Nwajiuba said the announcement made by Boss Mustapha, secretary of the government of the federation and chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, is not true and that it would be a while for the conditions to be proper to reopen schools. He said government had not decided when to open schools.
In other words, Mustapha may just have been trying to reassure children on Children’s Day that there is hope but that hope depends on the guarantee of their safety as coronavirus infections in Nigeria hit 8, 733 cases on Wednesday with 5,978 active cases and 254 deaths. When schools were closed on March 19, there were only 12 cases. But as of May 27, it has ballooned to 8, 733 cases. The index case was recorded February 27.
Given the numbers and the nature of public schools in Nigeria, it appears extremely risky to reopen schools, especially public schools.
“The material that the Chairman of the PTF spoke about, which is an announcement purportedly from him that we are reopening all schools on the 8th, did not emanate from us. It is not true,” Nwajiuba said.
“Until we are sure that these children can go to school, return safely, and not bring home with them this COVID material, and infect people who are more susceptible to the disease than they are, then we are running a huge risk; and God forbid that in our hurry, something happens to our children. I’m not sure how anybody will be able to retrieve what would have been lost. So we are not taking that risk yet. We are going to prepare as much as possible, within the guidance that they offer us, working in conjunction with the World Health Organization before we reopen schools.
“We are not talking about coping with COVID – there’s a difference. We’ve come to understand that COVID may not necessarily go away so we expect that we will adapt such that in the presence of COVID, we can still do what we need to do.” Such adaptation will not come easy, given the logistics involved. The Minister did not gloss over that.
“For a country that has over 115,000 primary schools, you will understand that 35,000 of these who are private must agree to set up the same standard in order to allow children to go in. If you go to our Nigerian Universities, many of the things we need for social distancing may not be available so you may need to rethink it. For instance, which courses should be in school at which periods? We can have semesters within semesters for different departments and faculties. It is the same we are planning for secondary school reopening. We want to bring in our JSS3 and SSS3 children first; they conclude their exams and vacate the place, then others can return. We will do the same thing with primary schools, where we will now limit the number of children per class.
“What this may mean is that we may have classes in the mornings and classes in the afternoons so whichever is convenient for you. I am not sure if there will be classes at night, but we can do with mornings and afternoons at the moment.”
He sees a scenario where “some people will be in the field learning, some would be in classes. Some will be at different facilities all within the school.”
How will this work in the Niger Delta with 10 months rainfall cycle? Will government provide tents? The fields are usually waterlogged; will government provide drainages? Tough logistics for government to manage the guided re-opening. It appears only the well-heeled private schools can afford the facilities needed but many may not have the space.
It will be safer for Nigeria to learn from the developed countries. In U.S and Britain, they are planning towards reopening schools in September, if the curve of rising numbers is put in check. In Nigeria, the pandemic is at waxing stage; so opening schools too soon may turn out a catastrophe with the rising numbers.