Nigeria: Prolonged Covid-19 Related Lockdowns Divert Pupils and Students from Schools, Creates Scare of Illiterate Generation

Following the discovery that just too many children were dropping out of school during the lockdown, Nigeria’s Lagos State has been forced to reopen schools amidst the Covid-19 second wave. Babajide Sanwo-Olu the Governor of Lagos State reveals that about 2 per cent of previously registered students had not reported back to public schools, while an unknown number in private schools may have also stayed away.


The Nigerian government declared a lockdown in Lagos and Abuja in March last year, which resulted in school closure. While the lockdown was lifted after several weeks, the schools in Lagos remained closed until October 2020.


Covid-19 response in Southern Nigeria boosting surveillance against pandemic (C) WHO Regional Office for Africa


Two months into the first term that started in October, a Covid-19 second wave forced the Lagos State Government to order another school closure on December 18, 2020. But the State reopened schools again on Monday, January 18, 2021, despite the spike in infection rates in Lagos, which is the epicentre of Covid-19 in Nigeria.


At the time of filing this report, Nigeria’s 36 states had officially recorded a total of 113, 305 cases. Of the registered cases 91,200 were discharged, while 1,464 died. At 41, 951 positive cases, Lagos State took the lion’s share of Nigeria's infection load.


Governor Sanwo-Olu lamented that the commencement of school activities on Monday “was a difficult decision to make in light of the second wave of Covid-19, but I assure you it was the best decision for our children’s safety and long-term development.”


“Last year after the first lockdown and kids have to come back to school (sic), we are still looking for about 24,000 of them that have not come back to school. So, there is a challenge if you keep them out for that long because their parents or guardians will now turn them to other things instead of ensuring that they have time to come back for learning even if it is twice or thrice a week,” he says.


Governor Sanwo-Olu says that with the students in school the government can at least follow up to find out what was happening.


“At least they have been registered since the beginning of a session and they can be monitored. If not, they will just be roaming the streets and become endangered.”


The Governor adds that they have seen incidents of child abuse and all unprintable things that are being done to these children when they are away from school.


He says: “So, we believe to a large extent that schools sometimes happen to be the safe haven for them. We have done the roster in which we ensure they keep social distance, and we are monitoring.”


The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor, Mr. Gboye Akosile told Timescape Magazine in a telephone chat that the figure quoted by Mr. Sanwo-Olu was for both primary and secondary schools.


He added that if not for the deadly virus and the needed action of the authorities to curtail its spread that necessitated prolonged school closure, Lagos should not have lost 2 per cent of the 997,290 students that were going to public school as of March 2020.


Two parents who spoke to Timescape Magazine have divergent views on reasons the students could not make it back to schools.


Oluremi Akeem faulted government’s decision to force students back to classrooms when everyone knows about the rising number of people testing positive for Covid-19.


Mrs. Akeem queries: “why rush these children back to schools at this period. I won't blame parents who still keep their children at home. It is when you are alive that you think of education and some other endeavours of life.”


“I think we should sympathize with the Governor on this revelation. The number of out of schools children due to the lockdown is on the high side,” says another parent, Charles Odigbo.


Mr. Odigbo says the trend of children dropping out should be curbed so that it does not affect the standard of education and fuel illiteracy among the younger population in the country. He feared the multiplier effects of children dropping out of schools in this modern age.


“Sanwo-Olu's revelation is just a tip of the iceberg of what is happening in most states of the nation. We are having 36 states and Abuja, the federal capital territory. If we do our findings right, we may be having hundreds of thousands of affected students who have dumped schools for other things due to the prolonged lockdown,” Odigbo says.


Babajide Sanwo Olu, Governor of Lagos State (C) Premium Times Nigeria


In the meantime, the rising cases of Covid-19 amid low capacity of testing has worried the Lagos State Governor into passing an order, so that anyone with malaria-like symptoms be treated as a Covid-19 patient and tested first.


Since the test is free, he has also asked those Lagos residents with Covid-19-like symptoms take advantage of the government’s offer and test early.


“Anyone with symptoms should proceed to any of the State's public health facilities or laboratories to get tested for free. Seeking help early and quickly significantly improves the chances of survival for severe to critical cases,” he says.


The Governor notes that it is important that Lagos State residents learn to live and act responsibly, so as to flatten the curve.


The increase in Covid-19 cases in the second wave has, according to the Governor necessitated a great amount of oxygen for the moderate to severe cases.


“Over the last few weeks, the demand for oxygen has risen from 70 six-litre cylinders per day to 350 six-litre cylinders in our Yaba Mainland Hospital. This is projected to more than double to 750 six-cylinders, before the end of January 2021,” the Governor says.