The confession by the Federal Ministry of Education of its negligence in the diarrhoea outbreak at Queens College, Lagos, appears like a breakthrough in the investigations into the incident that led to the death of three students of the school. Besides the three deaths, scores were hospitalised and at least 1,222 other students reportedly manifested signs of the disease according to officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Health.
The confession came as the third student, Miss Praise Sodipo, an orphan, died due to an act of omission or commission by the school's authorities. More importantly, the confession by the Federal Ministry of Education is a reflection of total collapse of government's monitoring system.
Remarkably, at the peak of the diarrhoea outbreak, the school principal at that time denied any crisis, supposedly inveighing against detractors who she alleged were out to rubbish the image of the elite college.
However, persistent media focus on the situation unraveled the truth of disease outbreak.
The Director of Basic and Secondary Education, Federal Ministry of Education, Jonathan Mbaka, at a media briefing on the situation, disclosed that the ministry's Education Quality Assurance team visited the school before the outbreak and supposedly made recommendations.
"The report was submitted to the directorate of that ministry. But the directorate didn't pass the report to other departments for action. They just kept it in the office," said Mbaka. It was on the basis of this that he admitted earlier ordering the school to postpone resumption for two weeks last year.
The attitude of civil servants on critical issues that concern the life and education of school children in this instance is regrettable.
That this happened in such a high-brow school as Queens College also indicate the fact that more carelessness could be going on among bureaucrats who are entrusted with other important responsibility.
It is unimaginable what happens in other schools where there are no sick bays where students can receive first aid treatment as they have in Queens College. Many government secondary schools lack this basic amenity because of successive administrations' poor attitude to education.
The Queens College incident must not be treated as other similar issues and swept under the carpet. This is gross official irresponsibility that touches the very fabric of the society, especially as it involves lives and it must be treated so.
We call on the authorities in the Federal Ministry of Education to review the monitoring system for schools and address distortions that allowed the report of the sanitary situation of Queens College to gather dust.
We also call for disciplinary actions to be taken against all those indicted in this unfortunate episode to serve as a deterrent to others.