South Africa’s pit latrine
During his first week at school, five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a pit latrine in northern South Africa.
That day in January 2014 will be one his father James Komape will never forget.
As he takes me back to the school in Chebeng village, where the tragedy struck, his pain is palpable.
“When I arrived at the opening of the toilet hole all I could see was a small hand,” he says.
“Some people were standing looking into the hole, no-one had thought to take him out. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.
“No-one should die like that.”
He pauses for a moment before continuing.
“He must have been trying to call for help to maybe even climb out. It’s hard to accept that my son died alone and probably afraid.”
Mr Komape struggles to make eye contact.
Rusty corrugated iron
Instead he fixes his eyes on the neat row of brick toilet stalls, which were built after his son died in the toilet of rusty corrugated iron just metres away.
The iron sheet that had served as the seat collapsed when Michael sat on it. He fell in, along with the seat and its white plastic lid, the authorities said.
But this is not a one-off problem affecting one school.
While access to proper sanitation is a basic human right enshrined in South Africa’s constitution, many pupils have no choice but to use pit toilets.
How did things get so bad?
Analysts say it is partly a legacy of apartheid, since under white-minority rule virtually no resources were allocated to develop schools for poor, predominately black children.
Also to blame is the failure to maintain existing infrastructure, however basic.
Back at their home just outside Polokwane, the main city in Limpopo province, the Komapes tell me they want justice for Michael’s death.
With the help of Section27, a human rights law firm, the family are set to appeal against a recent court ruling which rejected their claim for damages over the incident.
The suit is against Limpopo province’s education department, which the family believes was negligent.
“The Komape case is a tragic one but it is an illustration of the dire state of public school facilities in the country,” Section27’s Zukiswa Pikoli told the BBC.
“We were quite shocked when we heard about the tragedy. There was no way we were not going to help.”
Ms Pikoli says Section27 is planning to take the case to the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest court.
The Komapes are not the only family to lose a child in this manner.
Earlier this year in the rural province of the Eastern Cape, a five-year-old girl drowned in a pit latrine.
Lumka Mkhethwa went missing without a trace from Luna Primary School in March.
The village was notified and a manhunt was conducted overnight by the community, but she could not be found.
The following day the police returned to the school where she had last been seen.
A pack of sniffer dogs lead them to the grisly find. Her tiny body was at the bottom of a dark, faeces-filled toilet.
After her death, South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa called for pit latrines to be eradicated by the end of 2018.
But this ambitious plan will need money.
‘Years of neglect’
An interim government report suggests it will cost more than 11bn rand ($876m; £660m) – a sum it hopes to raise with help from the private sector.
“We are having to address many years of neglect and but change is coming, even if slowly,” says Elijah Mhlanga, an official in the lower education ministry.
“These two incidents have been tragic but we are hoping that this shows everyone the seriousness of the crisis,” he adds.
“We have received interest, with people offering to help with the funding.
“It is our intention to see that all the children in our schools are in safe facilities.”
In another village in Limpopo province, word of Michael’s death has changed the normal school routine.
Sebushi Primary School is modest, but clean and well-kept.
Behind a vegetable garden sits a row of pit latrines.
Many have a large opening at the back, where teachers now monitor pupils as they use them.
“Every morning from 06:00 a teacher patrols the toilets, monitoring who goes in and out,” says Joseph Mashishi, chairman of this school’s governing body.
“We don’t want what happened to the Komape family to happen in our school. No child should have to die in faeces, it is inhumane.”
Many in Michael’s community have now been stirred into action.
They are fighting to have new toilets installed in all the region’s schools, in memory of the young boy whose life ended too early.
Culled from BBC
Issues in Minna jail break
Findings about the recent attack on the Medium Prison, Minna, Niger state, show that the same lapses have been constant decimal in the profile of past breaks into the prison in the last five years. ADELOJE OJO writes
Unfamiliar steps of fleeing prisoners
It was at about 8:30 pm on Sunday 3rd June, 2018 when residents of Kafin Tella of Tunga Area of Minna were ordered not to step out of their houses by armed men. Sporadic gun shots soon filled the air and terrified the ears of the community that had played host to the Minna Medium Security Prison for over 25 years. Peeping through the windows, curious residents discovered it was a jail break operation by hardened criminals as unfamiliar steps of fleeing prisoners scurried past houses drenched in the storm of rain from the dark cloud. For over an hour, the deafening shouts of thunder from the storm could not shallow sounds of the machine guns from the invaders. However by the time the gunshots subsided, two persons, a commercial motorcyclist and prison personnel have fell by bullets while 210 inmates escaped.
Our correspondent learnt that once the invading criminals gained entrance into the prison after exchange of fire with armed prison guards, they flung the prison gate open to all inmates after dismantling cells. They took their own in a waiting vehicle and disappeared into the air.
Residents’ reactions amidst confusion
Our correspondent further learnt that the first reaction of the residents of the area was to call and informed friends and associates amidst the confusion that Boko Haram had invaded the community targeting the Medium Prison. However as the atmosphere around the prison became clearer, it became obvious that some criminal inmates from condemned cells masterminded the operation for freedom in conspiracy with their colleagues outside the prison. It was also gathered that the masterminds were recently sentenced to death by hanging by a Minna court. Our correspondent also learnt that the criminals freed from the prison were the same that participated in the 2014 jail break of the same prison, but were later arrested for other heinous crimes for which they were convicted to death about two months ago.
