Jos — The Pilot Science Primary School, Kwall is said to be one of the best and oldest government-owned primary schools in the entire Irigwe chiefdom of Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State. It was established in 1946.
However, 71 years after it was established without a toilet facility, pupils and teachers of the school have created alternative ways of answering nature's call. Students and staff find succour in using nearby bushes.
Kwall is located about 50km from Jos city, and the school, which is situated in the Klancha area of the town, is positioned three to four kilometres off Kwall junction, along a bumpy untarred road.
There are two major spots the pupils use for open defecation: a bushy area behind the school building, known as 'garden' and another spot behind the rocks that surround a huge baobab tree.
Few meters from the baobab tree oozes a stench that makes it uncomfortable to stay in that area.
There is a tree behind the slope, and members of the community told Daily Trust on Sunday that during the rainy season, the rains wash down all the filth into a water canal behind the tree that serves as the main source of water for people and animals in the community.
Our correspondent who visited Kwall gathered that a 2010 renovation of the school had made it the pride of most parents in the area. Nevertheless, not a single block had been set aside for the construction of toilets.
When contacted about the issue last week, the executive chairman of the Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Prof. Mathew Sule, who assumed office in 2015, said the school had never complained about lack of toilet facilities. He directed the education secretary in the area to collaborate with the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) to construct a toilet for the school immediately.
The process of constructing a pit toilet has, however, commenced; and it is expected to be completed before the pupils resume in September.
The situation in the school reflects the condition of many others in the state, especially in the hinterland. This supports a 2016 report by WaterAid Nigeria, which placed the country as the third most unclean in the world. The report put Nigeria's population without access to safe, private toilets at a staggering 71per cent (over 130 million people), with 25per cent (over 46 million) practising open defecation.
Our correspondent observed that a lot of houses in the Klancha area did not have toilets, and that male and female adults walk freely into the bush to defecate in the open.
Hon. Simon Kudu, who represents Irigwe/Rukuba constituency in the Plateau State House of Assembly, told our correspondent that open defecation was not peculiar to the Klancha community. He, however, said the practice was a major challenge in almost all the rural communities in the area. The chairman, House Committee on Health, said he had worked as a sanitary inspector in the Klancha Community Clinic in the 1990s, during which he arrested and prosecuted many offenders.
Kudu expressed regret that communities expect government to take up individual responsibilities, saying, "The government cannot construct toilets in their homes. We can only advise government to construct a public toilet for them. The law on public health is there, anyone constructing a house must make provisions for toilets.
"The clinic is still there and they have sanitary inspectors, so it is their responsibility to go from house to house, enlighten them and give them an ultimatum. At the expiration of the ultimatum they should prosecute each house that has no toilet."
Daily Trust on Sunday learned that fears of diseases are high due to uncontrolled open defecation and the absence of potable water. Senior pupils of the Pilot Science School and members of the community fetch water from the canal and use without boiling it. During the rainy season, water from uncovered wells compliment the canal, but the wells dry up anytime from November.
It was, however, observed that the community has an electronic borehole around the market square, but according to residents, it does not have the capacity to pump water to the school. The borehole is always a beehive of activities as residents queue to fetch water, forcing school children and other residents to rely more on the canal.
The over 600 pupils from Klancha and neighbouring villages of Zarama, Chinke, Nuhwie and Ta'ana either bring water from home or resort to drinking from the canal.
Speaking with our correspondent, an Anglican priest and resident of the community, The Rev Paul Abdul, said that water from the wells was not safe for drinking.
He said apart from the fact that the wells were not properly covered and are threatened by various environmental factors, the heavy deposits of tin in the area, of ten discovered in the process of digging the wells, could affect the safety of the water.
"We also run a private school in the community, and the common illnesses among our children are worms and typhoid. We ran tests and discovered that the problem is with the water. And this is a school that relies on water from the well, not even the canal," he said.
Asked why the community finds it difficult to boil their water before consumption, Rev Abdul said, "Inasmuch as it is important to boil water, and we try to educate them, it is challenging because for the people, their major source of cooking material is the firewood, which is now scarce.
"Most people will ask how long they would boil water before drinking it. So it is quite challenging to get the people to boil their water here."
Mr. Abirina Abinkenene, who lives in the Klancha area and has made several attempts to get government's attention to the school through radio programmes, noted that animals do not only drink from the canal but residents wash and bath in it.
"This is the same canal where residents and pupils drink from. Residents of the community have been suffering from diarrhoea and typhoid diseases. Government must not wait for an epidemic to break out before taking the necessary action," Abinkenene said.
The 2016 report of WaterAid also estimated that every year, 45,000 children under the age of five die because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water and unhygienic environment. Like many communities in the hinterlands that lack safe water and toilets facilities, the story of Klancha is not different.
Also speaking with our correspondent, a teacher in the school who did not want his name mentioned said, "We have no choice. I have never known this school to have a toilet. I also attended this school." He said the students frequently suffered from diarrhoea, worms and typhoid.
To solve the sanitation and security issues in the community, a chairman was elected. The chairman, Nggwe Weyi, who was represented by Moses Tibe Kyeme when our correspondent visited, said a series of meetings had been held to address the issues. He, however, stressed that while some of the issues were the responsibility of the government, others were community-based.
"Most times, when you call the attention of the community, they too will lead you to another place where you cannot really have a say. The issue of drinking water and toilet for the school is the responsibility of government. What we are able to do is to ensure that the drainages are cleared before the rainy season. And we try to keep the herders away from the canal since we also use water from the canal for drinking. The community is aware of the dangers of open defecation. Some believe that if individuals cannot handle it, then government should come in. But really, it is an issue that concerns individuals and the government," he said.
As at the time of filing this report, teachers of Pilot Science Primary School confirmed that efforts were being made to construct a pit toilet for the school. But the people of Klancha and neighbouring communities are expected to find ways of addressing the problem of open defecation.