As a nation we have become immune to daily loss of life on our roads and only pay attention when either it involves someone we know, or the dead are high profile public figures like Ministers and Professors. However once in a while an accident occurs in which the dead are not well-known but the circumstances surrounding their deaths is tragic. Such is the case with the eight secondary school students from Kano Capital School and Unity College, Karaye who died when their bus burst tyre along Iroko Road, Oyo State. The fatalities occurred, when 16 students and their teachers were returning from Lagos via Ibadan after attending a national quiz competition. Seven students died on the spot, while one died later in the University College Hospital, Ibadan. Also amongst the dead were the driver of the ill-fated bus and a staff of BIC West Africa, organizers of the quiz competition. In addition five survivors received hospital treatment for serious injuries.
The tragedy continues to generate reactions both from public figures and on social media. In a condolence message to Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Oyo State Governor Senator Abiola Ajimobi, described the incident as “highly depressing” both to him and to the people of the State. In a commendable move he promised to settle the all hospital bills incurred by the injured survivors. While some see the event as the will of Allah, others view it as a failure of man. The decision of the Kano State Government to return the corpses by flight, although controversial, was necessary for timely fulfilment of burial rites. However it has left people wondering why the students didn’t fly in the first place. Auwal Umar, father of an injured survivor is threatening legal action against the State Government quoting unsubstantiated rumours that funds were actually approved for flight tickets for student to travel by air, but instead they travelled by bus. Quoted as saying “We are suspecting foul play,” he indirectly accused the Management of the Kano State Secondary Education Board of diverting funds meant for air tickets.
Expectedly a spokesman for the Kano State Secondary School Management Board, (KSSSMB) Malam Yusha’u Hamza Saleh denied the rumours and disclaimed responsibility stating categorically that the event was not organized by the State Government. It was an invitational competition organized by a private company in which 30 schools were selected from Kano, did the preliminaries in Kano and picked winners to represent the State in Lagos. Saleh also revealed that apart from arranging for the corpses to be flown back, the State Government made donations of money and foodstuffs to the families of the deceased students to alleviate their pain. He said each family received N50,000 cash, two bags of rice, two cartons of pasta and a jerry can of cooking oil, adding that the government is also “considering plans” to immortalize the dead students. This valuation of a young life is of course insulting to say the least. Investigations must be made and either the State Ministry of Education or the individual school authorities must be held responsible. Among those that attended prayers for the dead conducted at the Emir’s Palace, Kano, were the Governor, members of the State Executive Council and other top government. Governor Ganduje ranks amongst the most travelled Governors in the country. Since his swearing in last year he is reported to have used state funds to travel to Saudi Arabia three times, Dubai twice, as well as USA and India once each.
There is no doubt that the State Government makes adequate and luxurious travel arrangements for him, unlike the arrangements made for the students. There are many unanswered questions about the tragedy. Was there a provision for flight tickets? Did the private company get permission from the Federal Ministry of Education before organizing school-children from all over the nation to Lagos? Why was a national competition held in Lagos rather than the Federal Capital Abuja? Who provided the vehicle in which the students travelled? Who certified that both the vehicle and the driver were roadworthy? Were the students not insured for the journey? Can schoolchildren be transported across the nation at will without their parents’ permission? How come the driver managed to arrive safely but could not return safely? Was the vehicle speeding, or how can a burst tyre cause an accident? Where did the driver sleep while in Lagos? Not only does the tragic loss of life on our highways continue to be a daily affair, worse still, most of the accidents involve so called “professional drivers”.
The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has refused to heed calls that they should conduct driving tests for professional driving licenses. They are content to continue issuing licenses without verifiable driving tests! Indeed most drivers on our roads took no driving test whatsoever before acquiring a license! Unless something is done urgently such tragedies may become commonplace.