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Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Udora Orizu in Abuja and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan
As learning institutions reopen today, concerns continue 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.
Yesterday, the virus’ confirmed 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.
However, as a precaution to stem the infection rate of the virus, the Edo State government has said that the suspension of schools’ resumption is applicable to all educational institutions in the state.
In addition, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has insisted that the federal government must guarantee the safety of its members before lectures could 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 today, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, told THISDAY yesterday 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 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.
According to him, members of the union are ready to work, but their safety is important and must be guaranteed, given the fact that some prominent lecturers recently died after contracting COVID-19.
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 COVID-19 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 health safety of our members are 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.”
House Committee Proposes Three-month Suspension of School Resumption
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.
Lagos Schools to Run Second Term for 61 Days
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has clarified that second term of 2020/2021 academic session is meant to last for 61 days for public and private schools.
According to the revised calendar for 2020/2021 academic session released by the Office of the Education Quality Assurance (OEQA), the second term is slated to run from January 18 to April 30.
The mid-term break has been scheduled for March 4 and 5.
There will also be two public holidays – Good Friday on April 2 and Easter Monday on April 5.
Resumption for the third term has been scheduled for May 4, while the term is to terminate August 6.
Schools have been directed to strictly follow the time table.
In another development, the Edo State government has said that the suspension of schools’ resumption is applicable to all educational institutions in the state.
The government noted that the directive will be reviewed on February 1 when the outcome of efforts to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state will be evaluated.
Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Osarodion Ogie, said in a statement that the state government is taking drastic measures to limit the spread of the virus and protect lives and livelihoods in the state.
Arrest Peddlers of Fake COVID-19 Vaccines, NMA Tells FG
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.
NMA said the government should not waste time in arresting and prosecuting the peddlers of the fake vaccines regiment for the crime.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had last Friday said it had reports of the importation of fake COVID-19 vaccines into Nigeria.
Addressing a virtual press conference, the Director-General of the agency, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, pleaded with Nigerians to avoid the fake vaccines, saying: “They can cause COVID-like illnesses or other serious diseases that could kill.”
Reacting to the alert by NAFDAC, the NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, told THISDAY yesterday that it expects the government to move swiftly and arrest the peddlers of the vaccines.
“You know we are a group trained to save lives and not to kill people. So, if there is a fake drug out there, there is no way we can support it. We heard that it is not true but if NAFDAC said it has a report about it, it should ensure that it does not circulate and anyone found to be involved should be arrested and prosecuted,” he said.