The Nigerian sanitation economy: possibilities and challenges

Lagos, Nigeria © iStock / Kehinde Temitope Odutayo

Peter Cookey and Mayowa Abiodun consider the potential for sanitation to improve health, the environment and the economy in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Sanitation Economy could be worth USD$26.1 billion by 2030 according to the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) 2020 report, Sanitation Economy Markets: Nigeria. The sanitation economy describes a growing marketplace of products, services, renewable resource flows, data and information that could transform cities, communities and businesses; and also drive progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole. It harnesses a vital societal daily resource – excreta and urine – resources that have often been overlooked in the past, and generates valuable natural and biological resources – nutrients, water and energy – providing information and data in a way that creates economic, social and environmental benefits.

Consisting of three areas of focus – the toilet, circular- and smart-sanitation- economies – these resources are uniquely linked to population, so as a population grows, so does the availability of sanitation-derived resources. This way of looking at sanitation is not just smart and innovative but can also save costs and generate revenue sustainably. The challenge to the sanitation economy in countries such as Nigeria, however, is the poor state of sanitation management, whereby sanitation-derived-resources (or toilet resources as the TBC refers to them), are not treated, captured, converted/recycled and reused, and data is almost never available, particularly at State and local levels.

However, the TBC report was optimistic that Nigeria has great market opportunities that could yield high dividends if the right atmosphere were created. They suggest that the three areas of the sanitation economy could be big markets in this culturally diverse and resource-rich country.


The Nigerian population was 219.6 million in July 2022 and has an annual growth rate of 2.5%. Sewers would be too costly, time-consuming and near impossible to achieve as the predominant sanitation systems in the country are onsite / non-sewer / decentralised faecal sludge systems. So, the focus should be shifted from new sewer systems to contextual blended approaches, especially in the urban centres.

The Nigerian sanitation economy could include regular or innovative products and services to provide safe toilets that are contextually fit-for-purpose for all incomes and locations; whether it be for public, private or commercial usage; static or mobile; centralised or decentralised; on or offsite; sewered or unsewered; onshore or offshore; urban or rural. Systems contributing to the sanitation economy will include toilet systems, septic tanks, soakaway pits, treatment facilities, handwash and hygiene systems, and other ancillary products with prospects for the installation, construction, maintenance, provision, sales, design and manufacture of these products and services. Other indirect opportunities include financing, investment, legal, and marketing services. Nigeria’s urban population alone is about 114.2 million with sanitation coverage of just 28.89% in 2020. User-interface products and services could produce huge returns for entrepreneurs which the TBC estimates to be about USD$1 billion by 2030.

In the city of Port Harcourt, there is a thriving second-hand market for toilets and other related accessories alongside the sale of new products. In addition, opportunities arise from the new developments that are being built in most urban areas of the country. These require sanitation products and services at varying degrees.

Most States in Nigeria do not have specific sanitation governance and legal frameworks to determine the kind of infrastructure that is provided, enabling the utilisation of innovative sanitation options.

There is also a need for faecal sludge treatment plants, which creates an opportunity for investors to build, operate and provide resources for a circular sanitation economy in partnership with government and communities. If all these opportunities are harnessed properly then the TBC’s assumptions may not be over-ambitious.

Circular sanitation economy

Nigeria could also consider sanitation-derived resources to create value-added products such as renewable energy, organic fertilisers, proteins and treated water. A biogas abattoir in Lagos operating a partnership between the State government, a civil society organisation and the private sector produces six hours of power supply daily.

Faecal sludge in itself may not be able to support profitable investments, but when blended with other waste streams, such as wood chips and food, it can be used to develop products such as biofuel and organic fertilisers and conditioners. This reduces the amount of waste disposed into the environment and the associated public health risks and will bring Nigeria closer to achieving the SDG targets for sanitation.

Smart sanitation economy

Nigeria seems ripe for the optimisation of data and information about sanitation management, usage, devices, resources, maintenance, functionalities and, in urban environments, through digital smart systems, such as data and information systems, logistics and analytics, technologies, and applications that can provide sanitation-related solutions. Nigeria has the largest share of technology start-ups in Africa. This has attracted approximately USD $150 billion in venture capital, amounting to 35% of tech-investments in Africa in 2021 alone.

This is indicative of the possibilities for a smart sanitation economy in the country, with the opportunity to apply new technologies, applications and digitisation to sanitation systems across the service, creating a value chain from multiple sources with diverse benefits. The collation and digitisation of the number, type, and location of sanitation infrastructure at State and local levels could give useful and accessible information, providing data to inform the planning and implementation of services and enhancing the opportunities for innovative design and production.


