Concern Mounts as Nigerian Schools Resume Monday Amid Rising Covid Cases

As schools reopen across Nigeria Monday, concern continues to rise following an insistence by teachers that necessary measures have not been put in place in compliance with the Covid-19 protocols established by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Consequently, the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education and Services has called on the federal government to postpone the reopening of schools by three months due to the increasing number of deaths attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, the confirmed Covid cases rose by 1,444, bringing the tally to 110,387 with 89,317 discharged and 1, 435 dead.

Lagos continued to be the epicentre of the pandemic with 901 fresh cases, followed by Plateau, 136; Kaduna, 57; FCT, 54; Ebonyi, 53; and Akwa Ibom, 52.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has insisted that the federal government must guarantee the safety of its members before lectures can resume in universities.

This is coming as the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) has urged the federal government to apprehend all those involved in the circulation of fake Covid-19 vaccines in the country.

Clarifying the position of the lecturers on the resumption of schools, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, told THISDAY on Sunday that the lecturers are ready to resume classes.

He, however, said the federal government and the management of the institutions are yet to conduct the necessary assessment on the state of facilities in the campuses, especially on stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus in schools.

“The lecturers are ready to commence teaching but the problem is that the government has not done much to ensure that facilities for the Covid-19 protocols are in place,” he said.

He stated that the government must go back to the guidelines on Covid-19 it issued in July 2020 for schools resumption, adding that the stakeholders’ meeting necessary for the implementation of the guidelines has not been held.

Ogunyemi explained that with physical learning not being feasible in most of the universities, which have also not put in place measures to guide against the pandemic, adopting the option of virtual learning may not be a viable alternative given the poor telecommunication infrastructure in many public universities for such a venture.

He said: “ASUU and its members are not against schools’ resumption as we are ready to work. But our position has not changed that the safety of our members is something that we cannot toy with.

“The government must go back to the July 2020 guidelines and see whether they have been complied with by the universities.

“On our part, a careful perusal of the guidelines would show that the universities would need to do more to guarantee the safety of the lecturers and students.

“In other climes such as South Africa, laptops are provided for the students and here with 50 per cent of the students not having android phones, nothing is being done in this direction.”

Ogunyemi stressed the need to assess the readiness of the universities in terms of their ability to conduct virtual teaching before resumption.

He said ASUU had made efforts to obtain the outcome of the assessment but to no avail.

He also accused the federal government of reneging on the pact to pay arrears of salaries of lecturers, as agreed before the union suspended its strike.

He explained that the government has only paid two months out of the six months outstanding and some of the lecturers are being owed up to 10 months due to earlier omissions.

“This is a source of discomfort to our members but we said that we are ready to go back and teach despite all that. ASUU is not standing in the way of resumption of schools,” he said.

When asked if the university lecturers have commenced online teaching, Ogunyemi said: “Many universities are coming up with online teaching but for us to sustain the tempo there is the need to provide the necessary infrastructure. There is no way you operate online teaching without the infrastructure being there.”

In a related development, the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education and Services has called on the federal government to postpone the reopening of schools by three months due to the increasing number of deaths attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee, in a statement by its Chairman, Hon. Julius Ihonvbere, said many states and individuals have abandoned adherence to the safety measures prescribed to guard against the spread of the virus.

The committee said the decision to reopen academic institutions was ill-timed, made recommendations to the Federal Ministry of Education on safety measures to adopt if the schools must be reopened.

The statement said: “We are particularly concerned that when the infection rates hovered around 500 and under, schools were closed but now that it hovers well above 1,000 infections daily, schools are being reopened. Why are we rushing to reopen schools without adequate verifiable and sustainable arrangements to protect and secure our children?”

The committee said it fully appreciated the implications of continued school closure on the education sector and the larger economy and society.

It also acknowledged that the pandemic would remain for a while, stressing that the federal government must design ways for the people to live with it.

“Similarly, we acknowledge the argument that most young persons have not been as affected by Covid-19 and many are asymptomatic. Yet, it does not mean they have full immunity against the virus.

“We also know that they would be working and interacting with adult teachers, administrative workers and other persons that do not live within the institutions,” it added.

The committee noted that aside from Lagos and a couple of other states, governments are unable to enforce Covid-19 protocols as people no longer wear face masks or use hand sanitisers.

“Our position is that in spite of the very comprehensive protocols established by the Federal Ministry of Education, not up to 10 per cent of our educational institutions have implemented five per cent of the protocols. In most of our primary and secondary schools nationwide, adequate furniture, water and other sanitation and hygiene facilities do not exist,” it stated.

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