Dangerous lurch – The Nation

  • Reopening schools in Oyo could tip into avoidable catastrophe

What exactly does Governor Seyi Makinde want to prove with his newfound activism, on willy-nilly reopening of Oyo primary and secondary schools?

Perhaps to underscore, for the umpteenth time, his crass trivialisation of a global health emergency; and his suspect decision-making, when the chips are down?

Even then, exposing Oyo State children and youths to the full dangers of the raging COVID-19 — that is what opening of schools now would amount to — would be charting an ultra-dangerous channel, which could easily tip into avoidable catastrophe.

That is why the Oyo State government must heed good counsel and roll back the school-reopening plan.

Yet, Governor Makinde’s past behaviours, especially on the COVID-19 pandemic, gives little hope. At the pandemic’s incipient stages, Makinde not only gathered a partisan crowd at a rally, he also declared COVID-19 a partisan fib, only present in the ranks of partisan opposition.

The earliest cases of COVID-19 Oyo infection dawned from that unfortunate rally, though the government lived in denial for a little while longer.

No less condemnable was the initial shambolic preparations for COVID-19 management and care, until ferocious public opinion forced the Oyo State government to set up the Olodo COVID-19 facility.

In-between, there were  the reported cases of a COVID-19-infested company, where many workers were tested, and found to have cropped the virus.

That itself could have been the result of the state’s stubborn refusal to shut down, even when neighbouring states did. It only opted for a curfew, of debatable impact.

As at June 25, Oyo had 1, 188 tested cases (842 active; 337 discharged; nine fatalities) according to NCDC/COVID-19 Task Force daily stats. It is the country’s fourth highest ravaged state, after Lagos, FCT and Kano.

Still, it is only fair to mention that the Oyo State government has tried to subject its school-reopening plans to public opinion.

“By the new arrangement, teachers are to resume to the schools on Monday June 29,” Taiwo Adisa, Governor Makinde’s chief press secretary, disclosed in a press release, “while students in critical classes including  Primary 6, JSS3 and SS3 will resume a week later on July 6, 2020.”

The statement also disclosed other steps taken to make schools reopening safe for pupils, teachers and allied school staff: the Oyo COVID-19  Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) had reportedly trained 372 school heads on COVID-19 containment protocols; directed each school to appoint an Incident Manager to ensure compliance; made compulsory the wearing of face masks by pupils and teachers; and programmed well laid out hand-washing spots for the school communities.

Indeed, so cocksure appears the state, in its school COVID-19 preventive measures, that the Adisa release is setting a target of July 15 to ascertain if the rest of the classes would join the terminal ones, or await the new school session, billed to kick off in September.

Perhaps, it’s reassuring that the state government is so concerned about the wellbeing of its schooling population, their teachers and auxiliary staff to have rolled out all of these measures.

Still, the key question is: why the rush, particularly when none of the terminal-examination conducting bodies, primary or secondary, appears ready to apply any examination?

Why then this newfound activism to reopen schools, which even the federal health and education authorities have found alarming enough to brand insensitive and dangerous? It could well be the fundament of another poorly thought-out decision-making; and ultimately bad judgment that could expose Oyo State school children and youth to avoidable danger.

Which is why the parents and guardians must take responsibility for the health and safety of their own. As Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, Minister of State for Education, has suggested, if the Oyo State government must stick to its school-reopening plans, then it behoves parents and guardians to withhold their children and wards, as a way of taking ultimate responsibility for their children, in the wake of a suspect government decision.

But it need not come to that. Oyo State government should listen to the voice of reason and freeze its school reopening plans.

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