On Friday, we were required to move to our local governments. I was posted to the Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra and I was advised to stay around Atani, the Local Government headquarters. This made me particularly happy, because, unlike previous elections when I had to commute across towns while observing the election, I could rent a hotel in Atani and work in the environment. So, if I needed to access WASH facilities during the day, my driver would take me to my hotel to get stuff changed and I would easily return to work.
If wishes were horses, right? It did not work that way. While I waited for the bus to convey me to my local government, Aunt Flo came and I was prepared because I already checked out of my hotel room. All I had to do was sit right and I was fine. At about 8:00 pm, I arrived at the Ogbaru local government and I set to work. I briefly went into the local government to check if the adhoc staff for the next day’s election were on the ground and if things were going smoothly. Things were not going smoothly. At that time of the night, adhoc staff numbering over 2000, if I guessed right, were stuck at the local government office. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) did not provide them accommodation and they had to sleep out in the open. Unfortunately for them, it rained overnight and they were drenched to the bones.
I boarded a motorcycle to go in search of accommodation for the night. All the hotels I visited in the Atani town were fully booked and I was stranded. I received calls from my bosses and I tried to sound strong. I told them I was fine and that I would just camp out with the adhoc staff. But sincerely, I was not fine because Aunt Flo wanted a change and it was totally impossible in the open field. I was quite unprepared to sleep out in the cold and I had nothing to ward off mosquitos. I needed to urinate badly and I was scared of soiling myself. In dejection, I sat on the floor and cradled my travelling bag in preparation for a really long night. My partner called and in his usual manner, he told me to not panic. He said some prayers and he told me to go back to the gate of the local government and try to get a vehicle to take me out of town. Though I slightly protested because it was 10 pm in the night and there were no vehicles passing yet, I obeyed and moved towards the gate. I passed by a group of adhoc staff and I heard one of the ladies say “This is bullshit! I cannot sleep here overnight o. My period just started, what will I do?”
I have never been happier. I just backtracked and politely told her that I have the same problem and I plan to go in search of a vehicle to commute me to the next town. She was glad she was not alone and we both went out. After 30 minutes of standing, a keke napep came by and told the driver about our accommodation problems. After driving around two towns and visiting several hotels, we found one that had a spare, although shabby, room. We jumped on the offer and two strangers with a similar dilemma shared the room. I was able to bargain with the keke driver to come pick me up the next day and transport me across polling units throughout the day. I felt fulfilled and I slept soundly.
Really early the next morning, I set out to work after my driver came to pick me. As I left my hotel, the hotel manager saw me fully kitted and he advised me to take everything off. According to him, some guys were on the lookout to snatch some of these materials and I could be injured in the process. I took his advice, went incognito for the moment and stepped out in anxiety.
Atani hosts a Naval base and even more security personnel were deployed to the local government. Therefore, there were roadblocks every few kilometres and people were unable to move about. I was only allowed to move to various polling units because I had my observer’s kit on as well as my ID tag. I was relieved to see heavily armed officials because I felt security was guaranteed. I was relieved, but not for long. At every roadblock, I was told to alight and everything was searched. Even when I came by the exact same roadblock that I passed a few minutes earlier, I had to undergo this process again.
This in itself was not as annoying as being “toasted” by different Naval officers at every roadblock. Disgusting and sexist things were uttered by the officials and some of them went as far as demanding that I come back to visit later in the night. In the various polling units I visited, the voters’ turnout was very low. Most of them could not come out because of the roadblocks on the way to their polling units. I really cannot blame them. Every man was called “stupid man” or “foolish man” or “you this IPOB idiot” by the security operatives. On several occasions, my keke man was threatened and tagged an IPOB member. On the other hand, women were stopped and sexual statements were made about their complexions, their body shapes and their derriere. I could barely count up to twenty voters at some polling units.
At about 1 pm, I knew I had to clean up and I instructed my driver to take me to my hotel. On the way, we passed another roadblock and we were flagged down. My driver was instructed to carry three officers to the second Niger bridge which was about thirty to forty minutes away. I was alarmed but I could not get down at the checkpoint because of the other officers around. As we passed by my hotel, my driver attempted to slow down to drop me off but he was smacked from behind and told to move on. There I sat, in the cramped space, between two heavily armed and muscular Naval officers, very scared.
As we moved on, we saw an armoured tank and two vehicles full of heavily armed policemen blocking access to the bridge. The commandant lifted his gun and instructed my keke driver to stop. The Naval officers got down and an argument ensued. The officers were accused of leaving their duty posts while the elections were still on. I quickly took that opportunity to check the seat and I noticed how much I had soiled it. I grabbed a wad of tissues from my bag and proceeded to clean up. How would I have explained to the officers that I was soiled? I looked at the commandant with pleading eyes, trying to convey that my driver and I were accosted but he just looked at me and looked away. The officers returned to the keke and we took off again.
Finally, after dropping them off, we raced back to my hotel in fear. Again, we were stopped at roadblocks and I had to cover up with my vest to avoid announcing my soiled state. When we got back to the hotel, I had to confess to my keke driver and he found water to wash the seats. I was embarrassed!
The rest of the day went smoothly because I stayed put at two nearby polling units and I told my driver that we were no longer moving between towns and wards. I stayed in the Okpoti Odekpe ward till the elections ended by 2:30 pm.
Sanitation and WASH Facilities in Nigeria
According to the United Nations Human Rights, access to good sanitation is a human right. On World Toilet Day, UNHR released a statement that said “human right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.”
For females, travelling across long distances in Nigeria is an ordeal that exceeds the discomfort that everyone generally feels about sitting in cramped buses and enduring bad roads. It is worse for them because they have to resist the urge to drink fluids to stay hydrated because there are no public toilets that can cater to their toilet needs. Unlike their male counterparts who can do their business at roadsides, women do not have this privilege.
Recently, a new stand-to-pee gadget to allow women to urinate by men was introduced and this device can be found in some malls and online shopping outlets like Jumia and Konga. The price ranges between N1500 and N3000. The stand-to-pee gadget, although handy, still requires proper sanitation and access to a good WASH facility and running water. This gadget does not seem to be the perfect solution to the problems faced by females who have to hold urine in their bladders for hours.
Also, menstruation, which is a biological aspect of a woman’s life has become something most women do not look forward to experiencing. This is because there are no policies in place to cater for women during their menstruation. Most offices do not have sanitary pads and some women do not get leaves of absence despite having debilitating menstrual cramps.
Outdoors, there are no toilets where women can change soiled menstrual pads and this often leads to embarrassing leaks and stains. While UNFPA is taking some actions to help menstrual health, more countries need to take steps to help their female citizens.
Providing well equipped and properly managed public toilets will go a long way in helping women especially those who travel often. Also, sensitizing both men and women about menstrual health will further ease the shame that comes with menstruation and leaks.
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