Sunny Neji: making music, washing hands


Ahead of Global Handwashing Day on 15 October, Nigerian pop star, Sunny Neji, shares how he developed a passion for promoting hygiene through music.

In Africa we love music and we tell stories in songs. It is a wonderful tool to create positive change. If you have a good hook in a song, it stays in your memory. Changing behaviour means simple, daily habits need to become routine. What better way is there to do that than through music?

I first made the connection between music and handwashing when I met the United Purpose team in my home community in Ogoja, Cross River State, in 2014. Seeing how improved hygiene and sanitation could make a difference for my people, I was inspired to support their work.

Before I met the United Purpose team, I was not aware that such a simple thing as handwashing could have such a big impact. So many diseases, including diarrhoea, cholera and pneumonia, can be prevented by washing hands with soap. Especially in rural communities like my own, washing hands saves lives. Back then, these facts ‘triggered’ me to act, and still motivate me today.

The simple act of handwashing with soap can have a positive impact not only on our health, but also on nutrition, equity, economy and education. Though it is often overlooked, this is exactly why I champion the cause of handwashing. If handwashing becomes a habit, children are far more likely stay healthy, be well-nourished, and their education is no longer interrupted by repeated illness. Loss of productivity is minimised, so parents, especially mothers, less frequently need to care for sick children. This can transform rural life and promote greater equity.

Even before recording my first album, I worked in behaviour change – I was doing commercials. There is no big difference between convincing people to buy a product or to adopt a new habit, so I have used the same principles in the handwashing campaigns over the years. Music is a particularly powerful way of changing minds and habit. I think it should be used a lot more in behaviour change and awareness raising. Not only does music get the message across, but also helps the message stick in people’s minds. Most of all, it is a positive and fun way to connect – and I hope my song makes people smile, sing and dance when they wash their hands! That’s an important principle in how we approach the Global Handwashing Day campaign – handwashing is important for your own and other people’s health, but it’s also fun.

This is the fourth year that I will be the face of the largest Global Handwashing Day campaign in Nigeria. Each year we have seen growth and been able to reach more people. It is my ambition to see the campaign reach the entire country, and see behaviour change happening everywhere. As a result of this, I hope to see a drastic reduction, or even complete elimination, of preventable diseases associated with poor hygiene practices. It would give me great joy to see this happening, and each Global Handwashing Day campaign will bring us closer to getting there.

You can join and follow our Global Handwashing Day Campaign on social media using #Globalhandwashingday #WashYourHandsO #GHD2017 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Teach children how to wash their hands, organize a handwashing activity, tell the world why handwashing is important and of course take many pictures and share with us!

And most importantly, don’t forget to Wash Your Hands O:


Sunny Neji was born in Lagos, but received his primary education in Ogoja, Cross River State. His debut album (Captain) came out in 1991, and he has released many acclaimed and top-selling albums since. A well-established artist in the Nigerian music scene, and CEO of Impakt Records, he uses his voice to actively support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal 6 to ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all.