•The risks that our children take to school everyday
By ORI MARTINS
Uche Ihesiaba lived at No. 7, Adeyanju Street, Off Ladipo, Shogunle, Lagos. He was a student of Community Primary School, Wasunmi, Maryland, Lagos. Ihesiaba was writing his First School Living Certificate when he was involved in a fatal motor accident very close to his residence.
An eyewitness account had it that Ihesiaba boarded a motorcycle popularly known as okada, just about a kilometre off his school premises and was heading home after the day’s activities.
It was almost a safe journey back home but little Ihesiaba who was the fourth child in a family of seven and the first of the two sons, could not make it to his house. The okada rider taking him home ran into an onrushing vehicle that drove against the traffic.
It was fatal. It was tragic. Both the rider and the passenger were crushed. Ihesiaba met his death because of unregulated school transport system in Nigeria. He was not alone. Sometime ago, 42 persons from Aricent Nursery and Primary School, Olupitan New Site, Ore in Ondo State perished in a shocking road accident along the Ondo-Ore highway. It added to the litany of bad news that has become the lot of Nigeria.
The pupils and their teachers including the proprietor of the school, Mr. Tairu Ariyo, who also died in the accident had gone to Idanre Hills on an excursion and were on their way home when they met their untimely death. Reports had it that the 18-seater bus in which they were travelling had a head-on collision with a trailer.
An eyewitness account had it that 10 of the pupils died on the spot while the rest of the pupils were rushed to the General Hospital, Ore, where they eventually died due to poor and inadequate attention.
It is on record that several other Nigerian school children have suffered and are still suffering the ugly fate that befell Ihesiaba and the Ore 49.
Motorcycle transport (okada) is one of the commonest means of transport among Nigerian students. The tragedy here is that protection given to passengers on motorbike is hugely limited. Unlike other means of road transportation, motorbike is considered a huge risk by industry operators.
“Motorbike transport is dangerous in Nigeria because both the operators and the passengers do not adhere to safety rules and this exposes them to road hazards and dangers”, Ogu Muputa, a Federal Road Safety Commission corps member stated.
He noted that the combination of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance were some of the factors that usually compel one to promote or patronise the wrong means of transport like okada. “I hope people will not misunderstand me. I am not against Okada as a means of transport.
I am a safety person, thus I like promoting safety procedures. What I am really saying is that there are rules and regulations guiding okada transport and one of them is that school kids of certain age must not be seen on okada as passengers, but it is surprising seeing parents taking three of their kids to school on the same okada, including themselves. This is quite spurious!
The standard is one mature adult as passenger and the rider and both must wear safety headgears. We have also warned that okada riders should not operate on highways but most parents and guardians will not hear”, Ogu stated. He revealed that not long before now, most of the casualties at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital were victims of okada accidents. The FRSC operative indicated that it was absolutely bad for parents to allow their wards to be conveyed to or from school on bikes.
According to him; “It is a culture of impunity for parents to allow their children to be ferried to and back from on bikes whose riders do not adhere to safety standards. Some of the operators ride dangerously because they are not certified, some normally drink themselves to stupor while others use rickety bikes in which case the students are bound to entangle their legs in-between the spokes”.
BUS OF CALAMITY
It is very painful to note that most of the vehicles that usually take the students to school and back are not roadworthy. It is either they are completely wobbly or just manageable. The result is that such vehicles normally break down every now and then, with reckless abandon, leaving the kids frustrated and devastated. When this happens, the children are left at the mercy of the scorching sun, drenching rain or other road hazards.
Even the school buses that are roadworthy are most times driven by reckless drivers who operate them dangerously. Observers say these drivers overtake at road bends and make u –turns in the middle of the road. As Rev. Fr. Emma Oriyomi put it; “It is an act of inhumanity for a proprietor of any school to put bad vehicle on the road, using it to convey students to school.
It is even worse to hand over these vehicles to reckless drivers who drive with impunity. I pity these students when I see them stranded on the road or packed like cartons in the buses. Most times you see them bringing out their hands from the windows to wave or greet those people they know”.
The missionary who is the parish priest of St Alphonsus Catholic Church, Akute, in Ifo LGA, regretted that despite the ubiquitous ‘In case of dangerous driving, please contact…,’ not much has been achieved in terms of safety in students’ bus transport. Besides private school buses, the public ones are even worse.
A concerned parent, Mrs. Edith Darlington, expressed shock that the Federal Government was yet to take any drastic action against poor school transport system. She said: “If you go to the United States of America and most European countries, there are laws guiding the way and manner school buses are operated. These laws give adequate protection to school buses.
For instance, in the US, there are laws that state that no vehicle is allowed to overtake a school bus that pulls up. This is because it is assumed that once a bus stops, pupils may recklessly jump out of the bus and cross to the other end of the road. Thus, if any bus is overtaking, it will certainly hit such pupils. There are other laws that make it compulsory that motorists should be mindful of school kids and not the other way round.
This means that, unlike in Nigeria where it is the duty of everybody, including school kids to be mindful of motorists, it is the other way round in the US. You see, there should be basic standards on how our school children should be transported to and back from school.
She therefore urged the Federal Ministry of Transport to enact a law that will ensure the protection of school bus from reckless drivers. As she put it, “We must protect the leaders of tomorrow”.
FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT
The failure of both the federal and state governments to provide effective and efficient transport system in the country has been ascribed as the major cause of collapse in school transport network. The mere fact that the government does not adequately supervise and solve the basic problems associated with transport system in the country is an indication that school bus operation can never be well managed. Ikenna Obi lives at Obafoalabi Street, Ojudu- Berger, Ikeja, Lagos.
He has this to say: “One of the reasons I never wanted my kids to be enrolled in schools too far away from our house is this issue of taking and bringing them back from school. The government has failed to repair the roads while the school bus operators have refused to fix the buses. There are no basic safety standards mainly because our institutions are not functional.
Look at what I mean, the traffic lights do not function well here even as school bus drivers and other motorists do not obey traffic wardens and all these factors put the students who are the passengers at risk.
I am quite aware that there are some points on our various high ways across the country where government ought to build overhead bridges to enable the students cross the roads easily but it has not been done. I mean, it is a failure on the part of government.
Although both the private and public school operators have failed to provide good buses for the transportation of students to and back from school, thereby causing pains and constituting risk to the students. It has also been established that majority of the students entangle themselves with dangers by indulging in rascal acts that can be harmful to them. Mrs. Ruth Ekong, an educationist captures it all.
In her words: “It is easy to blame the parents, school owners and government for not providing infrastructure, facilities and laws for effective school bus transport, but we must first, chide the students who will not comport themselves well even in the few buses available.
Most of them hop on the back of open pick-ups and trucks without the drivers’ knowledge. What do you say about students who will not make use of the pedestrian bridge but cross the expressway.
This is share madness. I also see some students who juggle the ball on the road when going to or when coming from school. This is very dangerous and the government should look into it because the reason the students indulge in such acts is lack of good transport system and non availability of monitoring facilities.
In a way, the students also contribute to the nauseating means of transport plaguing their movements to and fro school”.
Water transport is one of the efficient means of transport. It is quick, fast, effective and comparatively cheap. But, the waterways in Nigeria are not in any way safe. Time and again, stories are told of how boats and canoes capsize due to lack of effective regulations.
Both the operators and regulators violate the laws and the consequence is always fatal. A situation whereby students are allowed to paddle themselves to and from the school in rickety canoes and wobbly boats is an unnecessary risk that should be avoided.
Again, the government should come up with strong regulatory policies that would define of water transport operations. There are also concerns about the fate of many students who take train to school as the risk involved is equally challenging.