By Adesina Wahab
FINALLY, the Federal Government last week gave the go ahead that schools at all levels could reopen from January 18 after days of pressure and suspense as to the appropriateness or otherwise of doing so. To say the government was under intense pressure from those opposed to the reopening and those in support, would be an understatement.
Those who canvassed reopening
Chief among those that called for the reopening of schools were the United Nations Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF and the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. UNICEF, in a statement, Tuesday, said schools were not the drivers of the spread of COVID-19 and that closing down schools for another year would have far reaching negative effects on the society that would go beyond this generation.
NANS, through the National President, Sunday Asefon and the Southwest Zonal Coordinator, Kappo Olawale Samuel, said students were tired of staying at home. “Students are becoming restive and we must not tie down the future of Nigerian students. What should be done is for the government to provide the necessary facilities for safe reopening of schools. Our members are not kids and they know how to take care of themselves. We must find means of living with the challenge the virus has posed. We cannot say everything should be in the standstill, we have to move on,” Kappo said.
For those who clamoured for the reopening, they said pupils and students wasted enough time last year and any further waste of time was unacceptable. They also supported their position with the point that the corona virus disease might have come to stay and we should learn how to live with it. Moreover, they wondered why schools should be closed indefinitely when some public places like markets are thriving unabated.
Those who called for restraint
The House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education chaired by Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, said they were not carried along in the decision to reopen schools. He said: “It was done as if we are not stakeholders and not needed to be consulted. None of my members was consulted on the matter. Nobody also spoke to me about it. Left to us, we would have called for caution and restraint.”
The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, are among bodies that called for restraint or wanted schools reopened under the strict condition that safety protocols would be seriously complied with.
The National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, whose union just called off a nine-month strike, wondered if those supporting reopening wanted that done without safety protocols being put in place. “We have called off our strike and we are ready to work. But those saying schools should reopen, are they saying that should be done without safety measures not being put in place? See how professors are dying like chickens. Schools should reopen in a manner that the safety of all involved should be guaranteed,” he said.
The National Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Dr. Mike Ene, suggested that schools could reopen with modifications to the teaching and learning methods. He called for the adoption and use of information and communication technology to bridge the gap noticed in the system.
National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Innocent Ujah, said: “Unfortunately, with COVID-19 we do not know the right time. The reality is that parents want their children to go back to school and the school proprietors particularly the private sector, want their schools to be reopened. What we are saying is that we don’t know the definite outcome of COVID-19, we do not know how long it is going to stay. So, it is appropriate to balance this.”
Why some express fear about school reopening
From the time the first index case of corona virus disease was announced late February 2020, till the end of November of the same year, the fatality figure was about 1,069. However, as at 00.43am on January 18, 2021, the fatality figure had increased to 1.435, meaning almost 400 deaths were recorded within 48 days. Between January 2-16, 2021, 119 Nigerians lost their lives and particularly on January 14, 23 Nigerians died. Such a statistic is scary and also given the observation that the second wave of the disease do not give victims more time to battle the disease like before and the death rate being higher.
This is also as government and experts have been raising the alarm that oxygen to save the lives of victims is in short supply. Only few days ago, the authorities of the Lagos State University, LASU, had to shut down the medical college in Ikeja, when some students tested positive for the disease and the hostels were subsequently closed down.