There has been serious clamour for schools to resume in Nigeria. The schools have been on compulsory lockdown since March and at present there is no possible date of resumption and the reasons are obvious to all Nigerians. The most hit people in the school system are not teachers of government schools. Teachers in government schools have no cause for alarm. Their salaries are coming regularly as others. They have security of pay. So, if pandemic likes let it remain till three years’ time, public school teachers have their pay without stress.
But the people feeling the heat in the school system are students of primary, secondary schools and higher institutions. Also, proprietors of private primary and secondary schools are seriously in big trouble. Yes, they are in big trouble. The reason is simple. Their means of livelihood is tied to the school fees they collect from the children. And from March till now, they have been on lockdown and there is practically no hope at the moment for the resumption of classes. No, they cannot resume classes now.
The coronavirus cases are rising. They have never abated. Nobody expected it to be like this. Three full months of April, May June are gone without hope of coronavirus pandemic reducing, rather it is escalating and growing in leaps and bounds. There are fears everywhere. Hopes are getting dwindling. Dreams are getting shattered and the vision of many is getting blurred already. Where do we go from here?
Many owners of private schools are passing through pains in quiet with nobody looking at their faces. No, government is not ready to look at their faces. Many have argued that churches are holding services, markets are holding, and other social gatherings are going on, so why locking down schools? Although the argument may be genuine considering the fact that markets are thicker than schools, it must be noted that the amount of carefulness in churches and markets cannot be compared to the life of students in primary, secondary schools and universities.
One fact why it may be hard to open higher institutions is that students of higher institutions are majorly from different states of the country. Some are from Lagos, Rivers, Delta, Abuja, Edo, Kano, Jigawa and others. Some of these states are high risk states where there are heavy presence of coronavirus cases. Imagine Lagos with about 10,000 cases. Students from Lagos coming to mix with students from Edo, Delta, Enugu, Abia, Kano, Abuja at the University of Abuja, University of Lagos, University of Port Harcourt or University of Benin. It will be catastrophic.
This is the biggest challenge why the federal government is very slow to grant resumption of schools. The issue of social distancing, use of sanitisers and others will never be effective in the institutions of higher learning. Most classes are heavily packed with students, sitting very tight in their seats. Social distancing can never be maintained in the higher institutions, no not possible. And the virus will spread effortlessly. The management of the institutions cannot will not be able to contain the spread.
This is coupled with the pessimism with which many Nigerians are taking the virus, it will be a bigger trouble for the system. Many people, including students, do not believe in the existence of the virus, despite the massive media campaign by the government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the ministries of health. So, granting resumption to higher institutions will be a big risk to the federal government. While we agree that it is painful and regrettable, it is better to lose a session than spreading coronavirus on Nigerian campuses. The spread will be massive and uncontrollable.
For secondary schools where private school owners and teachers are the biggest hit, it is painful that the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) may not be able to conduct the examination this year. It is becoming very unlikely that the examination will hold. States that were recording low cases, like Delta, Rivers, have moved up the ladder. Imagine Delta now recording 800 cases, it is not a funny situation at all. No parent will be at peace to send their children to school in such a situation. There will be fear of the virus hitting the schools.
Although owners of private schools have held several training sessions for their members on how to handle situations when schools resume, the situation is still very dicey. The possibility of all the private owners adhering to the COVID-19 protocols is still very much in doubt, especially the smaller schools. This is the dilemma of school owners in Nigeria. Many of the proprietors are groaning because that has been the source of their livelihood over the years and nobody had anticipated a situation like this bedeviling the world.
Many of the school owners are now living on borrowing with no anticipated date of payment. Some, whose spouses are working in order sectors, either in the civil service, are now the sole providers for their homes. It is a serious situation but the most painful aspect is that many Nigerians have remained unwilling to accept the fact that the virus is real. Governments all over the country have made spirited efforts to change their orientation of Nigerians, the people have zeroed their hearts and chosen what to believe and what not to believe. This is the reality and the burden of the Nigerian government.