The Ore school pupils’ tragic excursion
WRITTEN BY Luke Onyekakeyah
(For the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper Tuesday March 23rd 2010)
ONE day one trouble! That is what Nigeria has become in recent times. There is unceasing flow of ugly incidents traumatising the citizenry almost on daily basis. The deaths, last Wednesday, of 42 persons from Aricent Nursery and Primary School, Olupitan New Site, Ore is shocking. The incident has devastated families whose loved children perished in the ghastly crash on the Ondo-Ore federal road. It has added to the litany of bad news that has become the lot of Nigeria. The grief-stricken parents would never be the same again. In a twinkle of an eye, their loved kids were gone and they have been thrown into unending anguish for the rest of their lives. That is the story of today’s Nigeria; otherwise the accident was avoidable if things had been done the proper way. That is in addition to the deplorable road condition. As it were, no day passes without people dying on the roads.
The pupils and their teachers including the proprietor of the school, Mr. Tairu Ariyo, who also died in the accident went to Idanre hills on an excursion and were returning when the accident occurred. The 18-seater bus in which they were travelling had a head-on collision with a trailer. Ten of the pupils died on the spot. The rest of the seriously injured pupils were reportedly rushed to the General Hospital Ore where they died due to poor health facilities and inadequate attention.
Only one medical doctor was reportedly on hand to attend to the more than 30 pupils brought to the hospital in critical condition. Besides, the workers at the hospital were said to be uncooperative amid calls by desperate parents to have attention given to their dying kids. The abject state of affairs at the hospital obviously contributed to the mass deaths of the pupils. A better-equipped hospital with well-trained medical personnel could have saved the lives of many of the pupils. One distraught mother who lost her daughter in the accident described the Ore General Hospital as “a glorified health centre with no basic equipment”. That, in truth, is the condition of general hospitals throughout the country, where hapless citizens die owing to poor facilities to attend to the sick.
The Ore incident has brought to the fore the issue of standards in the running of public and private schools throughout the country. The decay in virtually every facet of the country’s life has created a culture of impunity whereby people do what they like knowing fully well that nothing would happen. For instance, in Nigeria’s school system, there are no laid down standards for conveying or transporting students from one place to another like you have in developed societies. Throughout the country, school children are ferried in horrible buses to and from school and for field excursions.
Schools use any type of buses to transport students and pupils to events over dangerous roads. It is well known that majority of the schools don’t have school bus of their own. What these schools do is to hire rickety commercial buses whose drivers are known to be reckless on the road. So many students/pupils are packed like sardines in such unhealthy buses. It is common in Lagos, for example, to see students packed like sardines in decrepit chartered commercial buses going on one trip or the other. This practice has resulted in the death of many students/pupils in the course of excursion trips. The Ore school incident is certainly not the first of such incidents. It is un-imaginable how over 64 pupils were packed like sardines in an 18-seater bus for an excursion. There is no doubt that the bus was overloaded and that could have contributed to the accident.
If field excursion is part and parcel of school curriculum, why are the schools not required to provide a standard school bus before the Ministry of Education gives approval. Why does the Ministry of Education overlook something as important that endangers the lives of innocent pupils who get excited whenever their schools organised excursion but only to meet their untimely deaths? Such incidents, which keep occurring without intervention from the appropriate quarters only go to prove that many things are wrong with this system that need to be addressed.
With the collapse of standards in the education sector, anything goes for the schools. The public universities are in worse shape. How many universities have standard buses for conveying students? The Ministry of Education is not living up to its responsibility to prevent this kind of deaths by ensuring that the right things are done in the schools. The blight affects both the public and private schools. Few private schools have school bus of their own choice. But there is hardly any public school with school bus. There is no talk of creating the right environment for learning or providing the right equipment. The Ore school incident happened to be one of the latest of such mishaps. There is no school bus system in Nigerian schools and yet students/pupils are transported to and from the schools in whatever could be chartered by the school.
The other factor that contributed to the accident is the appalling state of the road. The Ondo-Ore federal road is a death trap like the dilapidated Benin-Ore highway. The road is narrow and is bordered by thick forest on both sides. This makes it difficult for drivers to see on-coming vehicles even during the day. Night driving on the road is most dangerous. Unfortunately, the dead pupils were returning at night around 8p.m. when the accident occurred. The poor state of the road coupled with the recklessness of the drivers must have contributed to the crash. And so it was that healthy pupils who left their homes in the morning in high spirits perished on the road leaving their families devastated.
These days, hardly any day passes without one ugly incident or the other occurring that shocks everyone. The newspapers are awash with shocking headlines on daily basis. They range from mayhem, ethno-religious attacks, armed robbery, kidnappings, accidents, fire outbreaks, building collapse, strikes, demonstrations and such ugly incidents. All these incidents result in horrible deaths of hapless citizens. Many families in Jos have since the beginning of the year been devastated not by earthquakes like in Haiti or cyclone like in Fiji but by man induced inhumanity to man.
The average Nigerian is daily bombarded with hearth-rending news stories and you begin to ask where the country is heading? Cheery news is scarce to come by. The country is not officially fighting any war like you have in Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the charged atmosphere in the country has made living irritable. The average person on the street is tensed up as he or she faces the hurdles of the day. It is this state of affairs, the way and manner Nigeria is carrying herself that has given room to speculations of a possible break-up of the country. It is high time the country’s leaders showed commitment to issues that affect the citizenry. The way things are going is not in the interest of the country.
Regarding the school, it is high time that government made it mandatory for schools to have standard school bus for conveying students/pupils and for field excursions. A school bus is as important as a school building. If a community could afford to build classroom blocks, that community should be able to buy a standard school bus. Similarly, any private person who could afford to build classroom blocks should have a budget to buy a standard school bus. This is needed to create standards. And the creation of standards would start from somewhere. Except this matter is addressed by the Ministry of Education at the federal and state levels, students/pupils will continue to die in unclassified chartered buses.