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Whitney Adeniran Saga: How to prevent untimely death in schools

By Debo Oladimeji
11 March 2023   |   3:17 am
“I gave Chrisland School a healthy, vibrant young girl, what Chrisland returned to me is a dead child. My entire family is in deep sorrow but the school authority claimed they know nothing about my daughter’s death and all they know is that my daughter slumped and died.”

Whitney Adeniran

The recent death of Miss Whitney Adeniran, a 12-year-old student of Chrisland School, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, calls for strict enforcement of the safety standards recommended by the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSC) for both boarding and day schools, writes DEBO OLADIMEJI.

“I gave Chrisland School a healthy, vibrant young girl, what Chrisland returned to me is a dead child. My entire family is in deep sorrow but the school authority claimed they know nothing about my daughter’s death and all they know is that my daughter slumped and died.”

With these words, Mr. Michael Adeniran, the father of Miss Whitney Adeniran, a 12-year-old student of Chrisland School, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos State, who died recently during the school’s inter-house sports, which was held at Agege Stadium, lamented the loss of his daughter.

A statement by the management of Chrisland School, signed by the Chairman of its Advisory Board, Ike Ofuokwu, had claimed that Whitney had reported to school “not-too-buoyant” and “slumped in public view and not under any hidden circumstances” during the event.

“Our immediate response was to take advantage of proximity by identifying the nearest medical facility to take her to, where the doctor on duty administered oxygen and every aid possible to her,” the school claimed.

The parents of the deceased have, however, insisted that the student was hale and hearty before leaving home on the said day, accusing the school of negligence at the venue of the event.

Whitney’s bereaved mother, Blessing, who was at the Agege Stadium to support her daughter during the sporting activities, explained that she was trying to ascertain her whereabouts when a pupil of the school informed her that she slumped and was rushed to hospital for treatment.

Blessing, however, alleged that her daughter was not taken to a hospital but to an immunisation centre, adding that when she rushed down to the centre, she found her daughter’s corpse with her lips and tongue turned black.

An autopsy conducted by the Lagos State Police Command has revealed that Whitney died of suspected electrocution, thus supporting the claim of negligence by her family. Interestingly, the Lagos State government, which has ordered that the school remains shut until the conclusion of investigation, has assured the family that no effort would be spared to get justice for her.

As the government continues in this quest, stakeholders are also watching out for other efforts it would make to ensure that parents are saved the agony of losing their children to death while in school. This is against the backdrop of the fact that Whitney’s death could be described as one too many in the state in recent years.

Speaking with The Guardian, a safety expert, Dr. Kayode Solomon, said schools must understand the importance of first aid and train their staff on the processes of administration, expressing regret that in Nigeria, the knowledge of first aid is limited to what he described as “pour water”.

He said: “If somebody falls down, it is pour water; if somebody faints, it is pour water or ask them to drink water. The claim that water has no enemy is not always correct. One thing you don’t want is something happening to a child and nobody can do anything about the situation and the child dies in the premises of the school.”

He disclosed that he was part of a panel that investigated one of the top schools in Lagos in the past following an incident. Giving details of the incident that led to the investigation, he said: “A child was playing football and suddenly collapsed. They did all they could but this child was unresponsive. Somebody had gone to call the parents and they quickly arranged a car. They had a hospital, which is about two to three minutes away from the school. All this time, this child was unresponsive. That meant the child was already on countdown of four minutes or six minutes from the moment he lost consciousness on the field. It took about 10 minutes from when the incident happened and when they got to the hospital. And he was brought in dead. It happened just before closing time.”

Solomon, who revealed that some parents witnessed the whole drama, added: “It was just chaotic; it was crazy. The review was done because sometimes in Nigeria what we will first do is covering up. It did not happen. But the best thing to do is to actually find out what happened and review the system.

“What emergency response plan was on ground and how many people understand it? How many people were there to respond? What we discovered was that they thought they had a cover but that cover was not good enough. They just believe that once you have nurses in the school premises, they can handle any emergency until they can move the person to the hospital. Now, the reality is that it is imperative that quite a number of people in the class, in the school are trained to have requisite knowledge to identify problems. The first thing to do even before a problem starts is to prevent the problem. Have safety awareness and develop appropriate plans. That is why you have the Lagos State Safety Commission and they have been doing a good job.  Prevention is better than cure.

“So whatever intervention you may have, the earlier the intervention starts the better and the higher the chances of reducing the effect of whatever damage that injury or circumstance would have caused. It is always important to have early recognition. That is why we need to train staff. 

“A child goes to the toilet and doesn’t come out and there is a cleaner who is going to clean the toilet and recognises that a child has entered this bathroom and has not come out and doesn’t feel anything is wrong. She just feels that is how children from rich families behave. But that child may be in need of help.

“We are talking about holistic training. So, apart from the core people that train, there must be a policy in place for people to recognise emergency. The earlier you recognise emergency, the earlier you can move to the next step to either intervene or call for help.”
Solomon emphasised the need to train all school staff to recognise emergency and act appropriately.

