One year after: Remembering lost dreams at Queens College, Lagos
One year after the death of Praise Sodipo, an orphan, who died of gastrointestinal perforation in the health crisis that rocked Queen’s College, Yaba, last year, Mr. Otun Lawrence, her guardian, is pained that the Federal Government and the school management’s negligence resulted in the avoidable death of the promising young ones.
Like the parents of the two other students, Bithia Itulua and Vivian Osuinyi, who also died in the incident, Lawrence is upset that one year after the tragic incident at the once highly-rated college, concerned authorities have not deemed it fit to bring to book all those directly or indirectly responsible.
Lawrence, who spoke to The Guardian in an emotion laden voice, with tears streaming down his face, said not taking necessary action to bring the culprits to book is wicked.
He explained that he has not been himself since the incident, because he considers himself a failure, especially as he had pledged to his ward’s mother and grandmother to support and enable her dream of becoming a chartered accountant come true.
He said: “Together with some other people that shared in the vision, we had struggled to fulfil this pledge and ensure that she didn’t feel the absence of her parents, who died when she was just eight years old. And until the girl died, I remained committed to that promise. I gave her all the support to enable her stand out in life.”
With all the investment and sacrifice he and his wife had made in fulfilling his pledge, he wondered the kind of country Nigeria is that cuts short the dreams of innocent children.
He said when Praise’s parents died, he withdrew her from the private school she was attending and enrolled her at the University of Lagos Staff School, as part of efforts aimed at giving her the best. This led to her taking the exam and gaining admission to Queen’s College, which was on merit.
Going down memory lane to narrate his family’s experience before Praise died, he said his wife had gone to pick her from school for the mid-term break. On getting there, however, she was told that Praise was at the sickbay. He expressed surprised that the school could harbour the girl for days in its sickbay without even notifying them of the development. But because his wife was around and it was mid-term break, she was brought home and taken to the hospital immediately.
When the condition worsened, he decided to take her to another hospital that night, where an examination revealed she had perforated intestine. They were, therefore, advised to take her to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) for surgery and proper care. She was admitted there and the operation was successful, though she was in pain before and after the surgery. This was probably why she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). But shortly after she was transferred to the ICU, she went into coma for about three weeks before she finally gave up the ghost.
“Before going into coma that morning, Praise was lively. We exchanged pleasantries, and she asked after her younger sisters. So, I left to get the result of a test done earlier from the lab. I returned later to find that she was in coma,” he recalled.
Although it was his wife that picked Praise from school, she declined to go bring back her belongings after her death, because she felt it would be too traumatic. Instead, he had to go, but it was not a pleasant experience for him, as he grieved all through the process, especially when he stepped outside the school gate.
Mrs. Morenike Lawal, another parent was quite lucky. Fortunately for her, her daughter was only was diagnosed of typhoid and malaria. And unlike Lawrence, Praise’s guardian, she was notified that her daughter was sick, as she was having running stomach and high temperature. It was when they took her for an examination that they discovered she had typhoid and malaria.
“Before then, I was called thrice to come pick my daughter, because she was sick and was down with malaria,” she recalled.
She is, however, worried that despite the incident and the great loss to some parents, the school facilities have not really been improved to allay fears of a repeat of the ugly incident. She said the experience was really unpalatable, as no parent wishes to go through such pain and anxiety again.
Lawal is particularly disturbed that the school had not fully fulfilled its promise to make things better. She said though the school’s water is now treated, but the water has colour. The new borehole and treatment plant being constructed in the school, which started in September last year, is yet to be completed.
She is also of the opinion that the crisis was avoidable, as the school generates so much money through various levies imposed on parents.
“The school authority has no excuse not to ensure that the facilities are in good shape,” she said. “At a point, the school management and the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) had about N400m in its kitty. Yet, it could not treat its water and regularly wash the water tank. Rather, the sewage pipes were left unattended until they burst with the contents seeping into the borehole.”
On her part, Mrs. Elenotoba Johnson, another parent, is of the view that, if the PTA and the school management had not been draconian, the crisis would not have degenerated into the death of three students.
She said: “There was no reason for the facilities in the school to have decayed. It was simply due to the insensitivity of the school’s former principal. The principal couldn’t claim ignorance of the bad state of the facilities, but decided to look the other way, endangering the children’s lives, thereby causing pain to parents and the children.”
She alleged that the school management often threatened parents and their children with expulsion, if they insisted that the rot in the school was an eyesore, when so much money was being generated.
Also blaming supervisors from the Ministry of Education, whom she accused of non-challance, she said they contributed to the problem, as they usually wouldn’t go round to see things for themselves, whenever they visited Lagos.
“If they bothered to visit the school at all, they would only end up in the principal’s office. That is if they left their hotel rooms at all,” she said.
Johnson equally felt bad that one year after the crisis, nobody has been made to pay for the crisis. She urged Federal government to take action by bringing to book all those culpable, so as to set precedent and serve as a lesson to all those administering such schools.
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