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Kate Nkechi Okoh: Poor Infrastructure in Our Public Schools at the Root of the Queens College Tragedy

Kate Okoh

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Queens College, one of Nigeria’s foremost public all-girls colleges witnessed an extremely sad incident in February 2017, due to an infrastructure deficit.

It was reported that students, having ate spaghetti and drank water served by the college cooks in the refectory, started vomiting and stooling – leading to the death of 2 students, and medical attention sought by over 1,222 students as a result of the epidemic.

On 31st March 2017, another student died, bringing the number of deaths to 3. According to some parents at the school, the spread of cholera in the school was a result of high bacteria content in the water from the kitchen and the school’s water factory, as confirmed by the analysis from two laboratories.

They also alleged a compromise in the school’s financial system and long time decay of infrastructure in the school’s facilities; especially the toilets, which are not properly maintained.

It is a particularly sad incident for me because I attended an all-girls’ boarding school – Presentation National High School (PNHS), Benin City. PNHS is a private Catholic school set up by Benin Archdiocese and managed by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. In PNHS, we had relatively sufficient facilities to accommodate the students admitted, which is roughly about a hundred for each set. However, in University of Benin (UNIBEN) where I obtained my bachelor’s degree, there are relatively poor facilities to cater for the student populace.
UNIBEN – a public tertiary institution, though ranked as one of the best universities in Nigeria, has insufficient bathing and toilet facilities, which has strong health implications for the students. In fact, over 6-12 students currently occupy hostel accommodations originally meant to accommodate 2-4 students.

This infrastructure deficit is the norm in Nigerian public institutions – primary, secondary and tertiary alike. It is sad that institutions in our country, which ought to be citadels for learning, do not have basic facilities to accommodate the students they admit. Particularly saddening is the fact that this deficit in infrastructure and improper maintenance has gone on for so long, without proper attention being given to it by the authorities.

We require sufficient addition/expansion of the infrastructure facilities and rehabilitation, to raise our public schools to internationally acceptable standard.
Little wonder that in the 2017 World ranking of Universities, no Nigerian University is ranked among the first 1000 in the world.

PPPs… a viable alternative to government procuring infrastructure
Although, the government traditionally finances infrastructure projects, their capital-intensive nature as well as the economic downturn locally have compelled government in recent past to alter this approach resulting in partnerships between government and private investors to ensure the economy, efficiency, effectiveness and value for money (VFM).

PPPs have emerged over the last few years as a more efficient and viable means for infrastructure development, as opposed to infrastructure based-outsourcing arrangement and privatisation. This is despite the inherent challenges of PPPs – including the length of time, absence of long-term funding at reasonable interest rates, and other risk factors associated with PPPs.

In a PPP arrangement, the private investor owns the asset for a period of time to construct, rehabilitate, operate and maintain the infrastructure asset, as well as procure related services using privately sourced funds unlike infrastructure based-outsourcing arrangement.
The infrastructure asset and contracted services provided by the investor are paid either directly by government (when there is a viability gap funding) or by consumers. The government also retains a reversionary interest in the ownership of the asset after the expiration of the contracted term unlike privatization.

In Nigeria, PPPs are usually initiated through the relevant Nigerian Ministry, Department or Agency (MDAs) responsible for the project or service for which private sector participation is sought. This process is done in conjunction/consulting with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and the Federal Ministry of Finance to ensure the viability and bankability of the proposed project. A private investor may also take the lead in initiating the PPP, by submitting an unsolicited proposal to the relevant MDA.

According to the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan – Nigeria’s blueprint for accelerated infrastructure development, N485 trillion required to deliver quality infrastructure over the next 30 years will be spread across various sectors as follows: energy (33%), transport (25%), agriculture, water and mining (13%), housing and regional development (11%), information and communications technology (11%), social infrastructure (5%) and vital registration and security (2%).

The ICRC PPP Projects Pipeline for 2016/17 currently houses 77 projects in Nigeria out of which only 5 projects are for education purpose, specifically: the upgrade of some ICT laboratories and libraries; the construction of the National Mathematical Centre-International Science Academy; the construction of students hostel & 500-units of staff housing in University of Gusau, external electrification and provision of borehole & overhead tanks, all of which are still in development stages.

This is an extremely poor pace for a country with huge educational infrastructure deficit in its public institutions.