“Let us be honest. We are talking about the children; it may be the teachers that need help. It can be the principal that needs help. There are many people who go to work and anything can happen. Then another thing is if you are not able to do anything at all, if you can recognise emergencies and call for help, you have done a whole lot. For example if a child just collapsed and has seizure, everybody would usually run away, including the teacher.

“The teacher must understand what to do and must do something. If you are afraid and don’t know what to do then call for help. It may be the teacher in the next class that has the knowledge and the courage to handle the situation. It may be a nanny or a driver. Let everybody know that there is an emergency. What if the person available is just a security man? He can still act if he is well trained. It is not about the level of education you have; it is simply about your capacity to be trained. Some people are very smart but circumstances just made them to be security guards. They can understand stuff and know how best to act. That is why Safe Schools Lagos makes it mandatory that all members of staff in schools must be trained on general safety awareness courses.”

Comparing Nigeria to the western countries whose system many schools are adopting, Solomon said abroad, defibrillators are very common, they could be sighted right from their airports.

“If you walk into any airport, you will notice that they have provisions for the machine. It is a reflective item and we encourage schools to have them in their schools.

“One thing we need to do for schools is to create awareness. Let there be awareness of what to do in an emergency. You must be able to identify those who have got the training in your environment and let them take the lead of what to do; not just anybody. Sometimes, the assumptions you make on how to manage a child with multiple seizures may determine if the child will live or not. When a child has a simple seizure and your nanny pours water on him/her, the child may drown in the process in his/her own vomit,” he explained.

According to Solomon, most seizure patients die of post- seizure sleep when they are not placed in a proper sleeping position. “The teachers, caregivers and school owners should seek the right knowledge and discard superstitious beliefs.”

The Project Lead of Schoolrun Academy, Dr. Bisi Esuruoso, noted that risk cannot be eradicated, but can be mitigated. She said it was important for schools to have defibrillators to prevent such tragedy from repeating itself in future, stressing that having the equipment would entail training some staff to handle it and also opening a register to enter the names of pupils that have used it.

According to the Project Lead, if Chrisland Schools had got an emergency rescue plan, the situation would have been successfully put under control and the girl would not have died.

“If the school had taken up the Safe Schools Lagos (SSLAG) compliance plan, the trips would have been covered and they would have had an ambulance from emergency rescue Africa when that incident happened. The school would have had prompt attention because there would have been paramedics on ground that would have responded immediately.
“How do we mitigate risks? It comes from awareness, knowledge and structure. I tell my staff that safety starts from organisation and the structure. When you are under pressure, it is your structure that will make you stand or cope. That is why Capacity Building Workshop (CBC) is for everybody,” she said.

Explaining that members of the school community need to understand that safety is very important in schools, Esuruoso revealed that the Lagos State government has begun school audit to make sure that schools comply with all the 20 Lagos State Safety Commission’s standards.

Esuruoso, who explained that 12 of the 20 safety standards are for Day schools, while eight are for Boarding schools, enjoined all school owners and managers to know all the standards, irrespective of the nature of school they run.
She explained that any trip embarked upon with the students that take two or three days outside the school is considered to mean that those students are in Boarding even when they are Day students.

“What happened in Chrisland sometime last year would not have happened if they understood the boarding school requirements. In England, when students are on any trip you cannot board them in a hotel. Hotels are for adults from 18 years and above.”

She expressed regret that most schools in Nigeria have free periods on their timetable and the teachers allow the students to learn on their own during those periods, saying leaving the students to be on their own is an act of negligence because students misbehave when they are alone.

According to Esuruoso, the personnel assigned for the school audit by the state government would not look out for physical things, but for hidden curriculum.

“There are the seen and the hidden curricula. The hidden curricula are the things that people do not see, that is, they are not the norms. Excursion is part of students’ learning activities and we appreciate that. But things must be done properly. An incident happened at Agege Stadium that involved Chrisland. We need to beam searchlight on the stadium and the tour organiser, and not on Chrisland School alone. Up till now, nobody has gone after the tour operator and Chrisland is taking all the blames,” she added.

She urged schools to have professional tutors who could be trained regularly on train the trainer courses and refreshers so they could go ahead and train their colleagues.

“The Lagos State Safety Commission is responsible for the cost of such training for government schools teachers in the state,” she added. In April 2022, the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSC) launched the Safe Schools Lagos (SSLAG) with the mandate to ensure a safety culture and compliance in schools and allied establishments where children are looked after, taught, coached or engaged in leisure or religious activities.

The Director General/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the LSC, Mr. Lanre Mojola, who spoke during the launch of SSLAG at Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa, Ikeja, described SSLAG as a quality improvement programme in education that is implemented in collaboration with five Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). These are Ministries of Education, Youth and Social Development, Special Duties, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and Office of Education Quality Assurance.

