On April 13, 2010, the editorial of The Punch newspaper expressed sadness over “the death of 28 pupils of Aricent Nursery and Primary School, Olupitan, Ore, Ondo State, the school proprietor and a teacher in an auto crash on the Ore-Ondo road.” According to reports, the pupils were returning from an excursion to the famous Idanre Hills when the driver of the bus recklessly overtook other vehicles at a bend on top speed before crashing into an oncoming trailer at about 8.30pm. Forty-two pupils whose ages ranged from six to 13, the proprietor and a teacher were reportedly crammed into an 18-seater bus.
It is disheartening that more than a year after this sad incident, nothing concrete was done by the stakeholders to immortalise children and formulate people-oriented policies that will prevent such incidents in Ondo State and beyond.
Barely one year after, The Punch yet again reported on Thursday, May 12, 2011 that, ‘three primary school pupils of Cornerstone School, Ajah, died in a bus accident along the Lagos-Epe Expressway, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. History repeated itself. We failed as a nation to heed the warning of George Bernard Shaw that ‘the lesson of history is that we don’t learn from history.’
I must say, it is not the character of the Nigerian State to learn from her history, particularly in matters that affect children. Children here are not seen, not to talk of being heard.
My concern today is the right of the Nigerian child to life matters little to those that should be concerned. It is important to note that the right to life is the foundation of every other right the child has. In fact, every other right of the child is fulfilled in the protection of the right of the child to life. Thus, when the child’s right to life is breached with impunity, as it is in Nigeria today, every right is breached.I make bold to say today that contrary to what many may think, the right of the child to life is the most breached in Nigeria.
I have identified 15 areas of threats against the life of the Nigerian child. One of these is road accident.In one of my advocacy handbooks, titled, “20 nuggets on how to protect your child’s life,” I stated therein that, “560 children were killed by road accidents across the country under avoidable circumstances within one year (2003), according to the Federal Road Safety Commission.”
In view of the tragic cases of the ‘Ondo 28’ and ‘Lekki 3’, which happened in the course of transport within the school system, it is important that we take a critical look at the present practices in respect of school run and see if it is in conformity with best practices. In doing this, our twin goals are to, one, call on the Lagos State Ministry of Education to set up a commission of enquiry, with a simple term of reference, to investigate the circumstances under which the incident occurred; establish if the school has employed best practices in its school run administration; and finally, make recommendations thereof that will impact permanently and positively, on the administration of the school run in Lagos State. Two, share with our readers some of the local and international practices, which parents and other stakeholders in the life of the child must insist on, as a matter of supreme urgency for the safety of our children.
Under the first goal, I have some simple but salient questions that are ringing in my mind since I read about the story of the tragic death of the Lekki 3. I share them as follows: One, does Cornerstone School have a school run policy? Two, how do they recruit their drivers? Three, how do they ascertain the mental state and attitudinal disposition of their drivers? Four, what kind of safety training do they give to their drivers? Five, are there administrative staff on the bus to monitor and supervise the driver and ensure compliance with safety tips? Six, if the answer to the above question is yes, does the administrative staff have the capacity and authority to supervise or monitor the driver indeed?
Given that reports say the accident occurred as a result of brake failure, under what condition does a vehicle brake fail? When last was the vehicle in question and its brake released for periodic servicing, and how often does the school change the vehicle’s tyres? What kind of tyres does the school buy, fairly used or new? Above all, what is the mechanical history of the vehicle? And finally, were the children educated on basic preventive and immediate-response safety tips while on the school bus?
These questions are too many and legitimate to be swept under the carpet. The world needs to know for the best interest of the child. The world needs to know, to enable us to learn from history and put these kinds of occurrences behind us as a country. The society must not develop the character of not learning from its past; and the key to learning from the past is to investigate and evaluate it and discover what and how it went wrong and a new course for a new and positive beginning. This is how societies of the world have moved from primitivity to civilisation. I volunteer myself to work with the Lagos State Government in answering these questions.
I will like to share with us a document known as “Guidelines for School Bus Operation” released by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria elaborated by the Technical Committee for School Bus Standards with reference to national and international regulations/guidelines as well as comments from relevant stakeholders across the country.
The guidelines identified the following types of buses that can be used for school bus operation: Type A1- a bus that accommodates 18 persons including the driver and assistant; Type A2- a bus that has an extended capacity to accommodate the school bus driver and the school bus driver assistant; Type B1- a bus that accommodates 28 persons including the school bus driver and assistant; Type B2- a bus that has an extended capacity to accommodate 35persons including the school bus driver and the assistant; and Type C- a bus that has a maximum seating capacity to accommodate 72 persons including the school bus driver and assistant school bus driver.
The document laid out the requirements for bus drivers and assistants as follows: general medical fitness test; alcohol/drug test; mandatory mental health and acuity test; no criminal record of indictment or jail terms.
The questions to further ask are: are parents and school owners aware of the existence of the guidelines outlined? If they are aware, do they abide by their provisions? Finally, is the SON committed to the enforcement of the guidelines? It has been found all over the world that where school bus operation is properly regulated, it is the safest mode of transport in the school system.