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Schools on high alert as academic activities resume

By Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Ahmadu Baba Idris (Birnin Kebbi), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja), Murtala Adewale (Kano) and Adelowo Adebumiti (Lagos)
16 January 2021   |   4:26 am
As most schools, including nursery, primary, secondary and higher institutions, resume from Monday, there are fears of further and faster spread of COVID-19 virus due to non-adherence to protocols prescribed...

An empty classroom. Photo by Aurore Marechal/ABACAPRESS.COM

As most schools, including nursery, primary, secondary and higher institutions, resume from Monday, there are fears of further and faster spread of COVID-19 virus due to non-adherence to protocols prescribed by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

However, visits to some institutions indicate that most of them are prepared and ready to welcome students back to school.

A visit to the University of Jos (UNIJOS) in Plateau State portrayed the institution as clean, with grasses and flowers cut in anticipation of resumption of academic activities next week. The non-academic staff and administrators of the university were seen strictly complying with the guidelines, as they wore facemasks and observe physical distancing, with hand washing bay and sanitisers at the entrance of each administrative block.

The Deputy Registrar in charge of Information and Publications, Abdullahi Abdullahi, told The Guardian yesterday that the Senate has approved the revised academic calendar for the 2019/202 session, with students expected to resume from Friday, January 22, while lectures start from Monday, January 25.

Abdullahi advised returning students and members of the university community to strictly observe all COVID-19 safety protocols as directed by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, assuring that all non-pharmaceutical equipment against COVID-19 were ready to cover all the students whenever they resume.

Meanwhile, seats in the lecture halls have been well arranged to ensure physical distancing, but there were fears that students might not adhere strictly to regulations, especially outside the lecture halls.

“You cannot stop students from socialising and solidarising. Only God will help us all,” a worker said.

At the Imo State University (IMSU), students are also expected to resume on January 25. A statement by Secretary of the Senate, Dr. Julius Uzoma Osuagwu, said: “Students are advised strictly adhere all COVID-19 protocols. No student who does not have a facemask would be allowed into the lecture hall. Please stay safe.”

Public Relations Officer of the institution, Nze Ralph Njoku-Obi, said the authorities would ensure strict compliance by both students, lecturers and other non-academic workers, including social distancing, applying sanitizers and regular washing of hands under running water, as directed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)

When The Guardian visited, the workers had started cutting the grasses, while sunning water with tap buckets were positioned at strategic locations. But the desks in the lecture halls were yet to be arranged in observance of social distancing.

Vice Chancellor of Kebbi State University of Science and Technology, Aliero, Professor Bashir Ladan Aliero, said that the institution has set up committees to monitor observance of the protocols by students and staff.

Speaking to The Guardian via telephone, Aliero said the school management has concluded arrangements to protect lives and property of students.

“We have prepared a lot for the guidelines and want to make sure students follow them by using facemask, observing social distance, washing of hands and others,” he added.

In Kogi State, public and private schools will resume on Monday, with government urging all relevant stakeholders to observe the guidelines, even though it has consistently insisted that there are no cases of COVID-19 in the state.

At the Rock N Garden School and others visited, provision had been made for washing of hands, hand sanitisers and wearing of facemask. A staff said the situation was not different in other schools, saying they had always adhered strictly to the stipulated protocols since academic activities resumed last year after the lockdown.

The schools have also embarked on the cleaning of the immediate surroundings and disinfecting the compound ahead of resumption. Some students and pupils informed that their parents had already procured facemask, face shield, hand sanitisers for them and educated them on social distancing.

“They said there is no COVID-19 in Kogi State, but my daddy bought for us hand sanitisers, facemask, face shield. We are ready to go back to school,” a student told The Guardian.

However, the Commissioner for Education, Wemi Jones, reiterated that all public and private schools, as well as higher institutions, should resume on Monday, January 18 to continue the first term of the 2020/2021 academic session.

