Replicating the success of Nigeria’s technology industry to bring better sanitation to all

Samuel Langat, Leader Africa, SATO

In recent decades, Nigeria has undergone a technological revolution. At the turn of the millennium, new licenses for mobile internet were issued by the Federal Government – and with them dawned an era of technological infrastructure.

Today, more than 39 percent of the population – or upwards of 83 million people – have access to 4G internet connections. Due to the rapid
development of the industry, much of this is via mobile devices, empowering Nigerians to connect, tap into global economic opportunities, and unlock a better quality of life.

Alongside technological advancements, new high-growth industries have emerged. Even outside of Africa, Lagos is today known for playing host to a thriving ecosystem of technology-led businesses – from telcos and payment providers to e-commerce and delivery platforms. Moreover, creative entrepreneurs in this area have the opportunity to impact the growth of the entire Nigerian economy. Evidence suggests that poor sanitation has one of the largest negative economic impacts of all types of infrastructure, meaning that fixing this problem is also one of Nigeria’s greatest opportunities.

What started as a blank canvas in the late 1990s, has transformed into countless new industries, millions of jobs, and millions of dollars pumped into Nigeria by international investors. Today, it’s a self-sustaining market that delivers far greater social and economic value than the investments made into infrastructure.

It’s been a total success – and one that’s been driven by the private sector. However, whilst our technology scene offers great promise, other – arguably more fundamental – issues impact health, social and economic outcomes for Nigerians.

It’s time we took the learnings from the growth of Nigeria’s technology industry and applied these to other areas, in particular the development of the sanitation industry.

In Nigeria, only 18 percent of the population, equivalent to 37 million people, have access to safely managed sanitation, while 23 percent – or 48 million people – defecate in the open. Drawing comparisons between the two industries, in Nigeria you are more than twice as likely to have access to 4G compared with safely managed sanitation.

Open defecation creates huge health, social, economic and ecological challenges. Human waste that gets into waterways, such as rivers or lakes, pollutes the groundwater, causing the spread of preventable, water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhoea. This leads to more sickness in communities and in the workplace, decreasing Nigeria’s economic output.

Poor sanitation also affects educational outcomes for school children, particularly girls. As schoolgirls go through their menstrual cycle, they need quality, closed-pit latrines to practice safe sanitation. Without one, we see increasing levels of student absenteeism which limits social mobility.

So, how do we fix it? Like the technology industry, we believe that the private sector has a fundamental role to play.

At SATO, we have created an award-winning portfolio of high-quality, affordable, and water-saving toilet products. They’ve been used by millions of people in the last decade , are made from affordable yet durable materials and have an aspirational design. Our products immediately transform an open pit latrine into a closed pit that minimises the odours, and the presence of flies and hides waste.

Globally, our products have impacted the lives of more than 45 million people to date, including 1.6 million people in Nigeria. However, we want to significantly scale up and help more consumers unlock brighter futures through improved sanitation.

To do this, we work with local businesses to build supply. In Nigeria, we work with Sonhart Investments Ltd, which manufactures the products, and sells and distributes them through its network of distributors, retailers and wholesalers across the country. This robust supply chain ensures customers who want to improve their sanitation have access to affordable products in their regions.

Having the products available is the first step to addressing the challenge. We also need to highlight the need to drive demand and work with NGOs, government agencies, and independent toilet sales agents to raise awareness about safe sanitation and change behaviour.

Taking this combined approach to building local supply and driving demand is crucial for the long-term development of the industry. Establishing supply chains ensures that when consumers demand better sanitation solutions, they have the products within reach. This empowers them to get on the sanitation ladder, and on their way to better health with social and economic value.

According to GSMA – an organisation that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide – 96 per cent of Nigerians in urban settings, and 83 per cent of Nigerians in rural settings, are aware of mobile internet. Yet millions across Nigeria are likely to be unaware of why better toilets matter and the positive impact this creates.

It’s now time for the sanitation industry in partnership with the government, NGOs and private sector – to drive forward and mirror the success of the technology industry and help Nigeria achieve her goal of becoming open-defecation-free by 2025.

We can’t do it alone, though. There is a massive – and highly lucrative – market out there. But, the opportunity won’t be realised unless there’s collective action from a variety of stakeholders, from corporations and NGOs to community groups, to enhance supply and build demand.

If you’d like to find out more about how you can partner with us to help evolve Nigeria’s sanitation industry, visit

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