Worried by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in some parts of the country, which left about nine Nigerians and one Liberian dead, with the increasing apprehension among parents over the safety of their children in schools, education stakeholders met in Abuja on the 26 of August, 2014, to take a stand to save the lives of millions of Nigerian students by postponing schools’ resumption date to October 13.
The meeting which was presided by the Minister of Education, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, and attended by all states’ Commissioners of Education and other stakeholders was to ensure adequate preventive measures are put in place before the reopening schools and after. The matter took a new turn, with the House of Reps mulling reversal of September, 22 date, recently announced by the Federal Government, Maryam Garba Hassan, examines the issues.
Even before the decision by the federal government for schools to remain closed for another six weeks, the possibility of that decision was speculated by Nigerians, especially as Ghana had equally taken the same step as a precautionary measure to prevent school children from getting infected.
When the news of the postponement of the initial October resumption date broke, many Nigerians applauded the decision by the government to close schools throughout the federation to ensure adequate preventive measures are put in place before students return to school as schools are believe to be the easiest way through which the virus may spread if opened before the necessary precautionary measures are put in place.
However, the commendable decision was short lived when the federal government again, reviewed the date at an emergency meeting in her usual manner of bending laws to favour few even when it is at the detriment of the majority of her citizens.
It was obvious that government bowed to pressure mounted by private schools’proprietors who felt the review was not necessary in the first place since the spread of the virus has been contained by the combined efforts of the government and medical professionals maintaining that if schools remain closed for that period they will operate at a loss.
This singular act on the part of the government has further revealed that there is problem with government regulatory powers as few individuals can easily manipulate her policies to suit them for selfish interest.
To further confirm this point even if it an assumption and as revealed by our checks and reported by an online media, the Eagle online, some private schools in some states defied government’s order to remain closed and continued summer lessons as well as preparing to resume academic activities on the initial date before the outbreak of the virus.
According to the online medium, Proprietor of a private school called Yemi Group of Schools, located in Lagos and Osun states respectively, Mr. Yemi Victor defied government order and continued with summer classes in the school and was getting ready to resume schools on the initial resumption date.
This came up even as the Minister of education said violators of this order will be sanctioned by the appropriate law through the State Ministry of Education and nothing was heard from the states government where those schools are located regarding the violation of the order as usual.
In another development, on Monday the House of Representatives directed its committee on Education to look at the issue with the view to reviewing the current date given by the federal government because of the growing concern amongst the public.
Deputy Chairman, media and Public Affairs in the House, Rep. Victor Afam Ogene, said given the reality of some persons still under surveillance and the likelihood of having other cases, there was the need to put the safety of about the 80million school children in the country and that of the entire nation into consideration in arriving at when best to order reopening of schools.
A similar warning was also given by a group called Africa health development information service as well as the Nigerian medical practitioners who called the decision by government’ un wise’.
The Lagos state government where another fresh case of the disease was recorded this week said it is yet to take a position on the new resumption date given by the federal government.
If government is serious about the safety of the 80million Nigeria’s students, it should ensure that the team constituted to monitor the activities of schools before and after resuming also extends its services to those schools in remote areas of the country by ensuring that all schools comply and implement all the preventive measures.
It is not a hidden fact that although private schools support government by giving quality education to those students whose parents can afford the high charges by the proprietors of private schools, the main concern of owners of those schools is to maximize profit but they should not take parents and the Nigerian government for a ride by not complying and endangering the lives of our school children for their selfish interest.
It will be a herculean task for the team to accomplish this task as it requires patience, hard work and dedication to go the extra mile to reach every school in all nook and crannies in the 36 states and Federal Capital of the federation, especially with the proliferation of illegal schools across the country.
It is also important to note that the time frame given to the team charged with this responsibility may not be enough to enable them accomplish the task if they are to do a thorough job.
Implementation of the preventive measures is another issue as it has always been a big challenge in our system of governance. Thousands of initiatives and policies adopted by governments at all levels, individuals and groups hardly see light of the day before they finally fizzle out even after spending huge amount of monies during their launching.
Government should ensure that those policies adopted to save the lives of those children are implemented and treated with utmost seriousness and as a matter of urgency to make Nigerian schools Ebola Virus free.
Government should closely monitor public boarding schools because this are schools where hundreds of students attend and the number of teachers in those schools cannot ensure that each student washes his or her hand before and after eating or use after using toilets.
Secondly, most of our public schools do not have active or equipped dispensaries or medical attendants to attend to sick students or to look out for early symptoms of the disease.
Although, this trend may change if government insist on the implementation of its recommendation for schools to train their academic and non- academic staff on the symptoms of the virus and how to manage it before handing the suspected patient to medical experts.
A parent Bilyaminu Hassan, whose three children attend Maitama Model Secondary School, Abuja, also expressed that fear.
He said ‘public school students are more prone to the virus than those attending private schools as such schools do not comply with the mandatory hand washing habit advocated in schools by government and NGOs to prevent the spread of infections cause by lack of good hygiene’.
‘Our children in public schools are more prone to infections as most of them are coming from poor homes and have no access to hand wash or sanitizers therefore; such hygienic habits have not been inculcated in them from home’, he said.
Mr. Livinus Okereke, a parent of a child in a private school in Mararaba, Nasarawa state, said establishment of working and monitoring team for effective supervision of school activities before and after opening of schools by states ministries of education as also recommended by the federal government may suffer a set- back in some hard reach areas, particularly with the proliferation of standard and illegal private schools in the country.
He said unless the team is committed to this important task, some schools activities may not be captured as there is rise in private schools in the state both registered and unregistered.
Parents also have a role to play by insisting and ensuring that private schools proprietors comply with the order even if it means charging them some money for the purchase of hand sanitizers and other disinfectants for the safety of their children.
For the success of the whole idea, compliance of parents to preventive measures schools may introduce in line with that of federal government is highly needed.
This if achieved and fully implemented, it will go a long way in combating the epidemic and preventing the spread of fresh cases in Nigeria.
For now, Nigerians await the immediate implementation of the preventive measures recommended and its compliance by schools managements to help achieve Ebola Virus free schools.