The Nigerian sanitation situation seems to have defied all odds with only minimal progress being made; in fact, coverage is worsening in urban centres because attention has been placed primarily on rural Nigeria and the prioritisation of water above sanitation. With a huge population made up of numerous ethnicities with differing cultures and a variety of governance systems and responses to societal issues, as well as geographical structures, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the sanitation problems of Nigeria whether you are trying to address the sanitation challenges of urban, rural or peri-urban populations. The Nigerian population could be more than 220 million by the end of 2022 and about 263 million by 2030.

This does not portend well for the sanitation quagmire haunting the country, especially as sanitation budgets are remarkably low at all levels of government. Only USD $393 million was invested in WASH by government and donors in 2018, and sanitation is often relegated too far behind in these WASH budgets, with the agenda focusing foremost on the delivery of clean, safe drinking water. UNICEF estimates that USD $5.3 million annually is currently needed for the country to achieve the SDG 6 sanitation targets, while poor sanitation costs the nation about 1.3% of GDP every year. A specific focus on sanitation without the competition from the focus on water resources and supply could provide more effective solutions. Looking at Nigeria’s sanitation challenges from the perspective of the sanitation economy would certainly provide an alternative, more sustainable solution that could encourage innovation and harness the opportunities to utilise this resource more creatively, and so encourage investment and entrepreneurial businesses.

The way forward?

To tackle Nigerian sanitation problems effectively, the varied particularities and contextualities of the governance structure, cultures, perceptions, behaviour, landscapes and geology of the country must be understood and considered. In addition, the constitution and governance structure of Nigeria could make national, top-down decision-making and processes inadequate because they must first be ratified and adopted at State levels to be implemented and owned at local levels before they can operate.

According to the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended in 2018), local governments are responsible for the provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and its disposal, including the assessment of privately owned houses and the control and regulation of business premises. Meanwhile, sanitation and water supply are on the concurrent list, which indicates that States are empowered to manage such activities within their jurisdictions although the States could adopt or adapt national policies and the agenda of the federal government. In other words, for sanitation interventions to work, it will have to be supported by the States and Local Government Areas to ensure implementation, as some States may decide not to align with the national stance on issues based on their own priorities.

States, however, need to understand their own particular needs. For example, comparisons between Rivers State (coastal areas) and Sokoto (arid areas). In essence, more pressure and support should be at the State and local levels than at national level. Also, policies, laws, regulations and standards that support a circular sanitation economy at national, State and local levels will enable this market to become more attractive and viable in Nigeria, while also supporting safely managed, improved and inclusive sanitation that is accessible and affordable.

The sanitation economy has high possibilities in Nigeria, but a different approach towards sanitation in the country will be needed to achieve anything near the scenarios of the TBC 2020 report. There is still a lot to be done before 2030. •

The authors

Dr Peter Emmanuel Cookey is a chief lecturer and director of consultancy services with the Rivers State College of Health Science and Management Technology, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He teaches postgraduate classes and mentors research as adjunct lecturer with the Institute of Geoscience and Environmental Management, Rivers State University, Nigeria; worked as a senior lecturer and researcher on non-sewered sanitation with the IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands; and as a senior research specialist with the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.

Mayowa Abiodun launched the EarthWatch Research Institute, Nigeria, with her husband and others, serving as administrator of the EarthWatch Conference on Water and Sanitation, co-publisher and chief editor of the EarthWatch Magazine, and co-convener of the EarthWatch Conference on Water and Sanitation.


  • Redirect focus towards States and Local Government Areas
  • Assist policies, legislation, regulations and standards that support a sanitation economy with incentives
  • Fund research for innovative contextual sanitation solutions that match the particularities and preferences of different regions tailored to the Nigerian market
  • Explore the second-hand market for sanitation products as this is a rich opportunity to build upon, especially for the Base-of-Pyramid
  • Faecal sludge treatment plants are urgently needed, perhaps through public-private-partnership models
  • Focus on faecal sludge management rather than sewage, because onsite and non-sewer systems are the predominant facilities in the country
  • The circular sanitation economy should be linked to food, water and energy sufficiency and States need to be encouraged to use sanitation-derived-resources for agriculture, aquaculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and powering facilities like abattoirs, parks, and markets
  • Provide financing and management support for sanitation start-ups
  • Education and training offer another market opportunity for the sanitation economy Capacity and support for the development of skills is essential at public and private sector levels. For example, environmental health officers are tasked with regulating sanitation in the States and Local Government Areas, but they have been mostly ignored in capacity development interventions
  • Explore the possibilities for increasing demand for toilets when they are manufactured in Nigeria and are affordable and good quality
  • Collation and digitisation of sanitation data at state and local levels
  • Provision of public and mobile sanitation systems at strategic locations, especially on road travel routes


More information

Integrated Functional Sanitation Value Chain: The role of the sanitation economy, by Peter Emmanuel Cookey, Thammarat Koottatep, Chongrak Polprasert and Walter Thomas Gibson was published by IWA Publishing in July 2022.

Available as an Open Access ebook