Friday, September 25, 2015 4:35 pm
Roseline Ololo, 91, agitates for the return of her school seized from her by the Lagos State Government 39 years ago
By Kazeem Ugbodaga.
A look at her painted a picture of hopelessness and suffering, yet she has a goldmine that could have catapulted her to the realm of success; that could have made her swim in opulence and take her seat with the affluent in the society, but she lavishes in poverty. At 91 years, she could not walk and has to take solace on the cruel-mercy of a wheel chair.
That is Mrs. Roseline Ololo, 91. Her tale depicts pity and sadness. Her school, which she and her late husband laboured to build in 1956, was seized by the then military administration in 1976. With the return of schools back to their owners in 1991, she was deprived ownership of her school as the state government continued to possess her possession. The name of her school is Metropolitan College. Over the years, her school has been divided into two. They are now Metropolitan College and Isolo Secondary School in Isolo area of Lagos.
On Monday, Ololo led a protest to the Lagos State Government Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, Southwest Nigeria demanding the return of her schools to her. The school was not returned to her when former Governor, Bola Tinubu ordered that mission schools be returned to their owners, an order which was carried out 14 years ago.
The old woman, on a wheel chair, led the protest to the Lagos State Ministry of Education, with scores of sympathisers with her, carrying placards, demanding the return of her school to her by the state government. The schools are Metropolitan College and Isolo Secondary School.
Some of the placards read: “LASG obey the law, release the school,” “Stop discrimination against females,” “Stop discrimination,” “Stop double standard,” “Give us back our school,” among others. The woman and her sympathisers, including her counsel, Malcolm Omirhobo, with deafening noise, besieged the entrance to the Ministry of Education demanding to see the Permanent Secretary.
“Let them give me back my schools. I have been writing letters over this issue for a long time now; is it because I am an Igbo woman? I don’t know why they are treating me like this,” lamented Ololo. According to her, many of the government officials maltreating her now were not born when she and her husband bought the land where the schools were built, saying “I suffered with my husband to build the schools. My husband died because of this.”
Her counsel, Omirhobo said several times, the old woman had held meetings with the Lagos State Government, especially during the tenure of former Governor Babatunde Fashola to return the school to the owner, but that nothing has been achieved so far. He said a planned meeting with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, fixed for 1 September, 2015 was aborted and that the 91-year old woman had been frustrated ever since, which informed the protest. He said it was his client’s firm instruction that government should not attempt to admit students into JSS 1 in the two schools as it was the prerogative of the old woman to do so, but lamented that government flouted the order and admitted students into JSS1. Omirhobo appealed to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to ensure that the schools were handed over to the 91-year old woman whom he said had been suffering for a long time.
Investigation revealed that the school was built by the Ololos in 1956, with 19 students admitted in the first batch. For about 18 years of its existence before the takeover by government, the school was located on No. 15 Banire Street, Surulere and in order to enable the school admit more students, it move to a vast region of land measuring 8.17 hectares which was purchased from the Okota Family of Isolo. The school moved to the new site in September 1974.
In 1976, the military administration took over ownership of 33 secondary schools in the state, including the one owned by the Ololos by virtue of the Education (Private Secondary institutions) (Special Provisions) Law 1976. In 1981, the government of Lateef Jakande split the Metropolitan College into two, with the new name-Metropolitan College and Isolo Secondary School. With the emergence of civilian administration in 1999, the then governor, Bola Tinubu, in 2001 by virtue of the Education Private Secondary Institutions, Special Provisions, Repeal Law 2001 returned schools to their owners, but noted that her client’s school was not returned. The Ololos then applied for the release of her schools and nothing had been done ever since.
According to Omirhobo, “since 2001 to date, our client’s school has not been returned to her which led our client to seek redress in the court of law via suit number ID/1675/08 between Akaix West Africa Limited vs Lagos State Government and ORS. The current status of this case is that the parties are disposed to settling the matter amicably and accordingly, the court has referred the case file to the Lagos State Multi-Door Court to explore alternative to Dispute Resolution. At the instance of the Lagos State Multi-Door Court, parties had a meeting with the Lagos State Ministry of Education with the former Commission present.”
He explained that at the said meeting, it was narrowed down that the Metropolitan College, comprising Isolo Secondary School belonged to his client and that the Metropolitan College be released to the Ololos, while the Lagos State Government insisted on retaining part of the property hosting Isolo Secondary School. He added that his client refused to accept that Isolo Secondary School should be under the purview of the government as it violated the spirit and letter of the laws and Lagos State Government Education Policy guiding the return of private schools to their owners.
Omirhobo said on 22 May, 2015, another meeting was held with the then Commissioner for Education, Olayinka Oladunjoye, where the Education Ministry gave three options, which are: that government should hold on to Isolo Secondary School in the interest of the community while Metropolitan College would be returned to Akaix West African Ltd; return of the two schools on the condition that valuation of government’s investment in the school would be carried out and Akaix West Africa would pay the valued thereof to the government and that the school would be released on gradual disengagement.
“We accepted the third option of gradual disengagement with clarifications thereof that the takeover of the schools be immediate, effective from September this year; wherein our client will be allowed to admit students into JSS 1 while retaining the older students in JSS II to SSS 3,” he said.
Omirhobo said his client wrote to the government to have a meeting with the Permanent Secretary on 1 September to plan ahead the school resumption which was 14 September to enable his client take over the running of the schools, but lamented that the meeting never held while government went ahead to admit students into JSS I, contrary to what was agreed in one of the meetings that his client would have the sole jurisdiction of admitting students into JSS I.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Olabisi Ariyo, said the meeting with the original owner of the school had been rescheduled and was not happy that the protest was held when the meeting had not been held. According to her, government would always follow due process before handing over schools to their original owners, saying that government could not just throw the students out without considering where to put them. She said there was need for patience as government is handling the matter with all due process being followed before the school would be return to the owner.
However, the said meeting was held on Wednesday where the officials of the Lagos State Government met with Ololo, sequel to the meeting agreed upon by the two parties over the resolution of the matter. Ariyo, who presided over the meeting noted that the state government, in an effort to carry out due diligence, requested Mrs. Ololo to substantiate her claims to the ownership of the schools by providing a letter of administration or the copy of the will of the former owner of the school in order to fast track the process of returning the schools.
Ariyo said that government’s position was informed by the need to ascertain the rightful status of the old woman in the family, in view of the internal wrangling in the Ololo family, adding that the process of returning the school could only be concluded after the identification of the rightful owner of the School. The Permanent Secretary also advised the lawyer to the Ololos to desist from blackmailing government by wiping up tribal sentiment and fulfill the details of the law by providing the requested documents.