After the vacation of schools in July this year with the belief that it would reopen in September as usual, people still wallow in in confusion about the school’s resumption date. This is not only because of Boko Haram sect which has caused a lot of harm in the Northern part of the country, affecting the operation of schools, especially in the North Eastern States, but more because of emergence of the dreaded Ebola virus Disease, EVD, which has remained a serious threat in the country.
Although, school activities were on in some states as the government tries to control the activities of the sect, but the Ebola virus has been a thing of worry to everybody in the country due to its easy-to-contract method especially when the infected person is not quarantined .
Before now, schools under normal circumstance resume either in the second or third week of September for its academic activities but it has been shifted to October 13, 2014 by the Federal government in order to control the spread of Ebola Virus in the country by putting the necessary things that needed to be put in place before schools’ resumption date. However, the initial date was finally changed to September 22. This as a matter of fact, generated criticism from health practitioners especially doctors, activists and civil society groups, except the school proprietors, who every other group accuse of bribing the Ministry of Education to change the initial date fixed in order to enrich themselves through the admission of new students into their schools.
According to the Chairman of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yemi Otubela; “Member- Schools were ready to resume on September 22, as all members have been educated on the disease through the Ebola Virus Risk Assessment Management Plan (EVRAMP).
He added that government has so far been able to contain the virus, wondered why doctors would be stirring fears in the society over school resumption.
The Public Relations Officer of the Association for Formidable Education Development (AFED), Mr. Abiodun Owolana, said they are answerable to government and are putting measures in place ahead of the new resumption date.
In addition to this, the president of the Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS), Prof. Onyewale Tomori, said the delayed resumption lacks scientific basis.
According to Tomori, “While it might be true that children are most vulnerable to infectious diseases, it is most unlikely that a person sick of Ebola would be at a gathering or go to school.
“You close schools but you allow political rallies, you close schools but you allow churches to go on, you close schools but you allowed gathering to hold. In any case, anybody with Ebola will be at such a gathering.”
The African Health, Human and Social Development Information Service (Afri Dev. Infor.), had warned that the reopening of schools, involving no fewer than 80 million children, adolescents, students and teachers, was a high risk venture with grave risk to all concerned.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) President, Michael Alogba, criticized the action of the government in respect to the new date chosen. According to him, “In any sane society, decisions such as this will not be taken until the government and all stakeholders have met and discussed the issue at stake and be sure that the nation is scientifically and medically free from the scourge.
“But this is not the case in our country. When they arrived at the early October 13 date, they wrote us and we agreed with their argument but when this new date was given, they did not because of the influence of some powerful school owners who put pressure on them (Federal government) to announce the September 22 date.
“Anyway, we have written to tell them that if the Federal Government does not shift the date and provide all necessary safety measures in schools before Monday, next week, all NUT leaders will meet in Abuja by 9 am on Tuesday to decide our fate by ourselves.
“Though I don’t want to preempt the outcome of the meeting but as teachers who have families and who should protect our future, I mean our students, we will shun the classes; we will call for strike.
“What kind of government is this, don’t they know that children can never be as hygienic as adults? Don’t they know that the immunity level of children is not as high as that of adults? Why do you want to open schools when you have not cleared out the virus; when you still have about 400 people under surveillance in Port-Harcourt and Lagos?
“You are aware of what is happening at Obafemi Awolowo University. How are we sure that there is no primary or secondary school pupil that has had contact with an Ebola patient?
“It’s good that the NMA (Nigeria Medical Association) has spoken and we have told them too that we would not cooperate with them. That is why we are going to take a drastic action on Tuesday to protect ourselves and our children.
“I can tell you that we will shun schools; we won’t cooperate with them. In other words, we will embark on strike.”
The Executive Director, the Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children, Princess Olufemi Kayode, urged the government to discard the latest resumption date.
According to her, “How many children will be able to do proper hygiene in schools? It is like creating a nuclear weapon in our nation. Who are the schools opening for? “The government is not being factual with us because there are new cases. For me, my child is not going back to school.”
The Education Rights Campaign and Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit also faulted the directive by the government.
According to the president, Hassan Soweto, who accused the government of attempting to risk the lives of pupils, alleged that the goal of the directive was to justify political rallies and gatherings by supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said, “EVD is a great crisis but it is not one that should affect the pupils alone. If the Ministry of Education has decided to fix a day for resumption, it must therefore mean that all the mechanisms needed to ensure the safety of pupils are in place in schools.
“Facilities approved by the World Health Organization for the prevention of EVD have to be provided across the nation, whether it is private or public.”
Whether schools resume in October 13th which was the initial date announced by the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, or September 22nd, the recent date announced, both the government and the stakeholders involved should as a matter of necessity, agree on a date. There should be understanding among them for effective results to be achieved. The lives of the students are as important as the lives of their parents, and should be protected.
Adequate mechanisms should be put in place to enable those concerned, doctors and the school managements to carry out their job as expected. Private schools owners who do not want to hesitate to see that schools re-open on September 22nd must also see that the needed mechanisms which would help in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) are put in place to avoid sudden spread of the undiagnosed virus among these pupils and students, especially in boarding schools. Because when about 30 students contact it that means that about 30 families are at risk. And this, as a matter of fact, will complicate the work of the medical practitioners and be a big problem in the country.