O ye Northwestern governors, before you shut down those schools!

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By Abdullah Abdulganiy

A special report contained in the Muslim News dated 19th of March, 2020 explained how the fast spreading, deadly coronavirus continues to send shivers down spines of people and governments across the society. With the rate of its spread all over the world, the World Health Organization has since declared it a pandemic.

In the light of the emergence of the virus and its resultant casualties in human, economy and other social variables, governments and establishments continue to take tough precautionary measures and decisive actions. Some have shut their borders; others have banned public gathering; yet some others have closed down offices and schools. ‘Work from home,’ the people were instructed.
Nigeria is not to be left out in the trend.

After recording about 8 cases as at the time of writing this opinion story, governments across board have remained unsettled. For instance, the FG has suspended the National Sports Festival 2020; halted an ongoing Nysc orientation course; restricted flights from high-risk states; warned its officials against travels; and of course advised the public against unnecessary gathering.

State governments too are not sleeping on it (as my people would say). The Lagos State government has met with stakeholders in the religious circle to propose a ban on certain religious activities. In fact, schools on the streets of Lagos would be shut down starting from Monday, 23rd of March, 2020. Laudable!
In the same vein, Niger, Kwara and Northwestern governors met yesterday, 18th of March, 2020 to discuss issues bordering on security and the novel covid-19. Resolutions were, of course, reached. One of them is that schools would be shut down starting from Monday, 23rd of March, 2020. This decision, in view of the rapid spread of the diseases in the world, is laudable. If you ask me however, it is putting the cart before the horse.

In the press release issued by these governors, though sensitization programmes exist therein, it’s obvious that primacy is accorded to shutting down the schools before sensitization programmes with the arrangement pattern. An Economist would say the first item on the list is the dearest in the scale of preference to the individual.

I am not in any way saying that schools should not be shut down. But some things must be gotten right and put in place first. Truth is that the pandemic in Nigeria has not been recorded at all in the Northern part of the country. This means that there is still time (even if a week or three days) to conduct a state wide sensitization campaign on coronavirus.

Ask an average Sokoto inhabitant what coronavirus is, he does not know. These are people living in the heart of the city, not to talk of people dwelling in the rural area. An average man on the streets of Katsina does not know what coronavirus is; let alone the precautionary measures to be taken. I am talking from experience. I have conducted some haphazard studies, and I know the result I got. 

Therefore, the governments of the Northern states before shutting down the schools should think of how to make the school a medium of educating, sensitizing the students on covid-19 (what it is; how it spreads and the preventive strategies).
Officials of the Ministry of Health in collaboration with that of Education should conduct a routine visitation to schools across the state, educate the pupils, break it down to them in their local language, come with instructional materials and indeed demonstrate how to wash their hands for them for three days or a week before closing down the schools.

These children will surely take the message to their parents. Afterwards, massive sensitization campaigns on traditional and modern media could now start. The need for door-to-door campaign cannot also be ruled out. This is the way to go.

What is the essence of shutting down the schools when the students do not know what it is closed down for in the first place and are not equipped with necessary knowledge about covid-19? This sensitization campaign should be taken very seriously because, I am sorry to say this, MOST of our brothers here in the North have nonchalant attitudes in relation to health and personal hygiene.

They cough, sneeze and yawn without covering their mouths; improperly emit saliva from their mouth and do a host of other things that are not hygienic. I am in a good position to say this because I stay in the North, and when the consequence arises, it may have to consume us all. Let alone, the governor of my state, Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq is also a signatory to the initiative.

Abdullah is a researcher and sociologist. He writes from Sokoto State, Nigeria. Email: olamilekanhalarho@gmail.com.

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