For five years, residents of Durumin Iya, a densely populated community in Kano metropolis, have endured a putrid stench that usually pollutes the air. Investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday traced the source of this stench to the action of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS), a situation that exposes residents to health hazards.
Durumin Iya is situated behind what used to be known as the Kano Central Prison, a century-old custodial centre and one of the 253 centres established across the country.
In 2019, the federal government repealed the Prisons Act CAP P29 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and enacted the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, which established the Nigerian Correctional Service to provide custodial and non-custodial services.
Unfortunately, in this community, where one of Kano’s 13 prison facilities are located, there is a foul odour that makes it almost unbearable to live. The source of this stench was traced to a canal behind the ancient custodial centre.
Established as a medium custodial centre and one of Nigeria’s oldest, the Kano Custodial Centre, which is still referred to as Kano Central Prison despite the change of name, was built in 1910 by the British colonial administration to accommodate 750 inmates. But it now houses more than twice its original capacity, causing overcrowding and poor sanitation; hence its hold environment is polluted.
Residents told our correspondent that the custodial centre, also locally referred to as Kurmawa prison, periodically releases voluminous litres of human faeces through drainages in the community. This attracts swarm of flies and mosquitoes that endanger their lives.
Investigation revealed that what was originally constructed as a waterway from the custodial facility to gutters in the community has now become a sewage channel that breeds mosquitoes, flies and other disease-causing organisms. And the drainage system forms a waterbed near the community’s main water tank, which provides water to residents for various purposes.
We’ve been exposed to faeces pollution for 5 years – Residents
In April, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) reported 1, 336 suspected cases of cholera and 79 deaths in 12 states, including Kano. The NCDC’s monthly epidemiological report released in July also showed that Kano State made the list of the top 10 states with the highest number of cholera cases in the country.
This is as residents of Durumin Iya equally said they faced constant cholera outbreaks, suffered skin rashes and other infections, especially among children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to waterborne diseases.
Further checks by Daily Trust on Sunday found that in an attempt to control the outbreak of diseases, the Kano State House of Assembly in 2022 passed an environmental pollution control bill. The bill, which has not been assented, is aimed at addressing health challenges resulting from improper disposal of harmful wastes in the state.
But expressing his frustration at what he described as government’s nonchalant attitude to their plight, Malam Umar Tijjani Ibrahim, a resident of Durumin Iya, said the community had written letters to the relevant authorities, including the Kano State Ministry of Environment, the Kano State Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nigerian Correctional Service, but nothing had been done to address the problem.
“The faeces released from this prison pollutes the air we breathe. It also causes cholera outbreaks inside the prison facility and in our community. Recently, my uncle was hospitalised because of cholera,” he said.
A 59-year-old resident of the community, Malam Kabiru Lawan also said, “They have been releasing faeces into our gutters for at least five years now.” He described the action of the custodial centre as intentional, adding that on specific days when the service releases the human waste, residents would be forced to stay indoors.
“Whenever they release it we cannot even use the water from this tank. We have to use disinfectants because this is the only water source we rely on for drinking, cooking and ablution. We don’t have pipe borne water in this community. The action of the custodial centre could lead to a major outbreak of diseases like cholera or an epidemic,” he added.
Lawan said they had made several appeals to the state government and the custodial authorities to find a better and safer way of managing their waste, as well as clean up the gutters in the community but they failed to do so. Some women in the community said they were forced to endure the stench of the faeces as they cook and perform daily chores around their houses almost every time and on a daily basis.
Hajiya Amina Muhammad Jakada said, “It smells very badly whenever they release it, especially at noon when there is no electricity. We cannot open our windows, even at night because the stench always pollutes the air.”
Hajiya Amina, who is in her mid-fifties, said she spent at least N10,000 monthly on room fresheners and other incense burners to tame the smell. “Every day, I have to make use of incense burners and room fresheners. What about those that cannot afford it? This is our daily reality as a result of the action of the custodial centre,” she added.
Malama Hafsatu Abubakar, who runs a mini food business in the community, said the stench had cost her many customers. She said, “Honestly, it affects me because whenever they release the faeces, it drives away my customers. And this food business is everything to me and my children as we depend on it for survival. We want the authorities to please resolve the issue,” she said.
Community risks hepatitis A, cholera, other diseases – Expert
When our reporter contacted the NCDC to comment on the pollution and how it affects public health, he was referred to Dr Yahya Disu, the Head of Communications, who said he was out of the country but agreed to respond to the issue via WhatsApp. But he failed to respond to inquiries despite several attempts.
However, a Texas, United States-based Nigerian public health researcher, Dr Abdulaziz Bako, said the situation could cause a lot of diseases, such as dysentery, typhoid fever and malaria.
He said, “It is really important to avoid potential outbreak of epidemics in the community,” adding that government must not only bring an end to the release of faeces into community gutters but ensure that individuals have access to potable water.
“From the community side, people have to make sure they use water that is not contaminated with faeces. Also, any kind of water they use should be thoroughly boiled and filtered. They should use disinfectants,” he added.
Sewage leakage due to overcrowding – NCoS
Section 23 (2) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 provides for daily inspection of the custodial centre to ensure the proper hygiene of inmates and the facility, among other health care services for the prevention of diseases. But despite this provision, the centre has continued to use crude ways in emptying its sewage, thereby endangering the lives of residents and the surrounding communities.
The Kano State command of the NCoS, in its reaction, said the faeces released from its custodial centre at Durumin Iya community was a result of sewage leakage, which they blamed on overcrowding in the facility.
The public relations officer of the NCoS in Kano, Superintendent Musbahu Kofar Nassarawa, said such environmental issues were expected as the centre’s sewage system was installed many decades ago.
“The service is concerned about the environmental complaints from residents of Kurmawa Quarters (Durumin Iya), where our facility is located. The facility was built in 1910 with a capacity of 750 inmates, but currently locks over 1, 500 prisoners. So these environmental issues are expected as a result of overcrowding,” he explained.
But Daily Trust Saturday reports that despite accepting their action, which the spokesperson said was not deliberate, the NCoS has failed to embark on a remedial plan.
Kano govt feigns ignorance
Despite formal complaints from residents of Durimin Iya to the Kano State Ministry of Environment, which is responsible for regulating and monitoring environmental activities in the state, the ministry told our reporter that it was not aware of any faecal pollution in the community.
When told that the community had written several letters to the ministry, the Director of Public Enlightenment, Ismail Garba Gwammaja, said they did not receive any complaint about sewage release or leakage. He advised the community to file a written complaint to the ministry for further action as the ministry has a pollution control and environment department, which is saddled with the responsibility of checkmating such “environmental nuisance.”
“They (the community) can put it in writing to the ministry. They should document it and make a case or an appeal to the ministry. It is when we receive the petition or complaint from the residents that we are going to set up machinery and assign the pollution control department to ascertain the situation and evaluate the cause or otherwise.
“And they (pollution control department) will come back and advise professionally and adequately on what to do so that people in that area will not face such inconveniences,” he said.
Our reporter, however, learnt that the latest letter written by the community to the state commissioner for environment in September was received and acknowledged by the ministry on September 13, 2023.
Kano govt, custodial centre yet to take action
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that three weeks after the attention of the Kano State Ministry of Environment was drawn to the situation at Durimin Iya, it has failed to take action.