By Nnamdi Ojiego
The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos says it legally acquired plots of land in which it built the Bethlehem Girls School, Abule Ado from the Federal Housing Authority, FHA, about 30 years ago.
The Archdiocese was reacting to the claim in some quarters that the school was built on petroleum pipeline right of way.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard at the scene of last Sunday Lagos explosion in which scores, including the school principal, were killed and property worth billions of naira destroyed, the Director of Education in the Archdiocese, Msgr Jerome Oduntan, charged government to be thorough and fair in its investigations of the blast.
He said: “If is true that they have pipelines buried around there when were those pipes buried? Were the pipes buried before or after the buildings were in place?
“We acquired this land about 30 years ago from the Federal Housing Authority and we have documents.
“And all through the time we were putting up structures, we didn’t discover any pipeline”.
Assessing the level destruction done to the school and other structures affected by the disaster, Oduntan expressed doubts over the cause of the explosion.
“I’ll only believe what I’m told. I was told that it was a pipeline explosion, but, on getting here, the scenery presents a different impression but I won’t say anything further. I leave it to the government to carry out their investigations and let us know the truth”, the priest said.
He, however, lamented that the church had suffered huge losses as a result of the ugly incident.
“We have nine buildings here. Now, they are all gone with everything in them. The other day, the state governor said he was setting up a N2billion appeal fund to cushion the effect of this disaster.
“That’s good but we have spent over N2 billion on this school-in terms of buildings, facilities and equipment.
“How I wish the governor can just give us all the money we need to rebuild the school”
Also speaking, the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev. Father Anthony Godonu, explained that the school only lost five of its staff members, including the principal, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alohka, in the incident.
“It’s a pity we lost five members of the staff including the principal, a security guard, two cooks and a store attendant.
“Their families have been duly informed and they have accepted it as an act of God.
“All our students are safe. We have 268 students and none of them died. About 50 of our students sustained injuries and were taken to hospitals.
“Doctors worked on them and they were discharged that day. But as I’m talking to you now, three of them that sustained serious injuries are still at the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital, Ojo, Golden Cross Hospital, Festac, and Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja, respectively.
“Let me make this clear; no priest died in the tragic incident.
On the fate of the students now that their school has been destroyed, Godonu stated that the church would send them to her other schools.
“We have met and discussed with the executive of the Parent Teacher Association. Hopefully, all the students will be distributed across Catholic schools in Lagos. Those preparing for external exams will be allowed to prepare from home so that they can get themselves ready for the exams, while those in JSS 1 & 2 and SS 1 & 2 would be given some weeks off.
“After Easter break, they will be taken to various Catholic schools to continue their education. And parents are happy with this arrangement.”