This profile is dedicated to the memory of late Isaac Durojaiye. It was prepared when Isaac was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005. Concerned about the health and environment issues created by the absence of public toilets in most Nigerian cities, Isaac started the first mobile toilet initiative in Nigeria to provide decent toilet facilities in strategic locations across the country.
The New Idea
Isaac believes that the health and dignity of Nigerian citizens is eroded by the lack of adequate toileting facilities which forces many people to defecate and urinate indiscriminately in major cities around the country. For Isaac, the solution is simple: Nigerian cities could be as clean and hygienic as any other city if adequate facilities were provided. Based on this recognition, starting in Lagos, Isaac embarked on the first mobile toilet initiative in the country.
To do this effectively and in a sustainable manner, Isaac manufactures mobile toilets locally and in a manner that meets the needs of the different categories of users. For instance, squatting mobile toilets are built for markets, parks and streets, while executive toilets are manufactured for use at seminars, crusades, construction sites, and parties. In addition, all the toilets are leased to unemployed youth who make fixed returns at the end of the day and keep whatever they make over the fixed amount. In this way, Isaac is not only creating a healthier more dignified environment throughout Nigeria, but created hundreds of jobs in the process.
In Nigeria, most public places do not have toilet facilities, and as a result, most people have to use open spaces to ease themselves. It is not uncommon in a place like Lagos for instance to see people defecating into the Atlantic ocean from atop bridges. Another familiar sight might be someone passing waste into a stream next to somebody else drinking from the same water and another washing clothes. In markets where food is sold, traders use the open sewage gutters sometimes right in front of their food stalls to dispose of their human waste.
Such unclean and improper disposal of human waste contributes to the heavily polluted waterways, rivers, and seas in and around Nigeria. Since most Nigerians rely directly on unfiltered water from these sources for their cooking, drinking, and washing, the spread of diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera is widespread and dangerous.
The government has tried to address this situation by building toilets in strategic positions in the cities, but many of these toilets never had running water and were poorly managed and maintained, soon becoming a health hazard of their own. Today, these toilets have become homes for rats and the homeless.
With increasing levels of migration to cities in Nigeria, urban waste management—and disease control—are becoming more urgent. If nothing is done, health epidemics are likely, putting unbearable pressure on an already stretched health system grappling with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other deadly diseases.
To ensure a steady supply of mobile toilets to meet the needs of Nigerians, Isaac established a local factory to manufacture the toilets. Once built, they are placed in markets, motor parks, street corners, and other strategic locations. To keep the toilets clean and functional, each toilet is given to a young person on a lease arrangement. Young men and women charge a fee for the use of the toilet, pay back a percentage to Isaac and keep the rest as income. This system ensures that the young people have a sense of ownership of the toilets and a stake in keeping them clean and functional in order to continue making profit.
To sustain the initiative and increase the availability of the toilets in public places, Isaac rents and sells the toilets to churches, oil, construction, and other companies who can afford to pay premium prices for them. With the funds realized from these customers, Isaac is able to build and place more basic toilets in heavily used public spaces.
Since 2003, 1,500 toilets have been built. One hundred and twenty of these toilets are situated in public places at the moment and 2,000 more have been approved by the Lagos State Government for deployment around the metropolis. In addition, through successful lobbying efforts, Isaac has recently been awarded 2,000 free toilets as a donation by the state government. These toilets will be cleaned and managed in the same way as all the others, creating another 2,000 jobs for unemployed youth in and around Lagos.
Beyond Lagos, Isaac has begun to spread this simple and effective model to Abuja, Aba, Abeokuta, Enugu, Ibadan, Nsuka, Port-Harcourt, Lagos, Oshogbo, Bayelsa, Ilorin, Kaduna, Kano, and Onitsha. From his office in Abuja, he plans to expand to the north of Nigeria as well. Currently he enjoys a total of 35 management and operational staff at his headquarters with expectations of growth as his model takes off.
Isaac studied graphic design and business administration, but ended up in the security business, probably as a result of his imposing physique. Over the years, he served as an investigator on credit card fraud matters for American Express Card: U.K, Security Division; and as Chief Bodyguard/Chief Security Officer to late Chief M.K.O Abiola. He also carried out major security assignments for both the public and private sectors.
On one occasion, while providing security at a large society wedding, he observed the inadequacy of the toilet facilities, forcing many to leave the premises to look for where to ease themselves; a security nightmare for Isaac.
Isaac began to look into this problem more seriously, recognizing that it was more dire and widespread than he had imagined. His initial effort to construct 18 toilets made from 3 used shipment containers gave rise to the creation of his company, DMT MOBILE TOILETS, which today manufactures, sells, rents, leases, and maintains hundreds of mobile toilets in Nigeria.