For the families of three girls who died in the gastroenteritis epidemic that hit Queen’s College, Lagos, between February and March 2017, they are still waiting for justice for their daughters even as the federal ministry of education and other authorities that should sanction negligent school officials continue to dance on the graves of the girls one year after.
As Nigerians were celebrating Good Friday yesterday, Lawrence Otun and his family weren’t in high spirits.
Lawrence, a commercial printer who stays at Somolu area of Lagos, is uncle to Praise Sodipo, one of three secondary school girls who died at Queen’s College, between February and March last year.
Precisely March 30, 2017, the family lost Praise Sodipo.
Before her death, the 14-year-old girl lived with Lawrence. He is the younger brother of her late mum.
While Praise’s dad, Olugbenga, died in 2009, her mum, Banke died in 2011. Both husband and wife were buried in the modest house they built at Ikorodu.
The lot of who to take care of the orphan thus fell on Lawrence.
The late girl fell sick at school on February 18, 2017. But she never recovered despite spending weeks in hospital.
She died on Thursday, March 30 at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Ikeja. She was buried the next Thursday, April 6, 2017 at Atan Cemetery, Yaba.
Her ambition to become a chartered accountant like her late father was cut short as a result of the health crisis that hit the school which evidently could have been prevented had the school authorities been alive to their responsibilities.
Speaking with POSTERITY MEDIA Thursday, Lawrence lamented that the government, so far, has not taken any concrete action or done justice on the matter.
“It’s sad that the government has not deemed it fit to punish negligent school officials especially the former principal, Dr. Lami Amodu, under whose watch the deterioration occurred,” Lawrence said.
“The country has no love or human feeling. Abroad, they love themselves and value lives. Unfortunately, we don’t love one another here or value lives. We don’t do justice. And that is why we keep praying and leaving everything in the hands of God since justice is yet to be done.”
However, Praise wasn’t the first to die at Queen’s College last year.
It was 13-year old Vivian Osuinyi.
The young girl was a JS 2 student of the college at the time of her death on February 15, 2017.
At Honey Home Children’s School, Aguda, Surulere where Vivian had her primary education, many who knew her remember her fondly.
Her dream was to be a medical doctor as well as a consultant gynecologist.
Her mum had received a call from the school’s sickbay some minutes to 6pm on Friday, February 11. She was told her daughter had ‘high temperature’ while they had already commenced treatment on her with anti-malarial drugs.
The woman left the family’s Orile-Coker home for the school. She got there around 7pm and her daughter was released to her that night. The girl only needed to complete her anti-malarial treatment dosage, they told her.
But Vivian’s case was far more serious than her mum was being made to understand.
Because her situation only got worse despite the medications, she was taken to General Hospital, Randle Surulere on February 13. Vivian was examined and treatment was commenced on her. But her immune system had really been severely compromised by then. She died two days later.
Vivian’s mum, in her conversation with our reporter, said the family didn’t know that things were so bad in the school. She also revealed that not once did the school principal call to condole with the family although some teachers came around.
Vivian’s remains were taken to Ukpo, her hometown in Dunukofia local government of Anambra state where she was laid to rest on February 16.
Vivian is dead and gone but her parents are yet to get over the traumatic experience of losing their daughter.
The third girl who died in the health crisis that rocked the college, Bithia Itulua, was the second daughter in a union that produced three children.
She died by 9:10am on February 22 at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, Surulere.
It was exactly a week after Vivian’s death.
Bithia was a brilliant girl who won scholarships and various prizes right from her kindergarten days.
Her mum, Susanah had visited the school on February 5 to attend a PTA meeting when the discussion veered towards the fact that some students of the school were vomiting and stooling.
On what transpired at that PTA meeting, Sussana would later recall: “Lami Amodu, the school principal, stood up and said it was all rumours and parents should pay no attention to such. She said it was her enemies who were at work.”
A week later, Sussana had cause to return to the college.
