By Adeola Adenuga
Call it a surge and you won’t be wrong. Call it a swarm and you also will be right. School pupils in front of St Joseph’s College, Ondo were giving the bus officials a hard time.
Exceptionally neat and well maintained, the bus is one of the many dedicated to conveying primary and secondary school children to and fro school. On this particular Thursday, the bus would later come to pick the rest of the children, officials assured, but the youngsters, typically of people in their age bracket, would not be outdone by their colleagues.
They wanted to go home right now, not later, and that was it. It was indeed a hectic time. But the bus administrators would not budge: overloading was a cardinal sin, as they had strict orders from the state government to maintain the safety of students.
The bus, like others in its category, would not leave any student behind in school, as they would ply the roads till very late in the day, yet the youngsters surged forward in a get-home-before-my-friend game.
My colleague standing nearby looked at me and remembered a Yoruba proverb: ‘’Agba wa bura b’ewe o ba se e ri (‘’Elder, can you vow you were never subjected to the follies of the youth?”). I nodded, but reminded her that we never rode a free bus to school in the early 80s, let alone a state-of-the-art one. This Mimiko of a guy is something else, she quipped.
Numbering five (with 80 seating and 20 standing spaces) on that spot alone, the buses were painted in the orange/off white curve of the new Ondo outlook, and were busy loading, with officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the bus administrators controlling the movement of the youngsters so that they did not injure one another out of pure delight.
Facing right, the buses would, we were to learn, glide through Ife Garage, Civic Centre, Sabo, Lipakala, Adeyemi College of Education, Catholic Junction, Oka, all the way to into Odojomu, Oja, etc, and facing left, they would head to Gani, Better Lab, Ade Super, Molasuru, NEPA and Akinjagunla, all the way to Akure Garage and beyond, picking and dropping students at designated bus stops shaped like an umbrella and painted in the Ondo colours, with a bus stop administrator ensuring the smooth flow of proceedings.
The students—from St Monica’s Girls Grammar School, Ondo Anglican Grammar School, St Joseph’s College and a few other adjoining private schools—were eager to quickly get home after a hectic day at school, and each had kind words for the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
“We like these buses,” they said as they rushed in. ”Governor Mimiko has promised that we will not suffer again, so we know that these buses will be available every blessed day,” said a boy as he shuttled quickly between boarding a bus and dealing with a seemingly stubborn mango, totally impervious to the criticisms of his fellows who demanded greater decorum because of our (adults) presence.
“Governor Mimiko did not say that we could not eat mangoes in this bus,” he said rather seriously, occasioning general laughter.
“Mimiko is indeed a fantastic governor; he has made life much easier for us and our parents, as transport fare for students in Ondo State is now a thing of the past.
My mother was telling her friend just yesterday that we have never seen anything like this in Ondo State,” offered Joke Olubunmi, a JSS2 pupil. Another student, Gideon Oluwaseun, an SSS 3 student, said, “This bus helps us in many ways. We will not be trekking again like we used to do before. My mum used to spend N100 per person daily before and we are five in number. I want to say that he (Mimiko) should continue the good work and God will continue to bless him.”
A bus administrator explained: “We can’t over-emphasise the benefits that parents have derived. This place is like localisation of schools: St Joseph’s, St Monica’s, St. Helen’s, Ondo Grammar School, Ondo Boys. We can’t estimate the number of students we’re conveying every day. That helps their parents.
Again, the safety of the students is paramount and the governor is very passionate about that. The services he is providing are not for the people to say that he’s doing well but for him to satisfy his conscience; the governor is trying to assist parents in saving money.
Gone are the days when, at 10 am, you find students roaming the streets. Most of them boarded Okada (motorbike) and some were involved in avoidable accidents.” He then turned to the crowd: “If I don’t call you, don’t come in.”
In the afternoon of the following day, Friday, we chatted with some students as they boarded the free shuttle buses in Akure, the state capital, home-bound. At the Fiwasaye Bus Stop in Alagbaka, one Afenifemi Omobololanle, a JSS3 student of African Church Comprehensive High School, quipped: “It (the bus) is fine.
It’s been helping us. All around our community, the shuttle buses are there. Instead of us spending money, we are seeing a free bus ride here now. It’s helping my parents not to waste their money on transport; they will only spd money on food. I thank Governor Olusegun Mimiko. God will always provide for him and his family.”
Dada Oyindamola, an SSS3 student of Fiwasaye Girls Grammar School, Akure, could not agree less. Her words: “It is very good; it helps people in saving money. Those that are poor and do not have money to give their children for transport to school now have a respite. Some people have four children in school and do not have enough money to give the children for transport, but this one will save them, to and fro. This is a new agenda and everybody is pleased with it, even the old women.
“At least, dropping and picking your children is a good thing and everybody is happy with it. Even if our parents give us money for transport, we save it and use it for other things. Parents are saving what used to be transport money, which at times was more than school fees, to buy other things. My advice to Governor Mimiko is that he should keep on doing good to us and any other governor that is coming after him should continue. You know, if another governor comes now, he may stop this. This programme should continue.”
But the state Commissioner for Transport, Nicholas Tofowomo, dismissed the fears about the project being abandoned by coming administrations, disclosing the internal mechanisms devised to ensure its sustainability.
He said, “When you build a meaningful foundation, a rock-solid foundation that has rules and regulations and has embraced a lot of resources, human resources and is not a one-man show, having a clear cut template—that is what we’ve put in place in the Ministry of Transport.
Our school free shuttle is not driven by an outsider; it is driven by the ministry in such a way that the Chief Transport Officer, the bus driver, the fuelling and maintenance—everything is driven by this ministry, so that when the government leaves, these people would still be here. This is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, dedicated solely to students. The buses are never hired out.
“All those people that are driving this concept are not politicians; they are civil servants, except me, the head, whom Governor Mimiko has given directives to and I have been able to inculcate those directives into the system, whereby even if I’m out of the system, there will be sustainability.
For instance, the school free shuttle was started in Akure. The drivers we employed have a minimum of school certificate, they are civil servants and they are trained to look after the vehicle if it breaks down. If we are out of the system, the drivers would still drive the vehicles and they would be able to manage them.”