The Federal Government last week announced that schools in the country were free to open today. The announcement came few days after the government toyed with the idea of extending the resumption date, which was announced in December by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha.
The Federal Ministry of Education, headed by Malam Adamu Adamu, said that after consultations with stakeholders in the sector, the government had decided that schools reopen on January 18. That was in spite of pressures by some groups, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), against reopening of schools over the increasing cases of the second wave of the pandemic.
That was also against Adamu’s earlier position that the January 18 resumption date was not sacrosanct. He spoke at a briefing by the PTF. But the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, in a statement on Thursday said: “We have had extensive discussions with state governors, proprietors of schools, labour /staff unions and students’ representatives. And the consensus is that we should reopen all schools. “But the reopening of schools will be in compliance with COVID- 19 protocols, especially strict adherence to non-pharmaceutical procedures.”
The government had earlier in December said that it was currently reviewing the January 18 resumption date for schools across the country due to the spike in COVID-19 cases. At a briefing of the PTF on COVID-19 in Abuja on January 11, Adamu said: “…On the January 18, 2021 date for school’s resumption, we are reviewing it,” he said.
At the same briefing, the Director- General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, had warned that a significant rise in COVID-19 infections appeared imminent by January 2021 due to continued violations of safety protocols, especially during the Christmas period.
We recall that the PTF had late last year placed a travel ban on 100 Nigerians, who allegedly violated the safety protocols while arriving the country. The PTF said that the persons involved would not be allowed to travel out of the country until June 30, 2021.
The PTF said in a tweet that: “The PTF has placed travel restrictions on the first 100 passengers for non-compliance to the mandatory Day 7 post-arrival COVID-19 test.” We are not privy to the discussions between the Ministry and the stakeholders that led to the decision to reopen schools on January 18. But we are worried by the decision.
That is not because we are not aware that all other sectors are open but because we know that the government could have delayed the reopening of schools by few weeks to monitor the attack of the second wave. We say so because we are aware that the second wave of the Coronavirus appears more devastating or spreading more than even the first wave. The daily figures coming out from the NCDC attest to that.
Today, Nigeria is few figures short from 2,000 positive cases a day. What we can deduce from the decision is that pressure from schools, especially private school owners, who suffered tremendous losses in the lockdown of the first wave could have swayed the government into the resumption of schools.
That is added to the poor financial state of the government, where it would be difficult to pay those affected by the continued closure or possible lockdown of the system again. It is trite to state that the second wave of the virus is stronger than the first wave.
Thus, we expected the government to exercise a bit of caution before reopening schools. But now that the government has bowed to pressure, we expect schools to take the non-pharmaceutical protocols in their environment very seriously. What the reopening of schools means is that the destiny of every child is now in the hands of the schools, who would be their custodians for the greater part of the day.
There is no doubt that there is a difference between schools’ opening and keeping to the protocols. We also believe that now, the government has made a decision for Nigerians to live with the virus. What is not in doubt is that there will be casualties of the decision.
How far schools can go in protecting the children will go a long way in protecting the society. That is because we know that the effect of the Coronavirus on children could be minimal. It is not same for parents and aged people, who may contract the disease from children returning from school. It is also clear that adults could protect themselves better than children.
Thus, we believe very strongly that the fate of the country lies very much on schools’ ability to enforce safety protocols in them. Already, the country is reeling under the weight of the cases.
We only hope that the reopening of schools would not aggravate an already bad situation. That is left for the schools while the government battles with the ravaging monster.
We call on the government to put in place functional monitoring teams to ensure compliance with the safety protocols. The schools must place priority on safety of the children.
Those found in breach of the COVID-19 guidelines should be sanctioned. Nigeria can’t afford a major surge of COVID-19 cases. All stakeholders must ensure the protection of the children.