Although visiting day was February 11 which was a Saturday and the day for the Lagos Access Bank Marathon, the school had shifted it to the next day which was a Sunday. Sussana was there to see her daughter.
However, she was taken aback when Bithia complained of headache. She asked her daughter why she hadn’t visited the sickbay. The response she got, according to Sussana, was that “they would use stick to drive us away.” She insisted the daughter go there before returning home that Sunday evening.
Unfortunately, by the next day, Bithia’s case had worsened. Sussana was in bed about to sleep Monday night when she overheard her husband telling someone on phone ‘we will be there tomorrow morning.”
Curious, she asked her husband who the caller was and what could be amiss.
By the time she realised what was happening, Sussana, like a truly concerned mother, could hardly sleep again that night. At early as 5am the following morning, she was out of bed.
She first rushed to her office to be excused from work that day before heading to Queen’s College.
But something unexpected happened before she could be allowed to see her daughter. The security officials at the school gate denied her entrance. They insisted she couldn’t enter as they were acting on instructions that no parent be allowed in.
However, after her appeals and the emotional torture she had to bear, she was eventually allowed to see her daughter.
When the girl was released to her, Bithia received initial treatment at General Hospital, Gbagada.
However, the absence of a pediatric surgeon at the hospital would eventually lead to her transfer to General Hospital Randle, Surulere.
Again, because the only paediatric surgeon available had closed for the day and would not be able to return to work that night, they decided to move Bithia to LUTH, Idi Araba.
Medical tests conducted on Bithia revealed that she had gastrointestinal perforation like the others before her. In most cases, gastrointestinal perforation results in severe abdominal pain, vomiting and fever, symptoms which the girls all exhibited.
But Bithia didn’t make it. She died on the morning of February 22 at 9:10am.
“She was 12 years, five months and two weeks old. She had so many plans, so many dreams, yet they killed all of it,” Bithia’s mum said.
For the three families, what made the deaths worse was the fact that parents had allegedly warned the school principal at the time, Dr. Lami Amodu of the situation of the school at PTA meetings.
However, the principal allegedly ignored the warnings that the school’s water and sewage systems needed urgent attention. This was as a result of the skin, vaginal and abdominal infections which over 1,200 students of the school had reported at the school’s sickbay between January and March, 2017.
Meanwhile, Between November 7 and 8 last year, the panel set up by the federal ministry of education which was announced by the education minister, Adamu Adamu, to probe sexual harassment and cholera outbreak at the college, visited the school.
POSTERITY MEDIA’s findings revealed that while the panel used the first day to hear the issues surrounding the cholera outbreak which led to the deaths of three students, it spent the second day investigating sexual harassment allegation leveled against a former biology teacher in the school, Olaseni Oshifala.
But the panel is yet to make public its findings almost five months after.
Moreover, the senate, which had a public hearing on January 22 in Abuja, is also yet to make its report public.
The hearing, which was organized by the Joint Committee on Education (Basic & Secondary) and Health, followed the senate sitting on May 2nd, 2017, when senators deliberated on a Motion on the poor state of infrastructure in Queen’s College and resolved to mandate both committees to carry out a public hearing on the poor living conditions in the college and the death of the three girls.
At the hearing, Amodu, who many parents and old girls of the college insist should be held responsible for the deaths, denied culpability.
Amodu explained how she had made efforts to salvage the situation so it didn’t get out of hand immediately the epidemic broke.
She also narrated how she had written an official letter to the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja detailing the level of decay of Queen’s College facilities not too long after she got transferred to the school in 2015.
She alleged that some individuals were out on a campaign of calumny against her and were behind the ‘propaganda to make the crisis in the school appear worse than it truly was to the Nigerian public’.
“Rather than come together for us to fashion out ways of avoiding a recurrence of this ugly incident, soon after I left, it is saddening that some people found it very convenient to politicise the unfortunate death of those innocent children by suggesting through various sponsored publications that I am responsible for the deaths of the children,” Amodu said at the senate hearing.
