Despite government assurances that the danger is over, Nigerian teachers are not willing to resume academic work in primary and secondary schools across the nation because of the threat of Ebola Virus Disease
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Sep. 29, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE hope primary and secondary schools pupils returning to classrooms on September 22, is still hanging in the balance. While federal government directed schools to resume on the date, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, directed its members to tarry a while and until they were satisfied that there were enough measures and equipment to tackle Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, scourge threatening the country. Rising from its meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, September 16, Michael Olukoya, president of the union, told journalist that that the union would not allow any of its members to teach until it was scientifically and medically proven that the country was out of the Ebola scourge.
He said the union had already written the federal government about its position on the September 22 date. Arguing against the resumption date, Olukoya said: “The NUT is strongly of the opinion that it is better to delay the resumption of school till October 13, 2014, even when the scourge would have been off months ago than rush and open schools only to be faced with attacks of EVD in the schools.
“It makes more sense to be doubly sure than to operate on shaky grounds of uncertainty and probability as it will be catastrophe of unimaginable dimension if by any act of omission we rush and open schools and end up with even up with even one primary or secondary school being infected by the virus”
Besides, the NUT was especially is unhappy that it was excluded in the decision making over the issue. “In any sane society, decision such as this will not be taken until the government and all stakeholders have met and discussed the issue at stake and are sure that the nation is scientifically and medical free from the scourge.
“But this is not the case in our country. When they arrived at the early October 13 date, they wrote us and we agreed with their argument but when this new date was given, they did not because of the influence of some powerful school owners who put pressure on them (federal government) to announce the September 22 date,” Olukoya said.
The NUT is not alone in this; it has the backing of the Trade Union Congress, TUC. The Congress specifically called on the federal government, to ignore pressure allegedly from private school owners, declaring that it could not agree less with the health professionals and other concerned Nigerians who had advised that resumption date of schools be extended until further notice after losing some experienced health workers and other innocent citizens.
“Prior to the EVD outbreak there was the insecurity challenge which has so far remained unabated, even though it has claimed thousands of lives and displaced indigenes of the whole of North-east. In fact, as it stands now even if the crisis ends today billion of naira would be required to reconstruct and rehabilitate people who have lost their property and loved ones to the dreaded sect,” the TUC said in a statement by Bobboi Bala Kaigama and Musa Lawal, its president and secretary general, respectively.
In a rare plead, President Goodluck Jonathan while charting with state house correspondents appealed to teachers to return to classrooms so as not to send bad signals to the international community that the nation was still unsafe.
While announcing the new resumption date, Ibrahim Shekarau, minister of education, said after the meeting stakeholders the new date was arrived at because the threat of the virus had subsided in Nigeria. The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, in supporting the federal government on the September 22, resumption date said that schools should resume “in order not to feed into the fear monster in the country.”
Kayode Obembe, president of the NMA, said the association changed its mind on the condition that the government would, among other conditions, maintain “highest level of vigilance” in the several entry points in the country, resuscitate infectious disease hospital in states and ensure comprehensive screening of travellers.
The NMA said the International Port Health Services at Nigerian entry points should be put in the highest level of vigilance and preparedness to screen those coming into the country. “All recent travellers to all the provinces of the current endemic countries of the Ebola disease – namely Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Gabon-must be carefully scrutinized for the presence of the virus and epidemiologically treated accordingly,” the NMA statement added.
In his reaction to the NUT decision Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, said that the calls for the postponement of schools resumption were based on “irrational fear.” Chukwu told journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting in Abuja, that the “irrational fear” lacked scientific basis. “First unlike other countries, there is no community transmission of the disease in Nigeria; not one yet. But we have taken precautions, what we are doing, we may as well have said everybody should just be moving about, but we are taking precautions.
“There is no scientific basis for school resumption to be postponed. There is no community transmission of the disease in Nigeria. That is what separates Nigeria from other countries. It is what I call irrational fear; we don’t need to be irrational about this,” the minister argued.
Prior to the current controversy over the resumption date, Ibrahim Shekarau, minister of education, had given a directive that schools should be shut until October 13, when the federal government would have developed a concrete plan on how to contain the disease.
Shekarau had said: “The minister and all commissioners met today, August 26, to discuss issues related to the reopening of schools for the new academic year vis-à-vis the Ebola epidemic issue. At the end of the meeting, the following decisions were arrived at as preventive measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students in our schools throughout the federation.
“All primary and secondary schools both public and private are to remain closed until Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, which is the new resumption date for all schools throughout the federation. This is to ensure that adequate measures are put in place before the students report back to school.’’
Shekarau said the meeting also agreed that all ministries of education should immediately organise training for at least two staff in each public and private school. He said schools must ensure that the training was given by appropriate health personnel on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola.
Although that decision generated mixed reactions, many of those who initially opposed it agreed that it was in the best interest of the country when the Ebola disease started spreading across the country.
But after successfully containing the spread of the disease, the decision to reopen the school is not popular with some interest groups, especially with the teachers. Will there be a compromise on or before Monday, September 22? It hard to speculate but teachers don’t seem to have the support of parents who are tired of keeping their ideal children at home.