The Nigerian Union of Teachers has threatened to go on strike if the Federal Government fails to put in place measures to protect its members and pupils from contracting the deadly Ebola Virus Disease before the resumption of schools.
But the Federal Government says there is no going back on the date since there is no scientific basis for schools to remain shut beyond the September 22 resumption date announced by the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau.
The NUT National President, Michael Alogba, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, stated 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.
The Federal Government initially fixed October 13 as schools’ resumption date but it later announced the new date , saying that the country was almost Ebola-free.
But the new date drew criticism from doctors, activists and civil society groups who alleged that the government was stampeded into announcing it by some powerful school proprietors.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives directed its Committee on Education to take another look at the September 22 resumption date in view of the fact that the EVD had yet to be contained in the country.
Before Alogba spoke, the committee Chairman, Aminu Usman, told The PUNCH in Lagos on Tuesday that the committee would meet with the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association and the Federal Ministry of Education over the September 22 date.
During the interview with The PUNCH, Alogba said the NUT had already written the Federal Government about its position on the September 22 date.
He warned that if the new date was not extended by Monday, the NUT national executive council would meet on Tuesday in Abuja to take a drastic action.
The NUT chairman said, “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.
“Anyway, we have written to tell them that if the Federal Government does not shift the date and provide all necessary safety measures in schools before Monday next week, all NUT leaders will meet in Abuja by 9am on Tuesday to decide our fate by ourselves. “Though I don’t want to preempt the outcome of the meeting but as teachers who have families and who should protect our future, I mean our students, we will shun the classes; we will call for strike.
“What kind of government is this, don’t they know that children can never be as hygienic as adults? Don’t they know that the immunity level of children is not as high as that of adults? Why do you want to open schools when you have not cleared out the virus; when you still have about 400 people under surveillance in Port Harcourt and Lagos?
“You are aware of what is happening at the Obafemi Awolowo University. How are we sure that there is no primary or secondary school pupil that has had contact with an Ebola patient.
“It’s good that the NMA (Nigerian Medical Association) has spoken and we have told them too that we would not cooperate with them. That is why we are going to take a drastic action on Tuesday to protect ourselves and our children.
“I can tell you that we will shun schools; we won’t cooperate with them. In other words, we will embark on strike.”
Also, the Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children said there was no need for the government to rush into the reopening of schools.
Its Executive Director, Princess Olufemi-Kayode, therefore urged the government to discard the latest resumption date.
She said, “How many children will be able to do proper hygiene in schools? It is like creating a nuclear weapon in our nation. Who are the schools opening for?
“The government is not being factual with us because there are new cases. For me, my child is not going back to school.”
The Education Rights Campaign and Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit also faulted the directive by the government.
The President of the ERC , Hassan Soweto, who accused the government of attempting to risk the lives of pupils, alleged that the goal of the directive was to justify political rallies and gatherings by supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said, “ EVD is a great crisis but it is not one that should affect the pupils alone. If the Ministry of Education has decided to fix a day for resumption, it must therefore mean that all the mechanisms needed to ensure the safety of pupils are in place in schools.
“Facilities approved by the World Health Organisation for the prevention of EVD have to be provided accross the nation, whether it is private or public.
The President of the MSSN , Lagos State Area Unit, Kamil Kalejaiye, warned that it was dangerous to expose pupils to risk.
He described the decision to reopen the schools as “hasty “, saying no visible measures has been put in place to curtail the disease.
Kalejaiye said, “If the pupils resume on september 22, what are the measures that the government has put in place to ensure that EVD will be curtailed. Presently, the government is not telling us the measures. They are only bothering us with the resumption of the pupils. Things must be put on the ground and the risk of allowing the pupils back to school must be assessed.”
The Lagos State Chairman, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Mr. Yomi Otubela, however denied that the Ministry of Education was lobbied to change the resumption date to September 22.
Otubela said there had yet to be a scientific basis for schools to remain shut till next month.
FG defends resumption date, warns against irrational fear
In Abuja, the Federal Government through the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that the calls for the postponement of schools resumption were caused by “irrational fear.”
Chukwu told journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, that the “irrational fear ” lacked scientific basis.
He said, “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.”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Education has said its meeting with the NMA and the Federal Ministry of Education on September 15 would address the appropriateness of a review of the September 22 resumption date.
Its chairman stated that the concerns raised by the NMA over the new resumption date would not be brushed aside.
Usman, who was on a visit to the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos alongside members of the committee, said since the NMA had kicked against the new resumption date, it would be wise for the House to meet with key stakeholders.
He said, “The NMA has advised government not to allow students to resume on 22nd of this month. The NMA is made up of professionals and there are certain things they could have seen which may be unclear to us.
“We have invited the officials of both the NMA and the Federal Ministry of Education for a meeting on Monday for us to look into the issues of Ebola once again. We are going to look into the demands of the NMA and come up with a decision in the best interest of the country.”