…Change governing structure —Queens College Old Girls’ Association urges Senate

The old girls’ association of the nation’s premier girls’ college has recommended to government a new governance structure for the school whereby a board of governors is at the helm of its affairs. This is in the wake of the most unfortunate and tragic incidents that have plagued Queens College, Lagos in more recent times. They recommend that this board be constituted equally of Federal Government appointees and old girls with an independent chairman to be jointly appointed.

If the QCOGA has its way, such a board would assume powers of oversight in financial matters, admission policies as well as infrastructure and human capacity requirements at the school; appointment of the principal; and capacity building of teachers. If it sees the light of day, this new governance structure would replace the School Based Management Committee (SBMC) whose potency has had aspersions cast on it.  

In their submission at a public hearing on the poor living conditions and the death of three girls in Queens College Lagos to the joint committee on Education and Health of Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Abuja, Monday, the QCOGA painted a most disturbing picture, backed by gory pictorials of sections of the once glorious institution.

The team was led by its current president, Dr. Frances Funmilayo Ajose, consultant Dermatologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London; who had first raised alarm over the health of some of the students. Brandishing hard evidence, she speaks with WO with a view to emphasizing systemic failures and preventing future occurrences.

Abundant cleaning materials locked up at Queens College Stores whilst the school wallowed in filth.                                                         Inset: Dr Lami Amodu, Ex-Principal, Queens College.

ANTECEDENT: In February 2017, the nation went into an uproar as 14 year old Praise Sodipo; Vivian Osuinyi and Bithia Itulua, both 12 years old, died as a result of chronic intestinal infections contracted while in boarding house at the nation’s premier girls’ school – Queens College Lagos. Dozens of other girls were hospitalized while over a thousand complained to doctors within and outside the school, of major gastrointestinal disturbances, in the weeks that followed.

Spiritual attack?

“It could have gone on and on and on”, according to Ajose. “They wanted to interpret it as a spiritual attack on the school. Some people came even from the ministry to cast away devil from dormitory to dormitory. I personally feel very bad this country with all its resources both natural and human we have this much problems and it is because of humanity that we require to perform”.

Human Performance Audit

“Maybe because I spent over 14 years in an international organization as a director at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture where  I was Medical Director. I can see the difference between a system that works and the only reason that place is like that is because of Human Performance Audit which does not exist here.

There would have been no corruption in the first place because you would have to account for every second of your time, every penny allocated and how you impact the staff under you and then you will have to be sufficiently interested in the system not only for yourself”.

 

Ticking time bomb

“Amodu (Dr. Lami Amodu, former principal, Queens College) came to Queens College around July 2015 and we welcomed her in an exceptional manner because if you meet her, she’s a very charming and boisterous lady; coming from the North and holding a PhD. You cannot take that from her”.

Having spoken of the principal in such glowing terms, it is to be wondered how it all went awry. Ajose narrates that while the old girls association welcomed Dr. Amodu with open arms, they were soon to discover that she had what she termed a “glory-craving hero complex”, needing to be credited for everything in spite of what was perceived as a gross lack of school governance skills.  “Even then, we sought to help her but unfortunately every advice we gave her met with persecution complex”.

Sexual harassment

Giving several examples, Dr. Ajose invoked the ‘sexual harassment saga” at the same school that had come up earlier in Dr Amodu’s tenure as principal, when some students there had cried out on social media against alleged unwanted sexual advancements from some of their male tutors.

Ajose laments: “if she had the least competence and a different psychology she would understand the cry for help instead of taking the thing on face value and believing it was only the parents that were talking. That was the reason the old girls became deeply involved in what was going on in the school and we sought to find out what were the avenues for sexual harassment”.

They dug in and then raked up so many potential tragedies way beyond the sexual harassment issue and had written to the ministry, copying the principal, a letter the ministry responded to mandating the old girls association to put right those things that were wrong. Shortly afterwards, another letter arrived evicting the association from the room that served as their secretariat.

 

Old girls’ inaction

At that point, the association- angered by the eviction- chose to concentrate on their primary mandate going forward with a view to building a secretariat. Ajose recalls this to be in the middle of 2016, when the exco waited for their tenure to expire in November of that year and then handed over. “I was brought in- more mature, more senior- hoping that maturity would be able to tackle Amodu”.

As the most senior director in the ministry of education and in line for appointment as Permanent Secretary before she was posted out, Dr. Lami Amodu was never a schoolteacher but controlled the affairs of all the 104 Unity Schools as chairman of their conference. She also represented government at the National Assembly budget making.

Cries for help

“Why would children seek help in the social media?” asks Ajose rhetorically. “Primarily because they felt unprotected by the leadership of the school. Sexual harassment is as old as Queens College but there was never a time the children felt insecure because the principals were in charge and on ground. During my time there was sexual harassment. Two of the new teachers disappeared overnight during the time I was there. Nobody told us anything but we knew”. She recalls how a teacher was sent away for merely stroking the hair of one of her classmates, a halfcaste girl. “When you have a system like that there will be no need to go to social media but she (Amodu) did not understand that, that cry for help was a sign of insecurity because the alleged molester was her handyman. She said it was a ploy to get the girls to get rid of her”. 

