say no, polio eradication there is money, GAVI fund is coming, we must be there.
They clamour to be there not just as a team member but to head it. The same thing is apparently eminent in this campaign that is coming. You will see it. Time is the best revealer of hidden things.
When it will come up you will see professors, doctors in this and that will come in.
Believe you me, sanitation is the exclusive area of expertise for the environmental health officers initially called sanitary inspectors or public health superintendents with support from one or two quarters.
Advice for federal government?
My advice for the federal government is let them do the right thing. Use the man power that they ought to use to achieve result. b.
Let the government use the workers they know are professionally trained in this area.
Two; people who passionately can deliver on this Executive Order and policy of government so that Nigeria can proudly end open defecation and let us not be the last as it has been in the polio eradication campaign.