In the last few weeks, the media wave, both print and electronic, especially social media, have been awash with different kinds of stories or news about the tragic death of a wonderful angel and student of Chrisland School Opebi, Lagos, Whitney Adeniran. It was reported that she sadly passed away during the school’s Annual Inter-house Sport that took place at Agege stadium.
While the school maintains that she died of a natural death or unknown cause, the parents, and maybe by extension, the government hold the view that Whitney’s death was not natural but arose out of some human errors. In other words, it is the belief of the holders of the latter view that Whitney’s death was avoidable.
It is true that to every coin, there are two sides but whichever side is the truthful side, only God the almighty and omnipotent can decide. May God forgive us all.
I need to state from the word go that this piece is not written with a view to justifying the stand taken by either the school or that taken by the government and the parent. On the other hand, it is aimed at discussing what is right and not who is right. To this end, I have observed, sadly though, that our governments in this part of the world are quick at closing down schools (private schools not government schools) upon any mishap or perceived misfit conducts either of the school management or out of any perceived wrong, though government schools are exempted from such treatment when such happened.
I humbly submit, with the utmost sense of responsibility, that it is sad and disheartening for anybody to lose a loving dog or pet not to talk of losing a child. However, if we look at the issue dispassionately and calmly, we will discover that the closure of schools for this type of occurrence is not the best solution. This is because apart from not being corrective enough, it has the tendency of causing more harm and danger to society than one can ever imagine. The reason for this is that when a school is closed down, the government has unknowingly, or should I say, deliberately punished or inflicted sufferings on the students who knew nothing about either the remote or proximate cause of the death or misfortune suffered by one or two of their loving colleagues, who might have been victims of any unexpected mishap. This is because, upon the closure of any school, the remaining students will have their school programmes truncated and their future cast in a bad light as they are left in a hopeless dungeon. As a result of this, some of the students may become wayward and intractable because the idleness created by the school closure, especially in this era of social media, may reshape the lives of some of the students badly forever.
Although, it is not out of place to close down a school for any perceived untoward conduct where the school is found wanting, it is strongly suggested and recommended that such closure do not exceed a WEEK because, anything more than that becomes abnormal and reckless, moreso that nothing of such can be done to bring back the dead and it has been said that cutting off the head is not a solution or cure to headache. Also, if the school continues to be under lock and key, it signals a bad omen in that the consequences will be worse than the solution they are seeking. In addition, rather than have schools closed forever or for several weeks or months, it is profoundly recommended that government come out with a regime where schools, including government or public schools, are found culpable of any negligence apart from closure for a few days is made to pay punitive or compensatory damages to the family of the primary victim (that is, the student who died or sustained an injury) because the remaining students are the secondary victims who suffer serious injury to their education or future which is usually truncated as a result of their school’s malfeasance but unfortunately, they have no remedy. In making this submission, let me not be understood as saying that money can take the place of the loss of one’s child but it is to imbibe in the schools the need to be more circumspect in dealing with their wards' lives.
While researching this piece, it was discovered that the closure of schools is unknown or uncommon in so many western countries. Apart from pandemic reasons, where schools are to be closed to prevent spread, it can only be for some hours or “a complete school day” to address the anomalies. Except during the pandemic, any school closure of more than a day is regarded as "abnormal closure" and not permitted.
According to Ferdous A. Jahan, Nicole Zviedrite, Hong Jiang Gao, Farique Ahmed and Amra Uzicanin in their research termed “Causes, Characteristics and Patterns of Prolonged Unplanned School Closures Prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic- United States, 2011-2019”, there is little information about the occurrence of Prolonged Unplanned School Closure termed (PUSC) except during pandemic. From August 1, 2011, through to June 30, 2019, daily systematic online searches were conducted to collect data on publicly announced unplanned school closures lasting “one (1) school day” in the United States. It was discovered that the closure of the school for up to five (5) unplanned days equivalent to one full work week is categorized as PROLONGED.
Therefore, if a week's closure of a school in the USA is categorized as prolonged closure, what do we call the long closure of Chrisland School after the death of Whitney Adeniran? I submit most respectfully that the closure of schools indefinitely without any direct written state policy to the schools including government-owned schools which are monitored from time to time to later is nothing but sheer waste of time and infliction of pain and suffering on the students and parents alike. Therefore, the government of Lagos State owes the duty of care to the remaining students of Chrisland or any school closed for this kind of unfortunate occurrence to allow them to continue their learning because, under section 18 of the 1999 constitution, the students have the right to be educated. That apart, under the Child Rights of Lagos state, the students are entitled to compulsory education. That being so, the closure of any school by the government entitles the students to remedy in law which they can activate in the law court and I doubt if any court will ever rule that when a student died accidentally, the school should be closed forever.
What is more? Occurrences such as this of Whitney and worse ones do occur in government schools every time, but the governments have not closed down any of such schools for once. For instance, some schools have recorded the worst of this kind of tragic incident and were never closed down by the school authority or the state government for a day. A case in point was the tragic death of a senior secondary school student and the Head Prefect of IJO MIMO HIGH SCHOOL in Akure, Ondo state, who died after falling from a mango tree within the school compound. It was reported that one of the teachers in the school sent Temitayo Oluwole to pluck mangoes for him but the young student fell from the tree in the process and died two days after as a result of injuries sustained. The school management and Ondo State Government did not close down the school for one day. Not because they were not concerned but because such closure is more deadly and causes more harm to society and the future of the students than the death of the student in question.
Also, it is public knowledge that a lot of hazards and incidences of this nature do happen in government schools but they do not get to seal up the school. It is clear that government only wield the sledgehammer of lock-up or sealing when the school is a private school. Or can anybody tell us that nothing like this has ever happened in any government school? I doubt it so much. Also, I stand to be corrected that no school will deliberately kill any of its students nor can any reasonable man or parent be happy for the death of any student. In the same vein, I am worried and sad, because I pity not only the students but also the parents of the students of Chrisland who had been home for weeks and still counting. It is sad. No parent can beat their chest that they would be happy if their child is one of the students. Then if that is the case, the government needs to tread with caution without getting carried away by social media vibes because the government is for everybody. In all of these, Governor Sanwo-Olu needs to be commended seriously for quickly rising to the occasion but locking or sealing up the school is not the way to go. Thus, only practicable preventive measures will work.
Before I end this piece, may I state that I feel sad, weak and devastated by the death of Whitney and I feel terribly sorry for her mother for the loss so overwhelming. No mortal word I know can comfort her save the soothing comfort from the almighty God. My mind is with her and I pray that the almighty God she serves gives her the fortitude to bear the irreplaceable loss.
In conclusion, I urge the government and all public and private schools both in Lagos and other states in Nigeria to make safety and best standard practice and ethics their watchword to prevent avoidable fatalities in our schools, but the closure of schools is not the way to go because unknowingly, we are destroying the future of the very students we seek to be protecting.
Kabir Akingbolu, a human rights and constitutional lawyer writes from Lagos.