The announcement on September 5 by the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, that private and public primary and secondary schools will reopen on September 22 and not October 13 as earlier pronounced by the Federal Government came to many as a huge shock. This is not only because the government, known for its numerous policy summersaults, was reversing itself again, but because the situation that warranted the initial shift in the resumption date of schools was yet to abate. The government was and is still yet to fully contain the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.
As at September 9, the statistics provided by the Lagos State Government on the EVD showed that the country still has a long way to go before it can proclaim the country free from the fast spreading and quick killing virus. The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, said out of the 366 persons quarantined in the state, only 19 have been cleared of being free of the EVD. Meaning that the status of 345 persons was yet to be verified. And by implication, this means that if anyone of them tests positive, the contacts of the victim must then be traced and quarantined again.
It was based on this revelation that Idris said the state was yet to take a decision on the position of the Federal Government that schools should resume on September 22. Idris said: “On the resumption date of schools, we in Lagos have not taken a position yet. The state government would soon come out whether schools would resume on the date fixed by the Federal Government or not.”
Beyond the failure to fully curb the spread of the EVD, the government has also not shown in concrete terms measures it has put in place to safeguard pupils, students and teachers as they return to school. Shekarau, in announcing the decision of the Federal Government to reverse itself on the resumption date, had said measures put in place to curb the spread of Ebola were still intact. The minister added that any Ministry of Education in the 36 states that has not appointed desk officers on Ebola should do that before the resumption. He added that the ministries should ensure that at least two staff in each school – both public and private – are trained by appropriate health workers on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola. He added that they should embark on immediate sensitization of teaching and non-teaching staff in schools on preventive measures. Shekarau ordered that the training must be concluded before schools resume.
However, till date, even at the country’s international airports, the only form of test for Ebola is temperature taking. There is no evidence that the order for the training of two staff in each school had been complied with by even the Federal Government itself, leaving that of the states in serious doubt.
Which is why The Eagle Online supports the position of the Nigeria Medical Association that the decision of the Federal Government to reopen schools is an unwise one, which could have been influenced by ulterior motives. Shortly after the announcement by Shekarau, owners of private schools were fingered for putting pressure on the government to reopen the schools.
In the opinion of the NMA, which The Eagle Online strongly supports, the schools should remain closed until the last case of the EVD had been disposed with. According to the NMA, which position was stated by its National Publicity Secretary, Olawunmi Layaki: “We are not happy with this decision on the resumption of schools. Schools should be shut till the last suspected case or patient is certified free of the virus. We can shift the resumption date till next year or in the next three months if that is the time it will take.
“Parents have no reason to be in a hurry because if Ebola should enter any school, it will assume another dimension. Children cannot survive isolation like adults. Nigeria is peculiar because of her large population and we should be pragmatic and proactive. It will not augur well for the country if we have another outbreak due to carelessness.”
This is the position that The Eagle Online supports. Schools should remain closed until the last case of the EVD is successfully concluded. An outbreak in just one school, especially in big cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory, Enugu in Enugu State and Kano in Kano State, will spell doom for the country. The Federal Government should follow the path of reason. With over 2,300 deaths around West Africa, the impact can only be imagined in Nigeria with a population of about 180 million if the EVD assumes an epidemic dimension.