Meet Agbara Okon Edet. He’s the retired former head of the Abi local government area in Nigeria’s Cross River State. He describes himself as a “lover of health”, which is why he became extremely troubled three years ago by the high cholera rates which were rampant in his community.
Despite some local government leaders in Nigeria earning a reputation for never leaving their offices, Agbara took a different approach. He was determined to do everything he could to prevent sickness and death due to open defecation within areas of his jurisdiction.
Travelling from community to community, Agbara met with local chiefs. In a symbolic move, he refused their offering of palm wine in any community where people still defecate in the open, as “all food and drink are contaminated”.
To further convince the chiefs of the benefits of not going to the toilet in the open, Agbara travelled with them to Adadama. This area had become ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF), a term used to describe communities that have shifted to using a toilet instead of defecating in the open. This trip showed the chiefs that the community had become cleaner, healthier and more productive – and mortality rates had reduced.
If chiefs remained unconvinced, Agbara took the unprecedented move of stopping their salaries until they committed to ensuring their communities became ODF.
Today, years later, Agbara is celebrated as a key player in helping to make the whole of Abi local government area to be ODF. He’s also made large strides in the conflict-affected Bahamaru community across the river, which he insisted on engaging despite great logistical difficulties. Agbara credits some of his success to United Purpose, whose focal person in this project was always at hand to assist him and suggest new strategies.
With this incredible achievement under his belt, Agbara could retire feeling happy and fulfilled.
This activity took place as part of United Purpose’s Rural Sanitation & Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN), funded by the United Nation’s Global Sanitation Fund — the sanitation and hygiene funding body of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC).
Image credit: Jason Florio/United Purpose