BY LAJU IREN, SARAH OFONEDU & MAXMILLAN ANOSIKE
No one can say for sure what will happen after the 2015 Presidential elections next Saturday or after the gubernatorial elections the Saturday after. The prayer of many is that there will not be a repeat performance of the widespread violence that erupted after the 2011 elections. The Federal Government seems to have shown it’s faith in a peaceful post-election period by saying that schools at all levels, should remain open during that time. Although some students and parents who spoke with Saturday School Life, SSL, agreed with the move, many others are not comfortable with it.
Recall that the Federal Government made this directive earlier this week after the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and states’ Commissioners of Education, management of the National Universities Commission (NUC), National Board for Technical Educations (NABTE) and other stakeholders in the education sector held a meeting to discuss the situation.
Shekarau told journalists after the meeting: “We have had elections in the past and schools were in session…there is no reason before us that can compel us to decide otherwise. Besides, schools have lost much ground following their closure to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). We expect that parents trust the school they have enrolled their children, we do not want parents to disrupt school sessions. We pray the elections come and go peacefully. We urge parents and citizens not to work with rumours and unfounded statements that would make them insist schools should release their children,” he said.
The education minister also directed that schools that are already on mid-term break should recall their students, while those yet to embark on the break should hold off.
On schools where polling units would be stationed, especially boarding schools, the minister said the Ministry would write the state governments and state Ministries of Education to ensure the adequate provision of security.
But parents who spoke to our reporters are not at all convinced. Mr. Ishola Adeniyi who has four children across private secondary schools and universities, says that they will all be home for the election season. He said: “What will they be doing in school? Elections are unpredictable. Anything can happen. For my children in secondary school, we have already met with the school authorities and decided the children will be home during that period. Even the ones in a private university will be home till the end of February. We can’t take any chances, it is must better to err on the side of caution.
Another parent who did not want his name in print said that he would wait and see the outcome of the elections before deciding whether or not to let his young children go to school. Students of higher institutions who spoke to our reporters, had similar views.
Onyinye Precious, a 300 level student at the Lagos State University, LASU, said that she did not “like the idea at all.’ ‘We need the break to be safe,” she said, “we should not pretend like this is not Nigeria. Anything can happen at any time, and the government cannot provide us the security we need.”
Another university undergraduate, Oluchi Ngbodi said that schools being in session would make willing students an easy prey for mischievous politicians who’d want to use them to cause break down of law and order. While another student who studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, also spoke against the idea. He said: “Why would the federal government decide not to close down schools during this election period when there are series of attacks going on in some parts of the country. Also, if you should look at the security performance in the country it will even discourage me from voting. Everyone knows that a typical election period in this country is one of violence and all forms of bad activities.”
Some others are in support of the government’s decision. When there were still speculations as to whether or not students would be sent home, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Tijani Usman, told newsmen in an earlier report that he did not support the idea of closing down schools because of the forthcoming elections. His words: “There are many outstanding things to do in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
Many universities have yet to cover their programmes as a result of the industrial action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in 2013. Many schools are still running the 2013/2014 academic session in 2015 and if the authorities decide to close down these institutions, the decision will no doubt compound the woes of the students. For instance, many of the polytechnics are still running the 2013 calendar because the strike by their teachers lasted for over nine months. The same scenario obtains in the colleges of education.
Many students missed going for the National Youth Corps Service scheme last year and if the authorities hurriedly close the schools yet again, there is likelihood that many more prospective corps members will be stranded.” He also argued that such a move will disenfranchise those who has registered and obtained their voters cards on campus.
Another student, Joshua Uzoma who attends a University at the Eastern part of the country also supports the idea. He said: “For the federal not to close down schools has nothing to do with us here in the east, and moreover elections are being held on weekends, so I don’t see anything wrong if the Government decides to leave schools open. But apart from that, the security operatives have to be on top of their game to ensure peaceful elections. On the election days I will go out and vote without being discouraged because our president has assured us of security.”