By Tony Eluemunor
What has been the government’s reaction to the recently collapsed buildings in both Lagos and Ibadan? Nothing out of the lackadaisical, light-hearted, and non-serious.
The Lagos state (and I want to focus on Lagos because of the pupils that were betrayed by those who were supposed to care for them; you and I). government behaved as if a disaster in governance had not just taken place; it behaved as though there had not been a failure in governance and proceeded to talk tough; that it would demolish all buildings that had been marked for demolition.
As the average Nigerian would ask in Pidgin English: “Before nko?” The best meaning of which would be, “is that not terribly obvious?”
And that is my reason for facing this topic today!
At issue here is not the number of children that died in that derelict building simply because of heightened dereliction of duty by all the strata of government in Lagos state—from the Federal to the local governments. Even if one, yes, just one child died in that building, it would still have been a national calamity.
Take another look at the issue; a hard, lengthy, introspective, informed and an all-things-considered one. The children who attended that school were failed by their parents and guardians who registered them in that devil’s compound. The building had cracked and was squeaking for eons. But those parents or guardians did not mind. And it was not because they did not love those children; they cherished them as they obviously displayed that affection on TV when Nigerians were groping in the ruins, trying to use even bare hands to save the lives of those young ones whom Nigeria had sentenced to an early grave. Of course, Nigerians know how to wail, and wail and wail they did. In fact, that woman who committed suicide because she lost two children in that collapsed building is a case in point that the parents’ hearts were brimming with love.
Yet, why did they enroll the children in that school that was situated in a building that was about to collapse? The answer should be obvious; first, they were used to seeing such defective buildings still being put to use to provide habitation for humans though they were obviously non-tenantable. That they could collapse any time could have been obvious, but very few could have entertained such thoughts in their “godly” minds, as we say in Nigeria; “God forbid, why should anyone wish himself evil by merely entertaining the thoughts that an obviously cracked building could collapse?” The very act of not thinking about it, is enough, in the thinking of many Nigerians, to ward off evil. Also, living in an impossible society has benumbed souls into accepting the catastrophic as normal.
Second, perhaps it was near to where the parents lived or worked. That was enough consideration to put the lives of those angels in danger. In a country where the governments do not care how effective is the transportation that whisk the people across the land, Nigerians have learnt to help their helpless situations by living and being transported like animals. So, it could have made perfect sense for a parent to register a child in a school close to her, “Food Is Ready” shop or where she sold “sachet water,” or roasted plantain. In the afternoon, the child would leave school and amble to the shop, and remain there with the parent till evening when they would struggle home, fighting for space in an over-crowded bus in a way that no child is supposed to ever experience.
Third, and we have to begin this point with a question: why would any parent shun a government-owned primary school, and enrol his or her child in a fee-paying private school? Perhaps there was no government-owned primary school near the area. This is possible in a country like Nigeria where the existence of social facilities do not follow any logical planning. If Education has been recognised to be among the rights of any child, schools would be built in such a way that no parent would be unduly tasked to surmount terribly obstacles just to provide education for children. Very many reasons may have forced a parent to forgo the tuition-free government primary schools, including their poor quality, to enrol a child in a school in a dilapidated building, if the parent believed that every private school is better for learning than any government one.
Fourth, it is easy to blame the owner of the collapsed building and the proprietor of that school for their greed in illegally piling upon a structure built on poor foundation, several storeys. We can go on and on giving reason why anybody other than the government would be blamed, but that would amount to wasted effort because the really guilty party here is the government. It is the government that has the authority to supervise, approve or disapprove building plans. And if that building was obviously restructured illegally, it is the government that has the legal authority to pull it down. Now, the Lagos state government has swung into action; and has started demolishing defective structures.
Now we must ask the question: why did the Lagos state government wait until it was too late to save the young lives of those children who perished in that ill-situated school before deciding to demolish sub-standard buildings? The affected buildings may have been bungalows or single storey buildings built long ago, on soggy terrain. Then over the decades, additional storeys were packed unto them to meet the needs of Nigerians where housing deficit, joins transportation deficit, education deficit, health deficit, security of life and property deficit, government supervision deficit to result in deficit of life for those who lost their loved ones in that collapsed building. And for the victims of that building, those innocent children? The result was something as grim, absolute and immutable as death.
Gosh, Nigeria not only failed those children, we – yes, you and I, killed them. We murdered them; there is no question about that. As long as we live in and condone this devil’s situation we live in, we are guilty of running a murderous country.
Yet, has anybody, any official of the government of Lagos state, accepted responsibility for that disaster and resigned? Or has anyone been identified as being responsible for the deaths? Or was it not a human being that granted the proprietor of that school the licence to operate in a residential building, and a defective one at that? Who is the head of the outfit that had marked that collapsed building for demolition and yet, failed to carry through the societal duty of demolishing that building? Has the Governor made the attempt to identify the guilty parties in that sordid affair? If not, not why not Governor Ambode?
Nigeria killed those children. We sent them to their early graves. We can never wash away that blood-guilt because the first reason why governments exist is to safeguard citizens’ lives and properties. Every other thing is an addendum. May their young souls rest in perfect peace and may they forgive Nigeria—this country that disdains the sanctity of human life—as innocent blood is spilt on daily basis. We frustrate the work of God—if God created life!