Four students of the Abubakar Balewa University (ATBU) in Bauchi recently died and seven others were injured following the collapse of a bridge as a result of a heavy downpour that lasted several hours. While briefing journalists, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Mohammed Ahmed Abdulazeez, said the tragedy occurred on the night of Monday, August 5, 2019 at the Gubi campus of the institution.
The accident happened while the students were returning to their hostels. Unfortunately, the pedestrian iron bridge, which connects their reading area with the hostel, collapsed. The university’s Senate, at an emergency meeting on August 6, 2019, decided to close down the institution but re-opened it on Monday, August 19, 2019. The closure was to enable the university community mourn the dead students.
The VC said the collapsed bridge would be repaired in two weeks, but angry students staged a protest against the management for leaving the pedestrian bridge in a state of disrepair for years. The bridge was constructed in 2010 when the population of students on that campus was not very significant. The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Kamal Datti Abubakar, said policemen were deployed to maintain law and order, and the protest was brought under control.
Responding to questions on why the university left the bridge in a bad state, the VC said the pedestrian bridge was constructed for use by 10 students at a time. “The bridge is only a short-cut to the alternative road that is far.” But because of the heavy downpour that night, between 20 and 40 students tried using it at the same time. The VC recalled that in June last year, the ATBU was worst hit by windstorm, a disaster which damaged many facilities. He said the university had to prioritize the repair of some basic facilities. The priorities included hostels, lecture rooms, and the library. Professor Abdulazeez used the opportunity to call on donor agencies and philanthropists to come to the aid of the university in fixing its dilapidated and broken facilities.
To a great extent the death of these students was avoidable, if the authorities were not complacent or negligent. One of the accusations against the managements of Nigerian universities has been their poor maintenance culture. It is worrisome that the authorities of ATBU would fail to attend to a rickety bridge for almost a decade, in spite of the fact that the students’ population has been on the rise. What university authorities should do is to take stock of the wear and tear of their facilities, and ensure that they set aside funds from their budgets for the rehabilitation of such facilities on a regular basis.
Universities in developed countries ensure that their maintenance departments engage in constant repairs of structures, roads, and other infrastructure so that the facilities do not degenerate to the point of posing as a risk to students on their campuses. If the repair of the bridge on ATBU required much money, the university authorities should have sought the support of philanthropists all these years, instead of doing so after it claimed the lives of four students.
The Vice-Chancellor has promised to repair the bridge immediately, as a measure to prevent future occurrence. The university should construct a standard and well-built concrete bridge for use by all the students. It would not be out of place to seek an urgent intervention from the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing. The management should not wait until another tragedy occurs at another facility before they engage in another rehabilitation exercise.
We commiserate with the families of the deceased students and the entire ATBU community while calling on the authorities of other tertiary institutions to imbibe maintenance culture to avoid this kind of tragedy. Universities should provide the lead in imbibing maintenance culture so that other sectors may emulate them