Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, yesterday stunned lawmakers and other Nigerians in Abuja when he declared that the much-dreaded Coronavirus infection does not exist in the country.
But Nwajiuba, in what seems to be a contradiction of his claim, condemned the decision of the Oyo State government to reopen its primary and secondary schools despite the current rising cases of infection in the country and the state in particular.
The minister, who spoke when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Basic and Secondary Education, said the ministry had presented a proposal to the National Assembly on the way forward concerning schools reopening for the federal lawmakers to criticise and make their input
He said: “In science, we talk about facts. Everything we know about this disease is imported. In fact, nobody has seen this disease in Nigeria. Anybody who says he has seen it is a joker. As a nation today, we have done 112,000 tests for a country of 200 million people in a four-month period.
“Children are asymptomatic carriers. Nobody can prove whether they can infect each other. Not even the health experts. Everything we know about it is what we read. There is nothing we discovered on our own.
“In the document we have provided, we have suggested how we can move our education sector forward in this pandemic period. We don’t want to make it known at this period so that some people will not take our proposal for guidelines for schools reopening.
“This is because people publish fake guidelines every day which I always come on air to debunk. What we have now is a proposal. Even if the Senate has not called us, we would have come to you to discuss with you because we have already discussed with the House of Representatives.
“The documents were presented to you so that you can criticise and make inputs as major stakeholders,” he stressed.
Responding to a question from the representative of Oyo South, Senator Kola Balogun, who wanted to know the views of the federal government on the decision of his state government to reopen the schools, he wondered why Oyo State, which is currently battling with an increase cases of new infections, should be eager to throw open the gates of its schools when its neighbouring states were employing caution.
“Why is Oyo State talking of reopening schools when it has just started recording an increase cases of coronavirus infection? Just beside Oyo is Ogun State, which was part of the three states under the federal government’s lockdown since April, is not talking about schools reopening.
“That’s part of the country’s problem; education is on the concurrent list, so every state takes decisions that pleases it on it. Also everybody is a big man. When you call them on phone, they will not answer you.
“As we speak, Kogi and Cross River states are not on the same page with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on the issue of testing while all their neighbouring states are conducting tests,” he said.
Vice chairman of the committee, Senator Akon Eyakenyi, who presided over the meeting, expressed the fears that the academic calendar could be distorted in public schools where no visible arrangement was being made to teach the children at home unlike their private schools counterparts.
She said public school students were made to rely on educational programmes on radio and television stations whereas they tune to stations showing cartoons whenever there was no adult to guide them.
The lawmaker said children in public schools don’t have access to online classes like their counterparts in the private schools. She noted that the arrangement regarding radio and television stations was not working.
“Even when the students in the cities have access to education programmes on radio and televisions, what of those in the villages? What do we do so that we don’t shut them out?
“If government can give guidelines for the reopening of churches and mosques, stakeholders in the education sector could also hold a meeting with the government to agree on guidelines for schools reopening.
“All we need to do is to come up with measures that would ensure the safety of both the students and their teachers. We can design a plan that would make sure that not all the students resume at the same time. We could probably start with the exit classes,” she said.