The transport company in whose bus some pupils of Holy Rosary College, Enugu were attacked by robbers on their way to Lagos last Saturday has refuted the allegation of negligence levelled against them by the parents of the pupils.
The girls, numbering 42, were said to have been attacked at Oke-Odo community in Ogun State where the company’s bus broke down. Some reports also claimed that some of them were raped by their attackers.
The incident prompted some of the parents of the affected students to meet in Lagos on Wednesday with a decision to sue the transport company, Ekene Dili Chukwu, for negligence.
The Chairman of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) of the school, Mr. Cyril Akunyili, was quoted by a national newspaper as saying that the association would take the matter to court.
Akunyili said: “This is the position of all the parents involved. We are pursuing the matter to a logical conclusion. A seven-man committee has already been constituted to take care of that.
“First, we are suing Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Line for negligence, because when the bus first broke down around Ore, we called them at about 1 pm and tried to get another bus for the children. Unfortunately, it took them several hours to address the situation. It wasn’t until 7 pm that we were able to get another bus to leave Lagos for Ogun State.”
But in a statement signed by the General Manager of Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Line, Mr. C.A. Obiora, the transport company denied being negligent, saying it responded to the plight of the pupils as promptly as possible. The company also stated that all its drivers and bus attendants were trained on basic maintenance procedures in the event of a breakdown.
Part of the statement reads: “Our company has a contractual agreement to take the students to school in Enugu and bring them back to Lagos whenever they are on holidays. This relationship has spanned well over 17 years without any operational hitch until the event of 31st March, 2012.
“Our company is a well known company in Nigeria for its safety, comfort and reliability; a reputation built on well over 55 years of road transportation.
“On Saturday 31st March, 2012, our company transported the students in one of our luxury buses with 42 students from Enugu en-route Lagos. The journey progressed smoothly until the vehicle developed a mechanical fault. But the driver managed to get the bus to Ore in Ondo State. This was at about 3 pm.
“Since the parents were already at our terminus in Jibowu and were already anxious about their children, we had to quickly dispatch another bus to Ore to bring the students to Lagos as demanded by the parents who were insisting and pressurising us that their children must be brought back to Lagos immediately.
“Four members of the PTA volunteered to go with the second bus to Ore. The second bus got to Ore and the students were evacuated. Unfortunately, the second bus was attacked by armed robbers at about 10.30 pm at Ijebu Ode. The bus was hijacked with 25 students and one of the representatives of the PTA. The 17 others were rescued by the police and brought to Lagos.
“Information on the robbery attack came to the knowledge of the company at about 12.30 am and the company had to quickly dispatch another rescue team led by the General Manager at about 3.30 am, in company with one of the representatives of the parents named Barrister Keneth Okpe. They immediately proceeded to Ijebu Ode Police Station and the Police immediately assembled a team to go with them to rescue the students.”
The statement also denied reports by some newspapers that some of the pupils were raped, saying that none of them was sexually molested.
But there were indications on Thursday that the management of the school and its proprietor were exploring legal options against the transport company.
While information to that effect was sketchy, the proprietor of the school, the Catholic Diocese of Enugu was disturbed about the fate that befell the innocent girls.
The school, though a public one, is being run as a convent with high academic standard. It was returned to the Catholic Church by the Enugu State Government under the arrangement that the state pays the staff salary while the administration is run by the church.
Entry into the school is highly competitive because apart from its academic standard, discipline and moral instructions are the plank of its curriculum.
A priest, who asked not to be named, told one of our correspondents that apart from the envisaged legal action against the transporter, a curse may be placed on the perpetrators of the act, even as the police are still on their trail.
He, however, added that the decision to place a curse on the bandits would depend on the disposition of the bishop of the diocese, Bishop Callistus Onaga, and the diocesan laity.
The principal of the school, Rev. Sister Mercy Ani, declined comments on the issue. A secretarial staff of the school said the principal had been reprimanded by the Diocese for speaking to a national daily on the issue on Monday.
The Director of Communication at the headquarters of the Diocese, Rev. Fr. Joseph Offor, however, told our correspondent on the telephone that the diocese had nothing to do with the incident.