Recommendations
The sudden death of students due to poor infrastructure indicates an urgent need to overhaul the infrastructure in our public institutions.

• The government must swiftly demonstrate a commitment to partner with private investors to provide the requisite infrastructure in our public schools as well as engage Transaction Advisers for these projects. This will give investors the comfort that these projects have the highest political backing.

• The government can further demonstrate its political will via the provision of incentives and an enabling business environment, by enacting investor-friendly laws. Also, by reducing the bureaucracy, bottlenecks and red tape involved in obtaining the requisite approvals from relevant MDAs, which operate to delay the PPP process.

• The government can also provide the land, seed funding (where there is a viability gap funding), tax incentives and subsidies to motivate investors since the idea of providing a PPP project is such that the investor can recoup his investment on the project. These funds can cover the cost of financing, operating and maintaining the asset over time as well as advisers’ fees.
This will provide the opportunity to bring on stream new and innovative projects at a considerable pace in view of the infrastructure deficit and public debt prevalent in developing countries like Nigeria, where the government alone is incapable of meeting the financial and technical requirements to develop and maintain such projects. These new projects, which are PPP-driven, will create jobs, reduce poverty and translate into an overall economic growth.

• The Nigerian investors have been inactive for too long. It is time that local investors broadened the scope of their engagement in infrastructure development, which could have a significant effect on the nation. They can engage in submitting unsolicited proposals for the initiation of infrastructure development in schools without waiting for the MDA to initiate these projects – including but not limited to the provision of hostel accommodations, toilets and bathing facilities, borehole facilities, refectories, libraries and sporting facilities, all of which have serious physiological and physical effects on students. This invariably will go a long way in improving the quality of graduates in secondary and tertiary institutions who can contribute to the well being of the nation by proffering sound policy advise to the government on topical issues and compete favourably with their counterparts from around the globe.

• Students MAY be made to pay an extra cost in some cases, as a token for these developments – comfort does not come cheap. This extra cost must be monitored efficiently coupled with effective management to ensure transparency and accountability – which will enable the investor recoup his investment within the PPP cycle.

• These PPP projects should be well researched, structured and kept simple in terms of the multiplicity of parties in order to attract financial institutions and banks that can support and sustain the PPP cycle as well as reduce the financial cost in view of the length of time needed for PPP projects which span over decades.

Conclusion
The advantages of infrastructure developments for any nation cannot be overstated – more so, adequate infrastructure in institutions. Thus President J.F. Kennedy of USA succinctly posits “America has good roads, not because America is rich, but America is rich because it has good roads”. Nigeria can be great, not merely because of its resources, but by how best it utilises its resources for development – especially education development. It is hoped that there is a drastic improvement of infrastructure in our public institutions using PPPs as a viable and more efficient alternative, as our institutions should be citadels for learning and not death traps.

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

Photo Credit: John Keith | Dreamstime.com

Kate Nkechi Okoh is an energy and infrastructure lawyer in Abuja. She holds an LL.B from University of Benin and an LL.M from University College London (UCL) as the UCL John Carr 2013 scholar. She also holds training certificates from the ICC & International Court of Arbitration, Paris as well as the Harvard Negotiating Institute, Boston in arbitration and negotiation respectively. Her articles on infrastructure and mergers & acquisitions are published by International Law office (ILO), London. Read more about her HERE

19 Comments

  1. Gina

    April 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Glad to know that there are still Nigerians with a clear sense. This is very good. It’s a pity we are still backward in this country

    • Kate Okoh

      April 4, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks Gina

    • jude

      April 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      Nice piece. However, it’s rather unfortunate that our government has paid little or no heed to the plight and pitiable state of public infrastructures. I wish this article goes a long way to enlighten the govt on the need to consider ways to ameliorate this embarrassing situation we find ourselves in. More power to ur elbow dear