“This is not only cruel and malicious but shows the extent of the organised conspiracy and gang-ups. This is all about a vendetta agenda.”
Amodu held on to her point that she was not in any way culpable for the deaths of the girls.
Curiously, Ifeoma Elenitoba-Johnson, one of the concerned parents of Queen’s College told POSTERITY MEDIA that many parents were not aware of the hearing hence those interested to do so could not attend.
“When we made contact with the committee to express our displeasure and find out the reason why they decided to leave us out, we were told that the committee informed the ministry of education with the expectation that the ministry was expected to inform the school and then the school would inform the PTA exco and the PTA leadership would inform parents. However, at no time were Queen’s College parents informed,” Elenitoba-Johnson said.
“March 30 made it one year since Praise Sodipo died. We discussed the matter on our WhatsApp group. We insist Lami Amodu should be brought to justice. And even the one before her, Ekwutazia Osime. Both of them did not place much attention of the welfare of the children placed under their care.
“Government is about the welfare of its people. We believe both former principals are not good representatives of the government and should not be serving in whatever capacity in the ministry.
“On our part as parents, we also want the former PTA chairman of the school, Beatrice Akhetuamen, to make refund for the misappropriation of money contributed by parents.”
Elenitoba-Johnson, whose daughter is one of the survivors of the epidemic in the school, said the parents are still waiting for justice to be done.
Surprisingly, at the first anniversary of the deaths of the girls, no activity was done in their remembrance by the school, the education ministry, or the parent-teacher association which itself is embroiled in controversies over alleged misuse of association funds by the erstwhile PTA exco led by Beatrice Akhetuamen.
Even for the Old Girls Association, no ceremony was organized except for the passionate appeal it put up during the senate hearing in January.
However, the President of Queen’s College Old Girls Association, Dr. Frances Ajose, in an interview with POSTERITY MEDIA, said the old girls of the college have been alive to their responsibility and if not for their intervention, the number of dead students would have been higher.
“We have rescued our Alma mater from extinction because the school would have ceased to exist if over 100 students had died, which was the dreaded possibility. We saved several innocent students from certain death. We have renovated the school very close to its original status to show the authorities the standard that must henceforth be maintained in the school. We have solicited and obtained money for necessary upgrade for water and accommodation,” Ajose said.
“From the N350 million we obtained for the school through senate allocation, two new deep Industrial boreholes have been dug and a brand new modern Water Treatment Plant is near completion with good pipe reticulation so that henceforth all taps at the school will discharge potable water.
“The construction of 500-capacity additional dormitories have commenced and expected to be completed by August. Existing dormitories are being modified to have en-suite toilet facilities. The class rooms and admin block are also receiving facelift.
“I’m sure you will admit that Queens College Old Girls have stood up when it was necessary. We have made sufficient noise and acted as appropriate with very good results so that everyone knows we were not silent when we should have spoken.
“Furthermore, we have advised the government on the way forward in our submission to public hearing organized by the Senate, particularly with respect to alternative, more sustainable, and more efficient governance structure, as well as the establishment of a functional School Health Program.”
Although Ajose explained that the 60-year old school’s structure, though still very strong, was allowed to suffer degradation from long-term disrepair, she noted that the immediate cause of death of the girls was carelessness, negligence and corruption. She also says the former principal, Amodu must be held responsible.
Meanwhile, efforts to get updates on the investigation carried out by the ministry of education were not successful.
But reliable sources told POSTERITY MEDIA that the Amodu matter had become a delicate one for the education minister to handle, especially because there are very influential politicians behind her who are bent on protecting her at all costs.
Even the senate, which also investigated the matter, is yet to make its findings public.
Sadly, one year after, no official has been punished for negligence in circumstances that led to the deaths.
However, while the girls are dead and gone, their families are waiting. Waiting to see if justice would ever be done by the authorities and waiting to see if school officials, who could have been more responsible in their duties as stewards, would eventually be punished for their negligence to serve as deterrent to others and prevent such type of occurrence in future.