A resident of Kifin Tella community neigbouring the prison yard who witnessed the operation and identified himself as Mohammed Ahmed told our reporter that the gunmen ordered people not to come out of their houses and began to shoot into the air to scare away everyone. He said that in panic, residents made frantic efforts to inform the police of the situation around the prison yards but there was no quick response. He said, “they came in a vehicle with siren lights and we thought that they were police until they began to shoot into the air ordering us to stay indoors and close our doors”.
Inside source at the prison told Blueprint that the prison has not known peace since two particular convicts were returned to the prison as condemned criminals about three months ago, adding that they have consistently spited prison officials that got close to them in the line of duty.
Our source who pleaded anonymity said, “These criminals have been security threat to us here since they were on trial. They even attempted to kill on Warder at a time. However they became more confident in their reproach to prison authority after they were sentenced to death. Prison authorities were aware of the need to swerve them in different prisons but nothing was done in this respect”. Our correspondent learnt that this was one of the lapses on the part of the prison authority.
Constant decimal in the profile of break into the prison
Government is however not contesting the fact that there were lapses that led to the jail break, but the fact that same lapses have been constant decimal in the profile of the two or more break into the prison in the past five years has become more disturbing. The Minister of Interior, General Abdulraman Danbazau, appeared to be more disturbed over repeated breaks into the prison as a result of known lapses and has promised to deal with it when he visited the prison last Monday for on the spot assessment. Answering questions from journalists, Danbazau confirmed that 182 of the escaped inmates were still at large while 30 others have been rearrested. However prison authority at the weekend said over 65 of the fleeing inmates have been picked back to the prison.
However, while the search for the escaped inmates intensifies, the Niger state police command said in a statement issued three days after the incident that it has gotten involved in the operations to re-arrest the fleeing escapees, assuring that all the fleeing prisoners will be fished out from the society before they start wreaking havoc. The statement signed by the Police Public Relations Officer of the command, ASP Mohammed Abubakar, appealed for cooperation of the public in reporting suspicious movement of individuals to nearest police station or other security agencies.
However, while people are still puzzled about the brazen prison attack, arguably, the worst in the history of Nigeria prisons, the minister appeared to rest such puzzle. He told journalists confidently that those behind the prison break were two condemned criminals who conspired with their friends and colleagues outside the prison. The minister however admitted that some lapses had paved way for the jail break explaining that such gaps will be addressed promptly to avoid reoccurrence.
He said, “The death sentence on the two criminals was due for confirmation on the very day they escaped. This may have prompted them to take that action. The confirmation of death sentences is the responsibility of state governors”.
Danbazau went ahead to list some of the lapses to include lack of adequate manpower adding that measures to curb such lapses in prison management to include recruitment of 6000 personnel has commenced in order to beef up security of prisons across the country. He said, “We came here for on-the -spot assessment and we have seen some gaps. We need to ensure that we cover the gaps to avoid future occurrence. We don’t want to preempt whatever investigation that would be carried out but certainly there are security gaps which must be tackled so that we prevent future concurrence of this nature.
He continued, “As a matter of fact we are very much aware that there is the problem of manpower in the Nigerian Prisons and this is why the portal has been open for the recruitment of 6,000 personnel. We are making efforts to ensure that we cover these gaps but it has to be done gradually and in phases.”
“We are also building a 3,000 capacity prisons in the 6 geopolitical zones so that we will be able to decongest some of the prisoners to those places.” He added.
He said that a high powered investigative panel into the matter has been constituted. But the minister did not make reference to the report of a similar committee set up to investigate the 2014 jail break in the same prison.
However it is pertinent to mention that the issue of signing death warrants by the state governors, mentioned by the Interior Minister, as enshrined in legal documents of Nigeria has not been in the front burner since the enthronement of democracy. Investigations revealed that prisons are choked up with condemned criminals while state governors appeared to be playing politics with signing of death warrants. Apart from military regimes when condemned criminals were publicly executed by firing squad, Nigeria authorities have shy away from execution of condemned criminals since the inception of democracy about 19 years ago. The only state that has the record of a governor signing death warrant of condemned criminal is Edo state during the administration of Adams Oshomohle. It cannot however be confirmed if the death warrant was executed or not, till date. It is not clear if some other state governors did it behind closed doors.
I will sign death warrant of condemned criminals if
For Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, of Niger state and many of his colleagues, approving death warrant of condemned criminals appeared not to be a pleasant hobby. He told journalists in Minna that he has not seen any death warrant to sign since the inception of his administration three years ago, in an apparent reaction to the Interior Minister’s claim on governors’ refusal to take responsibility of signing death warrants. Responding to a question on what he has done so far concerning signing of death warrants on condemned criminals, Governor Bello simply said, “such issue has not come to me. I will sign death warrant of condemned criminals if such case got to my table. For now I have not received such case that needs confirmation”
The governor however stressed the need to do more in taking care of facilities that have condemned criminals adding that, “it is clear that there is shortage of manpower but most importantly, I appeal to prison officers to take their job more seriously”.
Speaking with journalists at the prison yard Minna, Comptroller General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed dismissed insinuation that the Boko Haram Members masterminded the jail break explaining that Boko Haram detainees were not kept in the facility. He disclosed that investigation on the jailbreak is ongoing to ascertain more detail and the lapses that brought about the incidence.
But, it is not only urgent for the investigative panel to quickly come out with its report, it is also very necessary for the government to take decisive action on the recommendations of the report to avoid recurrence of the incident in nearest future.