THE LEKKI 3, SCHOOL BUS OPERATION AND CHILD’S RIGHT TO LIFE

Introduction:

I wrote this piece in 2011 in response to the killing of 3 children in a school bus accident. It was published in The Punch Newspaper. I feel the need to reproduce it today in view of another recent school bus accident, which claimed pupils lives. The issues I raised in the piece are still very valid if best practice must be employed in respect of School Run in Nigeria in the best interest of the child. I think the school buses accidents are avoidable. Kindly read, learn and comment. Thank you.

The Punch of April 13, 2010 commented, ‘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 Ore-Ondo road is sad indeed. They were returning from an excursion to the famous Idanre Hills. The paper further stated, ‘according to reports, 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. According to the reports, 42 pupils whose ages range from six to 13, the proprietor and a teacher were crammed into an 18-seater bus.’

I am sad to announce to you that nothing concrete was done by the stakeholders in the life of the children in the above cited case to immortalize the tragic incident and formulate people oriented policies that will make such history in Ondo State and beyond.

Barely one year after the unaddressed and ugly incident in Ondo, the Punch of Thursday, May 12, 2011, ‘three primary school pupils of Cornerstone School, Ajah died in a bus accident along 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. It is important to note that the right to life is the foundation of every other right the child has. In fact every other rights 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 handbook, titled, ’20 nuggets an how to protect your child’s life,’ I stated as follows: ‘560 children killed by road accidents across the country under avoidable circumstances within one year (2003), according to Federal Road Safety Commission. (Business Times November 8-14, 2004).’

In view of the tragic cases of the Ondo 28 and Lekki 3, which happened in the course of transportation 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 conformity with best practices.  My twin goals are to:  1. Call on the Lagos State Ministry of Education to set up a commission of enquiry, with a simple term of reference to investigate the circumstance under which the incident that claimed the lives of the children, while being conveyed to school, establish if the school has employed best practice in its school run administration and finally and make recommendations thereof that will impact permanently and positively on the administration of the school run in Lagos State. 2. Share with my 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 my 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: 1. Does Cornerstone School, Ajah have a School Run Policy? 2. How do they recruit their drivers? 3. How do they ascertain the mental state and attitudinal disposition of their drivers? 4. What kind of safety trainings do they give to their drivers? 5. Is there an administrative staff on the bus to monitor and supervise the driver and ensure compliance with safety tips? 6. If question 6 is yes, does the administrative staff have the capacity and authority to supervise or monitor the driver indeed? 7. Report says the accident occurred as a result of brake failure, under what circumstances do a vehicle brake fail? 8. When last was the vehicle in question and its brake released for periodic servicing and how often does the school change the vehicles tyres? What kind of tyres does the school buy, fairly used or new? Above all, what is the mechanical history of the vehicle? 9. has the brakes given any sign of problem before then? 10. If question 9 is true, did the driver complain to anyone in authority and if he did, was any action taken? 11. What is the personal work history of the particular driver of the ill-fated vehicle, both in his career as a driver and with the Cornerstone School? Was his background investigated before he was employed? Does he drink? Has he been a cautious driver?  12. What were the facts that surround the actual day of the accident? Was the driver reckless? Was an administrative staff on the bus with him on the fateful day? If the last question is yes, were the driver and the administrative staff engaged in a discussion? Was the driver eating, arguing with other road users? Was the driver answering or making a call without using a hand-free earphone? Does the driver use a hand-free earphone if he has to make and receive calls? 13. Are 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 learn from our history and put these kind of occurrences behind us as 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 primitiveness to civilization. I volunteer myself to work with the Lagos State Government in answering these questions.

Finally, I will like to share with us a document known as “Guidelines for School Bus Operation” released by the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) elaborated by the Technical Committee for School Bus Standards with reference to national and international regulations/guideline as well as comment from relevant stakeholders across the country. Under terminologies, the following are recognized:

•School Bus: A large motor vehicle that takes students to and from school or on school-related trips.

•School Bus Driver: A School Bus Driver is a person who drives School Bus professionally.

•Assistant School Bus Driver: A qualified and licensed driver who acts as assistant to a school Bus Driver and conducts the students/pupils in the school bus.

•School bus Operator: An entrepreneur who acquires an approved School Bus type and engages in the business of conveying students to and from school.

•School Bus Operators Permit: A document which certifies the technical and managerial competence of an entrepreneur to operate a school bus.

The guidelines identified the following types of buses that can be used for school bus operation: Type A1- a bus that accommodates 18persons including the driver & 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; Type C- a bus that has a maximum seating capacity to accommodate 72 persons including the school bus driver and assistant  school bus driver.

Finally 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 million dollars, questions are parents and school owners if we are aware of the existence of the documents outlined? If they are aware, do they abide by its provisions? Finally, is Standard Organization of Nigeria committed to the enforcement of the guideline? It has been found all over the world that where school bus operation is properly regulated, it is the safest mode of transportation in the school system.

Think the child…Think Today…Think Tomorrow…

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