Blame game as 7 pupils die in classroom collapse in Kenya

Tuesday September 24 2019

Search and rescue efforts at Precious Talent Academy in Kenya's capital Nairobi on September 23, 2019 after a classroom collapsed on pupils.

Search and rescue efforts at Precious Talent Academy in Kenya's capital Nairobi on September 23, 2019 after a classroom collapsed on pupils. PHOTO | COURTESY 

DAILY NATION
By DAILY NATION
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NAIROBI,

Before the Monday morning tragedy that claimed the lives of seven learners and injured at least 64 others at Precious Talent Academy in Ng'ando Ward in Nairobi, the school was a disaster waiting to happen.

The school, tucked away in the slums along Ngong Road in Dagoretti South Constituency, in Kenya's capital had no proper structures to accommodate the more than 800 pupils who flocked it for knowledge.

As you approach the school, you are free to enter from any angle because it does not have a fence.

The structures in the compound speak of a school that has literally been punching above its weight, with many of its pupils shining in national exams.

CONSTRUCTION

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From the rubble, it is clear that the structure that caved in and came tumbling down was weak, supported only by wooden pillars and iron rods that are bent.

Most of the classrooms seen by Nation are tin-walled, partitioned with plywood and cardboards.

There is only one stone block in the compound.

Some parents and school neighbours said they had raised concerns over the safety and stability of the building.

The floors of the classrooms were made of wood and on it slab held together by wire mesh and many claimed the structure was a product of poor engineering and workmanship.

Brian Ajega, a Ng’ando resident who helped with the rescue, said the ground floor of the building was wooden while the upper floors were made of concrete.

And according to Meshack Nyabuto, an administrator at the local chief’s office, some of the pupils had complained about the shaking structure, complaints that the school failed to act upon.

Within the school compound is a store, evidence that construction was still ongoing.

MATERIALS

On Monday, National Buildings Inspectorate (NBI) secretary Moses Nyakiongora termed the school building “a structural failure and a work of quackery”, adding that the school owner exposed learners to death.

Speaking at the scene, Mr Nyakiongora admitted that NBI officers were not aware of the existence of the building, adding that Nairobi County has many such structures.

And according a press release by St John’s Ambulance, one of the teams that led the search and rescue operation, it is suspected that the ill-fated building could have caved in as result of weak materials, “as it was made of iron sheets and wood only”.

“The temporary structure was hosting four classrooms on the upper floor and another four on the ground,” the disaster response agency said.

BLAME GAME

Before the search and rescue was over, parents, guardians and the local community demanded answers from the school owner Mr Moses Wainaina.

They accused him of putting their children in rickety structures made of wood, wire mesh and iron sheets.

The parents said the school managers were “reckless” with the lives of their children.

But Mr Wainaina said he does not believe his structures were weak or done by quacks.

He instead blames Nairobi City County for the collapse, which he termed “an accident”.

According to Mr Wainaina, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko's administration recently dug a sewer line behind the classrooms, weakening the building’s foundation.

“They had good intentions to help this school but an accident has happened,” he said as he battled to calm irate parents.

Mr Wainaina’s claims were echoed by the school headteacher, who argued that a sewer line passed under the structure, and that strengthening the one-storey building would require bringing it down entirely.

Victims of the tragedy were learners in Classes One to Three who fell from first floor to the ground, with some being hit by blocks and debris. 

Learners who occupied the ground floor— Standard Six, Seven and Eight— were the most affected when the classroom caved in.

WHO'S TO BLAME?

In his address, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha partly blamed Mr Wainaina and the teachers who teach at Precious Talents.

Prof Magoha took issue with the weak storey structure the pupils had been crammed in, which he insinuated should not have been erected.

“If no storey had been built on top of that structure, no children would have died,” he said.

The CS also faulted the time the pupils had reported to school, 6am, which is too early for learners in pre-primary.

“We are clear on the school opening hours and if this was violated, someone should be answerable to someone,” he said.

The ministry prescribes official school hours for all public and private day primary and secondary schools as 8am to 3:30pm (class hours) and 3:30pm to 4.45pm for games and clubs.

Locals leaders believe almost all stakeholders have let down the children and parents of Precious Talents and the entire Ng’ando Ward.

Dagoretti South MP John Kiarie blamed the disaster on the national and county governments, saying they had left the people of Ng’ando to their devices.

The area with a slum, he said has no public social amenity, creating room for private investors to make money at all costs.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko blamed the collapse of the building on rogue county officials who issue building permits illegally.

He also accused the Ministry of Education of negligence.

HELP LINE

The Kenya Red Cross has set up an information centre and is also providing psychosocial support services.

The numbers are +254 715 820 219 and hotline 1199.

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