I was incredibly indignant at the tragedy that befell Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, where two students, identified as Vivian Osainiyi and Bithia Itulua, died of cholera, resulting from the poor state of hygiene in the school. Besides the fatalities, no fewer than 16 students were admitted to various health institutions for medical attention.
It can hardly be imagined what would have gone through the minds of parents, guardians, relatives and perhaps well-meaning Nigerians when news of the tragic incident broke. Thanks to the Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who quickly directed that urgent investigations be made into the unfortunate incident.
It is quite amazing that such development could occur at Queen’s College, an institution that has maintained an enviable record of excellence in all endeavours for many years. Anyway, that may have changed along with the general decadence in the country.
Several factors have been adduced for the calamities. First, it is claimed that laboratory analyses revealed that water sources were highly contaminated.
Others allege that the school’s conveniences were improperly maintained. Whatever the reasons might be, the common denominator remains that something didn’t just add up with the hygienic conditions of the school.
Regrettably, this is not the first time this particular institution is making the news obviously for the wrong reasons. Last year, the school was hit by a scandal when a female student claimed sexual harassment by a male teacher. Investigations were conducted but only heaven knows how the matter was concluded.
This killer-event is a metaphor for similar developments in the country. Schools are established without proper attention to hygienic issues that affect students. What is of paramount interest to most school authorities is to extort parents and realise large sums of money enough to care for their wants and their greed.
Potable water and decent conveniences are imperatives and essential to the very existence of a school. When there is no water, toilets are often left in squalid conditions that exploit the susceptibilities of students and expose them to diseases like the ones that exterminated the Queen’s College students.
It is embarrassing and unimaginable that even till date, many public and private schools including some higher institutions, use unconventional, unsanitary toilets like pit latrines. Unarguably, this has claimed the lives of many students or pupils who have always courted infection.
Sometime ago in Port Harcourt, a primary school pupil was reportedly found dead in an open pit latrine in the school. This sad incident happens unannounced every now and then in different parts of the country. There are schools without toilets, making students to defecate in the open and expose precious lives to danger.
Unfortunately, this situation is not limited to schools. Camps established by religious bodies during major religious activities, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps, the various IDP camps in the country and many others lack the luxury of decent toilets. Conditions like this take people closer to their graves.
The incident at Queen’s College is indeed regrettable. It indicates the scant attention paid to sanitation and health in schools, especially public schools by the authorities. It is a shame that the management of the College was insouciant about the students who have been entrusted to their care.
If state-owned schools are neglected because state governments have always claimed that they have too many primary and secondary schools to contend with, will the Federal Government say likewise? Shouldn’t they set a good example to the states by providing basic amenities in all the unity schools they own?
The cataclysmic incident at the Queen’s College should be instructive to all school proprietors. For this reason, every school in the country has to take inventory of their sanitary conditions.
I would like unscheduled visits to be made to schools by supervising authorities to keep head teachers and principals watchful and avert a recurrence of the bad situation.
I need to emphasise that in the good old days, living in school dormitories was a very pleasurable experience. Many students learnt hygienic lifestyles and practices from the adventure. Beddings sparkled while food was delicious and qualitative. School inspections were regular occurrences to ensure that quality was maintained. That is now history.
If this happenstance continues, the future of the country will remain bleak or uncertain. It is, therefore, significant for both state and federal governments to understand that they have to establish only schools they can fund adequately.
The ignominy of denying schools something as basic as conveniences is unacceptably gross, largely because of the health implications.