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How government, management imperil pupils’ health at Queens College

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Some workers cleaning one of the underground water tanks at the college. PHOTO: UJUNWA ATUEYI

FG fails to release funds to address water crisis, says college staff member
The tales of the investor of Queens Delight Table Water, a water factory situated at Queens College, Yaba, Lagos, Mr. Segun Ajisafe, on his goodwill attempt to provide potable water for students of the college clearly depict high level of negligence by those saddled with the responsibility of looking after students kept in their care.

Ajisafe’s report was coming in defence of several criticisms, which border on why students were dying of water-borne diseases when a water factory is located in the college.

The firm, in 2015 signed a 17-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement with the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) to produce potable water for commercial purposes.

Before it came on board, the college has suffered and survived series of epidemic. Water crisis was said to have been the greatest challenge of the college from time immemorial.

But the recent outbreak, which claimed the lives of two junior students, Vivian Osuniyi and Itula Bithna, and a Senior Secondary School one student, Praise Sodipo, who was buried last Thursday at Atan Cemetery, Yaba, Lagos State, brought to the fore, the long years of infrastructural decay at the college.

However, the intervention of the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who got a hint that all was not well with the college and promptly swung into action alongside the Lagos State Ministry of Health prevented the already bad situation from getting worse.

The three pupils died from complications emanating from water-borne diseases, despite having a functional water factory in the college.

The narratives that chronicled the entire episode of the ugly incident showed high level of neglect, carelessness and collapse of infrastructure and facilities in the college which happened to be one of the foremost secondary schools for girls’ in the country. By October 10, 2017, Queen’s College will clock 90 years.

The manager of the water company, while exonerating himself from the issue explained that effort to run clean water to the college was frustrated by lack of funds and commitment by the school management.

According to him, “The water project was an intervention to provide potable water to students. This place was set up with the sole aim of ensuring that the college have access to potable water. According to the agreement, the factory belongs to the school; I am only managing it over a period of time. All the equipment (treatment plant and vehicles) I purchased will be handed over to them when the time lapses.

“I did not collect a dime from the ministry or from the government to start up this water project, from the foundation of this factory to its completion. I am supposed to operate it as a business to make my money back gradually over a period of 17 years.

He continued, “When we wanted to take-off, I gave them a goodwill assurance that because I know the situation of the college, I would give them the same water I’m treating free of charge on the premise that the school would run its pipe. I decided to do it for the sake of the children. I ran the pipe from this factory into an underground tank that the then principal, Mrs. Ekwutozia Osime, installed.

“When we saw this underground tank, we were disappointed. I now gave the school two options, that if I’m going to pump my own water here, you have to disconnect your own pipe and secondly, they must renovate the place and tile it.

“But the principal complained that doing so will cost the college so much money. She said to me, ‘hold on with this one, but please help us to recharge the treatment plant bought by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) and the Old Girls Association, which was abandoned. Help us recharge it with the recharging media, at least before it expires, we would have been able to seek for fund to put that place in good shape.’

Ajisafe said he recharged the two water plants for them at that moment and the children were drinking clean water. “That was about two years ago, and everything was okay. But water project requires regular maintenance. It is not just about recharging, it also involves putting somebody to supervise and test the water regularly.”

On whether the project truly achieved its purpose, since it was an intervention and considering the present situation, he stated, “I gave them discounts and recharged two of their treatment plant free of charge. I laid a pipe with my own money to a long distance, but they did not receive water because they could not make good their own tank. All that cost me a lot of money. What they needed to do was to just make it good and begin to benefit from it. All these I am not supposed to do legally. The intervention is not for them to get free water from me, but to get an established treatment plant that they can inherit at a certain time not for immediate intervention.”

Osime in her earlier explanation blamed the incident on lack of continuity by the school management, as she retired shortly after the inauguration of the water company.

According to her, “I left shortly before the water factory got its license for production of sachet water.  It got the license for bottled water shortly afterwards.  The agreement was that the investor would give Queen’s College part of the water.  While I was there, they laid a pipe from the factory to somewhere near the school hall but there was a complaint about the pipes being mixed with others or so. I expected that after I left, the management would have followed up with the investor.”

But a staff of the college, who pleaded anonymity, informed The Guardian that the school wrote to the ministry on the water crisis and it promised to release money. “But they said they would add it to the overhead cost. However, when the money was released, there was shortfall in the overhead cost, and there was no addition as they pledged. Now they are shifting blames, when they did not release the money they were supposed to bring for the overhauling of the water tank and treatment plant.”

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had in a statement, consoled the families of the victims, informing that government is already addressing the challenge.

Director, Basic and Secondary Education of the Federal Ministry of Education, Jonathan Mbaka, also admitted that the incident was an outcome of a systemic failure.

Meanwhile, a parent and an engineer, Alexander Kazeem, had while commenting on the entire scenario that played out at the college, expressed grief on such avoidable incidents, adding that the leadership of the college underestimated the dangers inherent in drinking unclean water.

“The deaths would have been avoided if only the managers of the college understand the risk associated with unclean water. It is a big shame that children still die of water-borne diseases in a country like Nigeria. For me, the government and management of the institution were responsible for the deaths.”


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