By Denrele Animasaun
“Financial parasites: greedy people who live luxurious life at the expense and hard work of others.” -Angelica Hopes
Nigeria is no place for young people. Well, especially if one is from the middle class, working class or is poor. It seems one cannot catch a break these days. You send your children to school despite the tight squeeze knowing full well that against all hope, maybe, just maybe with education, they may just turn the tide and through hard work and good grades they may just escape poverty. That is one gigantic leap of faith. Nigerians really live on hope and not much else. From dusk to dawn, they live on hope; hope they are safe going out, hope the children are safe, hope they will get paid for the work done, hope they can afford to buy food stuff, hope that they arrive home safe, hope that they are safe when at home and hope that they are in the morning. Hope may not be in large supply but seems to be what many cling on to. Reality is too harsh to face, so they wait and hope, they hope it will be a better day even when they know it won’t be. Nigerians hope so much; it is a preoccupation for a large majority of the population especially for those with little less of anything else.
The road to education for an ordinary Nigerian child especially one born without the silver spoon in their mouth is a very disadvantaged one, most likely both parents work (these are the lucky ones) or one parent works. There is strain on one bread winner, the pressure bring home the money to pay rent, food, running costs, health and education is near impossible.It is near impossible.
In the last two weeks, in Lagos and then Ibadan, school buildings have collapsed and in particular in Ita Faji area, in Lagos, of the 100s of pupils who went to school most did not return home. They lost their lives in a shoddy and unsafe school building. Buildings unfit for human habitation was jam packed full to rafters with school children and their teachers. The desperation of students and their parents who paid to have their children taught in the severely dilapidated building. If they do not pay, the poor children are flogged, named and shamed, turned out and told not to return until their poor parents or charge find the money. At such a young age, these children are taught to feel shame, guilt and a huge complex for what is extortion and a glam that is not their making. The trauma meted at such a young. You wonder why majority of young Nigerians are so dysfunctional and traumatised. Nigeria seriously is eating its young and damaging its future.
So, in a tightly condensed neighbourhood building including unsafe school buildings is stacked check to jowl. It was a disaster waiting to happen and for those responsible the blame is firmly placed at their door, because of money they ignored health and safety, they paid officials to pass the building, even when teachers and parents complained, it fell on deaf ears.
Yes, the fact that rules and regulation guidelines stipulates prohibition of school buildings within residential or commercial premises. That does not faze any unscrupulous proprietor, a mere formality; one simply greases the palm of corrupt officials.
The third storey, Ohen Nursery and Primary School in Lagos Island, crumbled and imploded which left over 100 pupils and scores with life limiting injuries. Only in Nigeria, is a school located on the second and third floor, residential on the first floor and shops on ground floor! This building was not fit for its purpose and it was earmarked for demolition. So why on earth did they not carry this out?
The school was located on the second and third floors of the building. The first floor was residential, while the ground floor housed some shops. The building also had a pent house and had been marked for demolition three times in the past. There is no guess what transpired and this directly led to the eventual fatalities. It is of no shock to Nigerians but it should be. We have become immune to tragedy and disasters.
These should not be. We must value lives and the lack of accountability and regulations is essentially responsible for this tragedy. Our system is broken and it must be fixed. It is pointless feigning shock and concerns; it has been done and got nowhere.
Far too many schools are not fit for purpose nor are they approved to operate as schools.
So rather than send messages of condolences, the government must make education and structures conform to standards and national curriculum. It is apparent that allocation of funding for schools and colleges are not top priority and that funding seems to have been misappropriated.
Less than three days after, another school, this time in Ibadan collapsed. It was remarkable that no one died. One proprietor urged the Government to act because of the prevalence of similar schools. Of course, there is a reason why such unsafe places exist: the inadequacy of public schools in the area as well as the poor standards of education and poorly run and overcrowded class rooms. We all have seen some classroom no better than a cow shed with pupils sitting on breeze blocks.
The Lagos state deputy governor, Idiat Oluranti Adebule, visiting the victims in hospital offered condolences to the families of the victims and called for calm; “We plead for their understanding to allow the rescue team to do their work… so that the medical team can take prompt and immediate action as soon as the patients are brought in.”
President Muhammadu Buhari also offered his condolences to the families of the victims;. “It touches one to lose precious lives in any kind of mishap, particularly those so young and tender, May God grant everyone affected by this sad incident fortitude and succour.
These mean nothing to the parents who have lost their children in this tragedy. It is cold comfort and the best thing the Government can do is, to act and act decisively, so that no parents should go through this living nightmare.
This is not new and it is far too much sound bite but not enough actions. Lesson has not been learnt or adjustment made to ensure similar tragedy does not relate itself. It is fine for the Lagos State Building Control Agency to confirm that the said building had been marked and listed for demolition. Far too many buildings collapse across the country due to substandard materials and corrupt officials failing to enforce regulations. Time and time again, the same reaction of sadness and resignation. And then another disaster one after the other; In September 2014, 116 people died when a six-storey building collapsed in Lagos during a service given by a celebrity televangelist. And in 2016, more than 100 people died when the roof of a church in Uyo, in the south of Nigeria, caved in. So when enough should be enough or should bereaved parents continue to bury their young and then kill themselves? What would it take for the lives of young Nigerians to matter and valued?
Parents should not have to feel desperate to leave their children in death traps because they want them to have an education. The government should have a new cadre of school inspectors, qualified and adequately paid for schools inspections on a yearly basis. School inspections should be annually, rigorous and transparent so that any school not meeting the standard, is given notice to improve or not given a licence at all if it fails all the necessary markers such structure, manpower, teaching, Teachers and welfare of pupils.