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Nigerian Schools Resumption Still Hanging

There are strong indications that the 18 January resumption date announced by the Nigerian government, at the onset of second wave of coronavirus in the country, may be changed in view of the soaring tallies of infection and discordant tunes oozing out from the nation’s tertiary institutions’ interested parties and stakeholders.

The determinant factors in reopening remains is a pendulum swinging between The Presidential Taskforce on Covid – 19, (PTF), the Ministry of Education, as well as the various interest groups within the universities, including, of course, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

The PTF National Coordinator, Dr. Sani Aliyu, speaking during a television program last night hinted that the January date remains the same until the Federal Ministry of Education determines otherwise. He said: “what the minister said yesterday (Monday) was that they were going to review, he didn’t say that they were going to change the date”.

The education minister, during a joint briefing with the PTF, said resumption date was “subject to review”. Spokesman for the minister of education, Ben Goong, explained that the Mallam Adamu was quoted out of context. His own interpretation of the minister’s position: “the minister said the 18th of January date for all schools is subject to review by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19….If today or tomorrow, the taskforce says ‘from what we have seen on the field, everybody should stay at home’, then the date can be reviewed at any time”.

In deed, the PTF advice had always counted and determined the government’s decisions on all coronavirus-related issues, hence the need for clarification of “subject to review” by a personality of the PTF Coordinator” status.

His confirmation became necessary in view of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu’s remarks, which had insinuated that the earlier date would be reviewed because of the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country.

Indeed, there has been a spike in infections after the Christmas and new year festivities. For nine consecutive days, Nigeria’s daily statistics of coronavirus cases steadily stayed above 1,000, with 1,270 confirmed Tuesday, January 12, by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Cumulatively, the country ranks second in Africa, behind South Africa, with over 102,000 tally.

Should campuses be thrown open

Should campuses be thrown open to students when virtually every states had reported cases of infections? And that is the crux of the argument of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in their standoff against school reopening in this tempestuous moment. It is also the focus of discussions by all the vested interests in the resumption debacle.

The list of the interest groups milling around the school reopening and consequences of the covid-19 spike keeps enlarging as the closure of schools persists. It now includes The National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, (NAPPS), Concerned Parents and Educators’ Network and a host of others.

NANS president, Sunday Asefon, in a clear demonstration of the students’ resolve to get back to class after eight months break, directed his members to inaugurate Covid-19 Task Team Force at their respective chapters to ensure the enforcement of coronavirus safety guidelines, as outlined by the PTF, and ensure the safe reopening of schools. NANS also told federal government and their lecturers to ensure that academic activities resumes from January 18.

The student body also canvassed very sound arguments to support their call for school reopening, in a statement: “Rather than postpone schools’ resumption, it has become imperative to address the alarming spread of covid – 19 and rising cases of deaths from a position of environmental strategy and human coordination since the lockdown mechanism can no longer be a mitigating option in he face of our economic reality’.

It is apparent the government is not contemplating the lockdown option, due to its dire consequences on the nation’s economy. Perhaps the students proposition of “only actions that can get more Nigerians into coordinated and regulated systems, like schools and offices, where hours of wearing face masks and complying with covid-19 safety protocols can be guaranteed to curb the spread”, seems a much better option.

Some campuses appear poised for resumption; and they have indicated it, such as Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, which has slated January 25, subject to further directives by the federal or Kaduna state governments.

The National Universities Commission (NUC0 had also directed tertiary institutions to reopen for academic activities on January 18, as tentatively announced by the PTF.

Not that lecturers are unwilling to start work. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had merely cautioned the government against a hasty reopening, especially now that spikes are reported across the country. The union renewed its call on the government to provide safety facilities in conformity with the PTF guidelines, to forestall the spread of the virus on campuses.

President of ASUU, ‘Biodun Ogunyemi, on Channels television Sunrise program, merely minced words when he said the campuses were not set for resumption, expressing fears about the death of many university personnel due to coronavirus complications.

The Calabar chapter of ASUU was appears the most blunt and eloquently in unveiling the main thrust of the resumption controversy. The branch dismissed the government as unfaithful with call to reopening, saying it has woefully failed to provide requisite environment for resumption in January 18.

Now, just where does the resumption pendulum swing.

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