Other security issues

Ajose further recounts that on another occasion while holding the old girls association’s bi-monthly meetings which were now held in the assembly hall after permission is sought by means of a letter. “Our exco was elected in November 2016 our first meeting was in January 22, 2017 and at that meeting we had decided that the exco would visit the dormitories at the end of the meeting but when I realized that the secretary had forgotten to include that in the letter to the principal we cancelled it. To my surprise in the evening after I had reached my house, had my bath and was lounging, Amodu called me to say that some old girls were found in the boarding area. The old girls of Queens College are I as the president, professor Elebute, professor Grace Alele-Williams, professor Ogunsola who is the deputy vice chancellor at UNILAG; the head of service of the federation, deputy governor of Rivers state. These are the caliber of people that found their way into the boarding house! Up till this moment she has not told us which old girls”.

Stressing that the security of the girls was surely compromised under Amodu, she argues that events which are constantly allowed on the school’s premises through the rented out hall were an opportunity for miscreants to unleash their plans.

Epidemic of diarrhoea

This happened in January, but the epidemic in the school started in November. Such epidemics are not out of place in overcrowded environments and Queens College has gradually become such an environment, which each year having up to ten arms.

Relations went sour between the two when on January 31, Amodu invited Ajose to the school to meet with the inspectors based on the rapport they had earlier established since the latter’s election. “We were friends up till that time so to say that there was vendetta is untrue”.

“As you enter the boarding house the first place you see is the sick bay”, recounts Ajose, who was Medical Director at the clinic of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). There were lots of girls there so I thought they came to visit one of them but lo and behold, all of them were sick. I called the nurse and she said she had treated more than a hundred girls that day. I discovered she was giving them Imodium so I taught each of the girls how to make oral rehydration therapy”.

For the following two weeks, Ajose tried in vain to reach Amodu on the phone, a situation Amodu later attributed to her being tired. The latter flared up when Dr. Ajose referred to it as an ‘epidemic’ and refused to do anything about it until the second child died. Even then, quoting Ajose, her response was thus: “if two children die in over two thousand, that is not too bad”.

Amodu said that when she came to Queens College she made a shopping list of the things that were wrong. What did you do? Nothing. Look at the water tank for instance. Most of the dormitories on the ground floor had doors that had four inch gaps beneath them and yet there was a welder right next to the school. That was another tragedy in waiting as reptiles can enter through the gaps. The balconies were another tragedy in waiting. Is it the ministry that will come and do it? All the tank covers had been blown away by wind. If you saw the water that came out; is it the ministry that will do it?

I dare to say that even if a trillion dollar investment is put in place at Queens College today, with a principal with the attitude of Amodu; children will still die from negligence in the school”.

•Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, with Dr. Frances Ajose, after the hearing at the Senate.

Water project

“We cried for a bailout and asked for 120 million for water project in the school. That is being put in place now by the Federal Government. Is that not what the principal should have done”.

The project was designed by professionals who helped to cost the project, including a quote for maintenance for at least a year. “Can you believe the QCOGA donated a 100 million modern kitchen but it is not being used because there is no professional cook there and they are not willing to learn even though they were trained”.

The duty of care

But is the present QCOGA exco, by laying no blame at the door of their predecessors, not also trying to exonerate their own? Dr. Ajose denies this, reiterating that the old girls’ association had always maintained a strict distance from the day to day running of the school in accordance with strict regulations which spell out the provisions of engagement alongside the PTA and other regulatory entities of the school.

She cites the example of painters sent by the old girls association to assess the premises with a view to doing a cost estimate. “We had a problem because we discovered that the estimate given to us was of the externals alone. They had been prevented from inspecting the dormitories and dining facilities .What is our business with the exterior?”

She further reveals that the PTA was at a time constituted by old girls of the school since the old students used to take their daughters there. “Not so these days”, she laments. “Old students now send their domestic staff”.

What the future holds

Expressing great fear about the future well being of boarding students at Queens College, she explains that many chronic diseases are incubated in the body without the knowledge of the carrier for years. In addition, admission rackets have been set up by all kinds of individuals. “In the end, the poor will lose out”.

As one of the 87 year old association’s prayers to the Senate, the body has suggested that a School Health Program be put in place as the most cost effective investment and strategic means by which simultaneous improvements can be made on both health and education in Nigeria, along WHO guidelines, and used as models for other schools.

Other prayers to the Senate committee are that Queens College’s governance structure be revised along suggested lines to restore the school’s preeminence and ensure new infrastructure does not suffer similar fate to those put in place before, that the QCOGA be involved in oversight of requested bailout funds with a defined oversight framework and that facility management at the school be outsourced to skilled labour in preference to present unskilled labour. In addition, the association prays exPQC Amodu, who has remained the head of all principals of the 104 Federal Unity schools be no longer placed in a position of responsibility over vulnerable persons to serve as deterrent to others.

Expressing hope in the belief that the current PQC brings far better credentials to the table than her predecessor had, Ajose however laments that the tenure of the latter might end upon her retirement in August 2018. “We will appeal to the honourable minister of Education to allow her to stay on contract for another year so that the framework she is putting in place can be consolidated.

 

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