  2. Henrietta Pam

    April 4, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    This is an article that clearly shows what goes on in the educational sector today. The writer has clearly described the present situation students are faced with both in the secondary and tertiary institutions. The government needs to pay attention to the poor infrastructure these public schools have. The living conditions alone does not even encourage the students to study as much as they should. Looking at the example she gave about the Queens college girls, this is just one out of so many with similar or worse challenges. Where the students don’t even have good drinking water that is very crucial to good health. What about the water they even cook with? So you’re not just consuming bad drinking water but also food. How about the living condition? Where you have more than the required number of persons living in a room and all breathing the same air. They are prone to diseases that cannot be controlled sometimes. Although, I’ll say it is not just about the government here. We all can contribute in our little ways. Like there are pet projects alumni from various institutions can embark on to help these students. If you graduated from a school and are doing well today in your career, you already have an idea what it is that’s lacking. That’s why alumnis are formed for everyone to discuss and see what best they can do to help the younger ones that are still upcoming. You can decide to build more hostels for them, give them a system that will provide the basic needs that you probably didn’t have. So it’s high time we all stand up and begin to work. And the government must begin to work hard to improve our learning environments. It’s not ok for a country like ours to be so backwards when it comes to education. We can make a change!

    • Kate Okoh

      April 5, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Thanks Henrietta, I agree we all have a role to play but the government must not abdicate from its responsibilities.
      It will interest you to know that the school is a Federal government owned school, but since the incident, the parents have been the ones contributing to pay the medical bills of the affected students.
      I hope the government can be particularly responsive, especially when lives are at stake. If the government is, the school management will sit up and it will spur even the PTA to do more.

      I look forward to a better Nigeria, not only for us but also for the future generation.

  3. Cutieylicious

    April 4, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    All i see is my Alma mater Presentation National High School! This case is so sad! The Principal needs to be sacked first!

    • Kate Okoh

      April 4, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      The Principal was transferred shortly after the incident

  4. DAME

    April 5, 2017 at 9:25 am

    I quite agree with the author, I also attended UNIBEN and we would rather just bathe on the corridors than in the bathroom…a trend that has gone on and on and on.
    PPP would deff work but that would increase the amount we spend on school fees or at least on the hostel which would might be hard on parents…but i guess something must give.

    But talking about Queens college and the likes…i must say the parents failed. what do they do during their PTA meetings? what do they discuss ? is it all pomp and show-off etc ?

    I attended Federal Govt Girls College Ipetumodu, God bless the PTA leadership. Where the govt stopped at providing amenities, parents tasked themselves and provided ! from fans in the dorms, to repair and maintenance pf dorm toilets and drainage’s etc , to drilling more boreholes when there was water shortage to as much as paying for teachers when all teachers in govt schools went on strike …( i think this was 2003 or 2004)…they ensured we continued attending classes when the general teachers were on strike and employed new teachers paid strictly from the PTA purse !
    they paid unscheduled visit to the school for inspection, they encouraged children to speak up about the happenings…those where the days…i really hope they continued
    but you see then the PTA leadership were seen as troublesome by some of the school managements but at it was for the good of the children.
    Please parents should pay more attention to their children’s school….ask ask ask…go round, cause trouble if that would solve things but do not stay in the background at the expense of a life.

  5. Jay

    April 5, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Nice piece Kate. Hopefully the government see this article and call u to help proffer solution that is much needed. Kudos Kate

    • Kate Okoh

      April 5, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks a lot big sis…

  6. Momo

    April 5, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Some enchanting wise words from a brilliant young mind.
    Couldn’t agree more, a lot of hard work and selfless sacrifices needs to be made. Nigeria is blessed with rich natural resources but we have colossal failures in management of its affairs. It’s sickening and sad that young lives are involved when things go wrong a few cases like the Sosoliso air crash which no formal enquiry or investigative foreclosure was reached not to mention the Chibok girls.
    A state that cannot guarantee the safety of its young generation is a failed state!
    We need more ‘likeminds’ like yours Kate. Our hope. Our future.
    Hats off dear sis!

    • Kate Okoh

      April 6, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks big sis…

  7. Adesuwa

    April 5, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Very insightful piece Kate… ????
    Repping Presco High all the way!!!

    • Kate Okoh

      April 6, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      Yes ooo, always! Thanks

  8. michelle

    April 6, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Thanks Kate. What a great write up. Keep it up Kate.

  9. michelle

    April 6, 2017 at 12:30 am

    Dear Kate, thank u so much for this great piece. Not just your family, but Nigeria is blessed to have you. God bless you our great lawyer.

    • Kate Okoh

      April 6, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks alot Michelle…

  10. Joan

    April 7, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Highly informative, as a matter of urgency the govt needs to take responsibility, but more often, its a case of every man for himself and God for us all. Well done Kate, this pieces rocks.

  11. Deji Morakinyo

    April 25, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Great article, Kate. More ink to your pen.

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