In a bid to attain an open defecation free Nigeria, UNICEF engaged the services of SMEDAN in the construction of toilets to millions of homes across the country. MBAKAAN KWEN (Abuja) writes on the journey so far.

Open defecation is the human practice of defecating in the open environment rather than into a toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals or other open space for defecation.
They do so because they either do not have a toilet at home, or due to traditional cultural practices. The practice is common where sanitation infrastructure and services are not available. Even if toilets are available, behaviour change efforts may still be needed to promote the use of toilets.
Recognising the public health risks, the National Council on Water Resources at the 2014 council meeting recommended the development of an Open Defecation Free (ODF) Roadmap for Nigeria. The present ODF roadmap is an attempt to clearly articulate the strategies, plans and investments needed to eliminate open defecation by 2025.
Achieving an ODF environment implies having access to toilets not only in the communities but also within schools, health centres, markets and other public places which Nigeria is among the nations in the world with the highest number of people practicing open defecation, estimated at over 46 million people.
The ODF roadmap is targeted at attainment of Sustainable Development Goals -6.1 and achieving an ODF Nigeria would require constructing nearly 20 million household toilets and 43,000 toilets in schools, health centres and public places requiring an average annual investment of about NGN 100 billion.
In a bid to intensify efforts to achieve this feat, UNICEF opted for the market approach against the system approach which had been in operation. In doing so, UNICEF approached and contacted some stakeholders to help in driving the agenda. Amongst these stakeholders are Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Rural Water Supply Agency (RUWASSA), Rural Finance Institution (RUFIN), Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), Local Government Area WASH Units and Entrepreneurs (Toilet Business Owners).
In September 2016, the sanitation marketing (SANMARK) project was launched in Katsina State. The program was flagged off in three LGAs in Katsina state. Alongside Katsina State, two other states of Bauchi and Benue were in the pioneer phase with each state implementing in three LGAs. In Benue, the three LGAs were Konshisha, Oju and Ogbadibo with the SANMARK launched in Konshisha in October 2016.
SMEDAN has been in the driving seat due to its role in providing enterprise development training to the entrepreneurs (TBOs) who are the principal operators of the project. In a chat with the Benue State manager SMEDAN Mr Oryiman Alu, he explained that after a 3-day onboarding training by the agency which includes modules for identification of business opportunities, legal regulatory framework in business, customer care, marketing techniques, records/book keeping and business plan development amongst others, there was a six-month robust post-training handholding exercise in which staff of the agency engage the TBOs to ascertain their level of implementation of the things learnt and how their businesses are thriving and particularly, assist them develop a bankable business plan.
According to Mr Alu, “in Benue state, we have trained a total of 85 persons at least 10 per local government which we did in 8 LGAs. The sanitation marketing is currently going on in 6 states of the federation. Total number of trained TBOs nationwide is about 400.”
Most of the SMEDAN TBO trainees have attested to the impact and influence of the trainings on their business as they have brought forth evidences of growth and expansion in their businesses. Moses Edmoga in Obussa, Oju LGA as of June 2018, constructed over seventy improved latrines in his community.
It would be recalled recently, the director general of SMEDAN Dikko Radda reiterated the commitment of SMEDAN to financing some of the MSMEs and ideas. The agency as the apex MSMEs development agency has successfully provided support to businesses through generation and dissemination of business information, provision of business development services, access to market and finance.
According to him, the establishment of SMEDAN in 2003 is therefore justified by the need to trigger the development of Nigeria’s MSMEs in a structured and efficient manner which is why it initiated a number of programmes to enhance entrepreneurship development like strengthening of business membership organization which is tailored at capacity building, support with equipment and advocacy, credit information portal meant to assist access to finance. Also the one local government one product (OLOP) which focuses on provision of working capital support and access to equipment amongst others.
RUFIN on the other hand has been engaging the communities and mentoring village/community savings groups so as to aid them raise funds for the purpose of constructing improved latrines in their households. These they do in conjunction with MFIs who administer loans to contributors in the groups and payback at intervals. It is worthy to note that these loans are flexible and are at very affordable interest rates because according to Mr. Alu, the loans attract interest rates between 7.5 per cent and 10 per cent . This is with respect to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) UNICEF has signed with the MFIs.
Similarly, the LGA WASH Committees have been sensitizing communities on the need for improved sanitation practices thereby creating a market and demand for improved toilets which will be explored by the TBOs.
This year, the project has been extended to five more LGAs in Benue (Buruku, Tarka, Katsina-Ala, Obi and Guma) bringing the total number of LGAs implementing SANMARK in Benue State to eight. SMEDAN is willing and ready to continue driving the project by mentoring and supporting the TBOs in implementing SANMARK to the latter by constructing improved latrines in Benue state to make it defecation free.