As academic activities resume today in many schools across the states of the federation, some key actors in the education and health sectors have raised concerns over the negative implication the resumption might have, given the increasing rate of COVID-19 infections and death in the country.
The stakeholders, drawn from various unions, such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) expressed worries about the decision, describing it as a gamble with the health and safety of Nigerians. In separate interviews with New Telegraph, leaders of these unions warned that Nigeria may be thrown into a tsunami of coronavirus infections and deaths as witnessed in some countries, if the resumption of schools was not managed properly.
President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said even though lecturers have resumed work today, the union was scared of its members’ safety as well as the students’. He expressed worry that government’s failure to carry relevant stakeholders along in its decision making and ensuring relevant assessments contained in its July 2020 guidelines on schools reopening were met by all schools, was only a disaster waiting to happen.
According to him, based on the guidelines, government was expected to first, carry out a readiness checklist to ascertain that all schools have put the necessary facilities for coronavirus prevention in place. Ogunyemi said that a second assessment was also needed to determine if schools were ready to reopen for academic activities.
He said: “If government can ascertain these two check lists, the institutions will be put under close monitoring based on what they have spelt out under the guideline. But that is what we have not seen because educational stakeholders are supposed to be involved. “We are supposed to have representatives of government, individual universities, staff union, students union, civil society organisations.
These I take as stakeholders and we expect such stakeholders’ committee to be in place as government is preparing to reopen the institutions. “Unless and until they do that, I don’t think anybody can guarantee the safety of anybody in the system and that is why we keep talking about prevention being cheaper and better than cure. It’s like we are taking a gamble and that gamble we say it will not be pleasant for public health experience.”
Ogunyemi said that ASUU was prepared to return to the classrooms if the level of compliance with COVID-19 protocols on our campuses were satisfactory. “We believe government and university authorities should take responsibility, that is why we have been sensitising them on the need to comply with the COVID-19 guidelines in the reopening of tertiary institutions as rolled out by government in July 2020.
“If university authorities think they have done their homework, they have done their assessments and they have put arrangements in place to reopen the educational institutions, we don’t have a problem with reopening. Of course ASUU cannot universities if government or authorities are reopening universities “The only thing we are worried about is the health and safety of our members as well as our students.
We cannot pretend that we don’t have some worries about that, however, if government is ready to take responsibility, we will allow them to do what they want to do,” he said.
Secretary General of NMA, Dr. Ekpe Philips, also expressed worry that reopening of schools at a time when the rate of coronavirus infection was high in the country was a huge risk that may or may not go well for the health and safety of Nigerians.
Philips said that while some persons were of the belief that schools when reopened will not become a source of community transmission, others were of the view that government should have waited a bit longer, as returning to school was not an emergency.
The NMA advised government to begin to make adequate provisions for treatment of more COVID- 19 patients should the resumption go wrongly and cause a spike in the number of cases in the country.
“The deed has already been done and Nigeria is taking a huge risk. I pray it doesn’t amount to an increase in the spread. However, we should be prepared should there be an increase in the spread, to find a way to treat those persons that will get infected,” he said. Philips, who observed that there was no compliance to COVID-19 protocols in two boarding schools he visited on Sunday, stressed that it would be difficult maintaining the protocols in many secondary schools.
“Based on my personal observations, it’s risky, we are taking decisions that we don’t know the outcome. We may find out that is no vigil, but what if it turns out a serious increase in transmission of COVID-19 from schools to students, to their teachers and patrons and the other workers who bring it to town and spread it.
“Anything you need to do, prevention is better than cure to avoid any problems. I believe that there have been some politics especially by the private schools of course due to the economic situation of schools not resuming, they have been mounting pressure on the administration for schools to resume.
“If I were the one, I will like to wait a while because the schools are not running away even if it means when they are supposed to have holidays you cancel the holidays but wait a while. “A lot of people are coming back from the Christmas and New Year holidays where they went and mingled a lot. Since late December the increase in inci-dence of COVID-19 is very high and the death rates are very high.
“If we could lock down when the incidence was lower, why are we not locking down now that the incidence is very high, but some people will say we know about COVID-19 in terms of treatment and the rest of them and we are expecting vaccines so why can’t we just wait to have a more definitive way of preventing it,” he said. NARD President, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, said the Federal Government was simply throwing children into danger by reopening the schools when the second wave was infecting more people and causing more deaths.
Uyilawa said: “Basically, we are just throwing our children into danger. The basic things that we need to do like provision of face masks, sanitisers, washing of hands are not even pro-vided by them.
“Over 700 corps members got infected and now you are telling our children to go to schools, to achieve what? To get them more exposed? “It’s quite a shame and I feel sad when I imagine that I have to send my children to school to get them infected, when you have not made provisions to take care of them.
It’s a dangerous move and I hope we don’t throw our children into chaos and Nigerians will pay for it dearly.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Federal Government and the various state governments have campaigned for citizens’ compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
As the schools resume today, the emphasis is still on the use of face masks, provision of hand washing facilities, alcohol based hand sanitisers/disinfectants, temperature checks and social distancing