Mojola had further stated that SSLAG established a set of guidelines and standards for all schools to follow in ensuring the safety of lives and property in their facilities.

The Guardian learnt that the commission now organises a capacity building conference for stakeholders once a month to bring the importance of school safety to the fore.

According to the Director of Communication and Compliance of Partners in Education (PIE), Mrs. Jumoke Michaels, the capacity building conference is an awareness call on schools staff to gain insight into the framework of SSLAG compliance drive.

“This is a Lagos state government initiative empowered by the Lagos State Safety Commission law of 2011. Hence, all schools must demonstrate minimum levels of safety compliance in all activities within their purview. Schools must implement a safety management system to create the culture and compliance. This involves emergency preparedness, safety plans and security drills, investing in insurance, emergency response plans and safe recruitment checks. The conference is to give an overview of these points. Attendance of the conference is beneficial for delegates to have an overview of the SSLAG key elements so they can go back to their schools and work towards making it a reality.

“They would have garnered knowledge of the priorities of SSLAG and how they are meant to ensure that their schools become a part of this, ensuring that there is safety in schools. Children must be safe even in their learning environment. So that is a big picture of what we are doing,” Michaels said.

She reiterated that the state government was keen to ensure that all children in the state are safe whether at home, school, on the road and always. “In ensuring that these children are safe, we want the public to know that there is now safety regulations in schools,” she added.

The Head, School Safety Unit at the commission, Mrs. Ajoke Oshokoya, said the commission used the capacity building conference to advance the vision of the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration and signpost schools to where they could get approved safety infrastructure.

She added: “The Nigerian market is full of fake and adulterated products, which increase the risks of harm and injury to minors. Schools management must ensure that children are learning in a safe environment. It is a lot of efforts, but we are capable and ready to educate, support and enforce safety in schools.”

On his part, the Chief Operating Officer of SSLAG, Mr. Vinod Kaurani, said: “We have school safety specialists called Assessors and Evaluators, who are the ones that visit schools to support them and conduct Safety Management System (SMS) walkthroughs. This is a free consultancy services funded by the government, so the schools are not paying for this. These practitioners tell the school what Lagos State government is asking them to put in place for compliance. They need to come on board. It is a structured programme based on the SSLAG Framework launched in April last year. We want to ensure that the school team knows the correct protocol for sickness, accidents and emergencies so they can stop the guess work and trial and error mode they currently operate.”

He also hinted that a digital application for SSLAG that would help the school safety programme was being introduced to schools. The app would make safety management seamless once schools onboard via it.

“They can upload and download information, report statutory activities, book events, order approved safety supplies and engage in online training in the comfort of their locations. The app also has a panic button linked to appropriate security agencies and authorities so that in case of insecurity issues schools would be surrounded and locked down within minutes!

“It is also going to be the epicenter of Lagos State Safety Commission compliance monitoring. LSC along with Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA) is working together to ensure schools without valid safety licences or provisional safety licences would be unable to renew their yearly certificates to continue operation. That is what the app is going to be eventually doing. Once schools are on-boarded, they are able to provide the relevant protocols on all school activities. And the LSC and the state government will get the appropriate reports on how safe the schools are,” he added.

Kaurani said the government has approved a plan to ensure that public schools would fully comply with the new standards. “Henceforth there is going to be a list of Safe Schools in Lagos to show compliance.  This will come from authentic verified data that has been collected through the safety audit that has already started. Safety is for everyone.  You don’t need to be poor or rich to be safe. That is the idea. The whole idea of this project is ensuring safety in school. The best place to teach anyone the importance of safety is at the school level. The app is available to everyone because safety is meant for everyone.

“The schools are supposed to also train their staff and use the approved vendors list. This list consists of resource persons who are verified and can conduct authentic training whenever the school demands to have safety training. We have a list of vendors that are verified and will be able to provide that training. Parents can now be in the driving seats of decisions bordering on safety of their children in schools,” he added.

The Director of Public Safety and Wellness at the Commission, Mr. Olatinde Ajose, stressed that the state government has been working hard to ensure that all schools in the state know about safety and apply such knowledge to the benefit of both staff and students.

“It is all encompassing. All the schools in Lagos State have to be safety aware. They need to know everything about safety; everything they need to do concerning our children. They cannot just keep our children in school without ensuring they are safe. Everything that we are talking about is safety. The schools need to meet the minimum standards set for Day and Boarding schools. It is no longer business as usual,” Ajose said.

“When a child is safe, he or she is free from hazards, injuries and all sorts of things that can harm that child. Parents must be reassured that their children are in safe hands while at school; that they are well taken care of and when the child returns from school, he or she returns into safe hands.

“All that we are saying or advocating is that schools should be safety aware. All the children, the teachers, the parents, the pupils and everybody involved have to keep themselves safe from injuries and hazards and any form of damage. That is what we are expecting from them. Safety audits have begun in schools. These are the things they will be looking out for and schools that comply will be free from any enforcement. Any school that does not comply will face enforcement actions.”