School resumption in Nigeria brings worries about the spread of COVID-19

Parents express concerns that sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices in the schools their children attend are not up to the challenge presented by the pandemic
Olajide Adelana
Community secondary school in Nigeria

In preparing for the resumption of classes in Nigeria, the government directed schools to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools. These include arrangement of seats two meters apart in order to maintain physical distancing; provision of a steady supply of water, soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer for personal hand hygiene; use of infrared thermometers for temperature checks; and compulsory wearing of facemasks while on school premises. Information, education and communication (ICE) materials are to be positioned strategically to remind the school community of the safety measures.

Despite assurances of safety from the Nigerian government, parents have expressed worry over the state of sanitation and hygiene in schools. Some have shared their concerns with WSSCC.

Parents worried about the level of compliance with school resumption protocols

 “Many parents were looking forward to the resumption of academic examinations because of the assurances from government officials that physical distancing and other measures such as soap and water would be put in place,” said Mrs. Bilkisu Adamu, a parent whose child is writing his examination in a school in Kubwa.

“For me, I believe that since children are less vulnerable to COVID-19, they can be allowed to resume. However, I am scared because of the poor level of enforcement and compliance with the resumption protocols. There are schools where teachers and some students care less about some of these safety measures,” she said.

Mrs. Sarah Ajayi’s son attends Goodness Royal College, a private school in Offa, Kwara.

“The school proprietor has assured parents that our children are safe,” said Mrs Ajayi. “The only thing we can do is continue praying.”

Mrs Medinat Ajao, a trader, is rethinking the safety of school resumption. She said that if coronavirus is real and compliance with safety protocols in school is not enforced, then resumption is not safe. 

“Here in the market, we are always cautious, but sometimes we are not conscious of our environment, forgetting that we are not supposed to shake hands or hug others unnecessarily. Will this be monitored in schools too?” she asked.

“I have been telling my children to be careful. You don’t know who is who.”

A visit to Model Primary School in Kubwa revealed substantial compliance with the protocols. A teacher at the gate ensured that students washed their hands with soap and water and used hand sanitizer before gaining entry to the school. Students without masks were not allowed into the school or to sit for exams.

Meanwhile, visits to a number of other schools in Kwararevealed that some are indeed struggling to comply with the COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines stipulated by the authorities. At the Community Secondary School in the Lamodi area, people were allowed to move freely onto school premises without handwashing or observing any of the other stipulated protocols. Many of the students and their teachers were not wearing face masks. There was only one functioning handwashing station available for the entire school.

At Ansarudeen Secondary School in Ijagbo, students were seen without face masks. There was no provision of water for handwashing or infrared thermometer. Teachers were also reported not to wear facemasks or to adhere to other safety measures, including physical distancing.

COVID-19 and the need for WASH in Nigerian Schools

While school closures had been expected to provide ample opportunity for authorities to address Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) challenges in the schools, this has not been the case, with the majority of schools yet to mainstream WASH in their activities.

Even prior to the pandemic, Nigeria’s WASH statistics were alarming, requiring government’s urgent intervention.

“According to 2018 WASH-NORM statistics, only 29% of Nigerians have access to improved sanitation, 61% have access to improved water, 9% of markets and motor parks have basic water and sanitation services, and 6% of health facilities have basic water and sanitation services,” said Ms Elizabeth Jeiyol, WSSCC National Coordinator for Nigeria.

“It is appalling that 47 million people still practice open defecation (OD) while only 11% of the population has access to complete basic water, sanitation and hygiene services,” she said.

The schools are not left out. According to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Information Management System (WASHIMS), which has data on 22 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, 8,277 schools have WASH facilities, 3,508 schools have only latrines, 1,602 schools have WASH facilities only, and a whopping 12,278 schools are without WASH facilities.

While the conditions described by these statistics are inadequate at the best of times, there is cause for concern over what could happen at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is, at least, the view of Dr Hephzibah Oladebeye, Rector, Federal Polytechnic Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. Speaking at the 2020 Engineering Week conference in August, he cautioned that the geometric spread of COVID-19 infection is gradually assuming a disturbing proportion. He said that unhindered access to water and other necessary precautionary facilities is needed to save citizens from hardship.

 “As the coronavirus spreads all over the world, it is increasingly clear that people with the least access to essential services like water will feel the traumatic effect,” said Dr Oladebye.

The need to scale up delivery of sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health to the world’s most vulnerable people is the motivating force behind the transformation of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF), where ensuring that nobody is left behind is the primary focus.