Jones re-emphasised the need for teachers, students and parents to take note, observe and strictly adhere to all the protocols as stated by the PTF, saying: ‘’We are very hopeful that we would not suffer any death on account of COVID-19 in our schools. Our state has remained COVID-19 free.”

Ahead of its resumption, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) has mandated strict compliance and enforcement of preventive measures and safety protocols.

At the two campuses of the institution, though devoid of high human activities, the policy of ‘no mask, no entry’ was strictly enforced by security men at all points of entrance.

Casual workers were seen clearing refuse and fumigating lecture halls and administrative block when The Guardian visited, while at the university’s health centre, hand sanitisers were strategically positioned and clinical staff wore facemasks in full compliance with the preventive protocols.

However, availability of hand washing basins, sanitisers and temperature measuring machines were conspicuously absent at other places visited, including faculties of Law, Education, Social Sciences Engineering and administrative blocks.

When contacted on the situation, Director of Public Affairs, Mallam Ahmad Shehu, explained that the management was fully prepared to enforce compliance to COVID-19 protocols on the campuses, assuring that the management was making tireless efforts to keep the students and staff safe on campus.

On the absence of hand wash facilities and sanitisers at strategic places, the director declared that procurement of automated hand wash and sanitisers, as well as thermometer for temperature measurement, had already been made, explaining that their deployment was deliberately delayed until full resumption of academic activities to forestall security threat.

Meanwhile, the institution’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has expressed fear regarding enforcement of social distancing protocols in the lecture halls and students hotels.

Its Chairman, Professor Haruna Musa Sheka, lamented that most universities have not completely fulfilled all the COVID-19 preventive measures and safety guidelines, especially the social distancing protocols, adding: “ASUU is prepared for the resumption, but our concerns still remains the readiness for COVID-19 pandemic.

“We set out three issues that should be put in place to forestall the spread of the virus, but the critical matter, that is social distancing, is yet to be attended to.

“We are aware in BUK that the management has purchased the temperature reading machines and engaged some students to ensure surveillance and compliance, but the issue of social distancing in the classrooms, lecture halls and hostel accommodation is still very much worrisome. We hope the management will act quickly before the lectures commence.”

Shehu, however, assured that management was working to fine-tune action on social distancing in lecture halls and hotel accommodation.

Some of the schools visited in Lagos State were geared up for resumption, having put in place necessary safeguards to protect the students, including hand washing stations, sanitisers, as well as sent notices to parents on guidelines for students, such as procuring facemask for their wards when coming to school.

Proprietor of Toyems Schools Ijeododo, Tunde Solanke, said since the last resumption, the school had put in place measures to protect students by following and observing COVID-19 protocols.

Solanke, who said school resumption is a step in the right direction, added that the educational system is not complicit in the spread of COVID-19, as already attested to by international bodies.

But Proprietor of De Vessels Nursery and Primary School in Ijeododo, Mrs. Nkechi Amaji, wondered why some people are canvassing schools closure, even as markets, churches and mosques still remained open.

“Churches and mosques are still open, then is it only in schools that they will control COVID-19? Schools, mostly private schools, have made preparation before now for the resumption and have put in place measures, such as social distancing, provision of sanitisers, soaps and so on.

“During the lockdown, no group suffered like the private schools; we lost many of our colleagues that were proprietors. We also lost most of our teachers, as some of them ventured into other business.

“Government promised palliatives, but we didn’t see it till now; the aids they promised private schools did not materialise as well. So, if they say that schools should go on lockdown, more people will die.”

Amaji said schools are not entertaining any fear about resumption, saying many of them are equal to the challenge and have put in place necessary safeguards.

The proprietor disclosed that students have been mandated to come with their facemasks and there would be no group assembly, noting: “We maintained social distancing and if we have information, we go class-by-class to pass it.

“Meanwhile, there was no recess, the students stay and eat in their class. We have spacious classrooms that can take about 25 students comfortably,” she said.