Home Opinion COVID-19: The dilemma and politics of school reopening in Nigeria (2), By...

COVID-19: The dilemma and politics of school reopening in Nigeria (2), By Isaac N. Obasi


In part one of this piece, we advanced the position that schools should resume for examination classes in primary 6, JS 3, and SS3, as against the position of the Federal Government that the time is not yet safe to reopen schools. We ended the piece with the question: ‘so what is really the problematic with the Federal Government in having a progressive outlook towards reopening schools for final examinations’? 

This question is against the fact that the sudden volte-face by the Federal Government, appears to be hiding the issue of lack of preparedness in providing the required safety measures against the dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19). If this line of argument is wrong, the onus rests on the Federal Government to demonstrate to the world its level of preparedness in its 104 Unity Schools across the country. But if the government is unable to do this, then it should allow state-owned and private schools that are ready (in line with the required safety protocols) to reopen schools for students to take their terminal examinations.   

We now continue in this second part to examine the political undertone of the Federal Government position, especially against the background that Commissioners of Education in the 19 Northern States issued a statement supporting the federal government position of not reopening schools (See https://sundiatapost.com/wassce-19-states-back-fgs-suspension-of-school-resumption/). The commissioners went further to request the Federal Government to grant financial support to them so that they would be in a position to provide the safety measures in their schools. But unknown to them, they demonstrated by that request (for funding support) their very high level of unpreparedness to reopen schools.

 To make matters worse, the Federal Government itself only released the Guidelines for the safe reopening of schools in just less than a week ago, and with the document containing phrases like the government will which reveals lack of preparedness now but perhaps in the future. The 52-page document (though comprehensive) was late in coming out, as this column expected it to be out late April or sometime in May. 

It is within this context that one suspects an introduction of a political dimension into this controversial policy problem that should ordinarily be viewed without sectional and geo-political lens. This political dimension has (perhaps) inadvertently influenced moves by other geo-political zones to react. For example, the six South-west states met few days ago and expressed their willingness to reopen schools to enable students in their geo-political zone to participate in the 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) (See https://punchng.com/wassce-south-west-states-ready-to-reopen-schools/). Some state governments in other geo-political zones (for example Ebonyi State) have also announced their decision to reopen schools. One hopes that a serious inter-governmental conflict does not develop on a matter that is in the Concurrent Legislative List of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).   

The sudden policy reversal by the Federal Government came after it had already announced over three weeks ago (through the Minister of State for Education, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba), six conditions that must be met before the reopening of schools. These conditions are that all educational institutions must have (a) Hand-washing facilities, (b) Body temperature checks (c) Body disinfectants at all entering points to their major facilities including the gates, hostels, classes, offices, etc. (d) The whole premises of each institution must be decontaminated and (e) All efforts must be geared toward maintenance of the highest level of hygiene (f) Ensure Social and Physical Distancing in class sizes and meeting spaces (See https://punchng.com/breaking-fg-lists-conditions-for-reopening-schools-varsities/).

It was after the announcement of the six conditions that Nwajiuba also (at the end of the month of June) further announced that the government had approved the resumption of schools for examination classes namely primary 6, JS 3 and SS 3. He equally announced the dates for the 2020 WASSCE following the release of the time table by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Furthermore, he provided details that the 2020 WASSCE would hold between August 4 and September 5. It will be recalled also that the government in its confidence and hope-building measures considered the idea of adopting the shift system (involving holding of morning and afternoon classes when schools eventually resume. The Minister of State under the platform of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 kept updating the public every week on the plans being taken to reopen schools, and he pleaded for patience from all stakeholders. 

Recall again that the same Minister of State for Education had briefed the Committee on Basic Education and Services of the House of Representatives on the Ministry’s plans towards the reopening of schools. That meeting went well and members were satisfied. All these gave the hope that the government was indeed making serious preparations to put safety measures in place to contain the spread of the virus when schools resume. In actual fact, in some countries in Europe and Asia, where schools opened for graduation classes, it was the adoption of innovative measures that kept the spread of the virus low. So why is the Federal Government of Nigeria afraid to reopen schools if it has done what it is expected to do? 

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, created the impression that the government has issues with WAEC while announcing the reversal of its earlier decision on reopening of schools. According to him, WAEC would not dictate to Nigeria when schools should resume as he alleged that dates were announced by WAEC while the government was still busy consulting its stakeholders. Yet WAEC gave over three months for such consultations before eventually releasing the time table.

 What type of politics is the government playing on this matter? If there is power relations’ problem, should that be the ultimate stoppage of the examinations for about 1.5 million young Nigerians? As our highly respected Afe Babalola rightly observed few days ago, the decision on not taking WASSCE could lead to frustration and criminality among these teaming young Nigerians? This column may ask if this is the path that Nigeria wants to follow? 

By the way, Nigeria runs a constitutional democracy and not a dictatorship or a totalitarian state. And with education in the Concurrent Legislative List, the state governments have the right to manage their educational affairs including enrolling their students for WAEC conducted examinations. This column does not believe that this freedom should be abridged for whatever reason. It is advisable that state-owned and private education institutions should therefore not to be inhibited from reopening schools for the final examinations (if adjudged by the relevant federal authorities of course) to have complied with the required safety protocols. To support this, “the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) said its members are fully prepared to reopen schools with various safety materials provided to safeguard the health of individuals within school environments, coupled with strict adherence to safety guidelines… The NAPPS president, Otunba Yomi Otubela, warned of avoiding a situation where Nigerian students would be forced to seek alternatives to writing these examinations by approaching neighbouring countries such as Ghana, among other countries, and that it would not be good for the reputation of the country” (See The Sun, 13 July 2020).

In conclusion, it is on record that the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education and Services disagreed vehemently with the government’s decision not to reopen schools for the examination classes. According to the chairman of the Committee, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, “this sudden policy reversal is not good for the country. It is bound to create further confusion in the education sector, create disappointment and suspicion among parents, frustrate the students, and show to our development partners and Nigerians that the distortions and disarticulations in the sector are only getting worse. The reversal also shows that our policy makers  may just be adopting a laid-back approach to the need to confront the novel coronavirus rather than taking proactive and creative steps to manage and contain it” . 

Prof. Isaac N. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: [email protected]      

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