Following the postponement of the general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, which had triggered anxiety among parents and schools, some stakeholders are of the view that the country’s leaders should be efficient and considerate in their planning to avoid compromising the future of the children. Funmi Ogundare reports
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, the general elections in the country has always been characterised by one flaw or the other leading to its postponement by the electoral umpire. There is always the fear of violence, which has made Nigerians, including parents with children to travel from their place of abode to another location.
On February 16, 2019, when the presidential and national assembly election was to hold, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the dead of the night when most Nigerians were asleep, announced the postponement of the general elections earlier scheduled for that day and March 2, to February 23 and March 9, 2019.
Already, most public and private schools were shut a week before the proposed day of election and students were sent home compulsorily, with the attendant cost to the parents in travelling expenses. The postponement has affected schools’ academic calendar as the Lagos State Ministry of Education for instance, imposed a compulsory half term dates that all public and private schools in the state should go on a three-day break starting from February 13 to resume on February18.
Perhaps thinking of the cost this might be to parents and schools, the Deputy Governor. Dr. Idiat Adebule had issued another directive following the postponement of the election dates by INEC, where she informed all stakeholders and the public about the review of the 2018/19 academic calendar.
She stated that all schools are expected to close on Friday February 22 and resume on Monday 25, adding that the second leg of the break will be on March 8, 2019 and schools are expected to resume on Monday Match 11, 2019.
According to her, “all public and private schools, school leaders and associations are implored to take note and adhere strictly to the new school calendar.”
The measure Adebule affirmed is to ensure that the academic and future of the students are not compromised by the alteration of the election time-table.
Although some stakeholders commended the Lagos State government for being proactive in its decisions, they expressed concern that schools had to shut down because of the election.
According to a parent, Mr. Babatunde Ajao, “this is one of the reasons why I like Lagos State government, they are always proactive in decisions, the policy makers in Ogun State are still politicking or sleeping.”
Another parent, Mr. Segun Adeleye said: “One cannot rely absolutely on this government. Their children are probably abroad. The situation on Monday will determine if children should be put on the roads for schools. As at 10pm of February 15 when people were going to bed they never knew there would be cancellation of polls.”
Mrs. Onene Obari-Osoko said the directive by the state government would only work where all the students reside in Lagos and environs.
“Aren’t they aware that most if not all the private schools have students from across the country? The students should just observe all the holidays now and resume after the elections to complete school activities for the rest of the term.”
Mrs. Tosin Ogunsakin said, “Imagine picking my kids from boarding school and returning them again without any consideration if the parents work or not. This is not fair at all.”
The Head of School at a sixth form college in Lagos, Mrs. Anne Bessong, who expressed hope that other states will put in place a similar directive as done by the Lagos State government said: “It is bad enough that schools had to shut down for the election, postponing it again is going to come at an extra cost for both schools and parents.”
She opined that programmes like inter-house sports and school trips are either going to be rescheduled or cancelled, adding that students in boarding houses away from home are also going to bear the brunt travelling back and forth as they need to stay with their families during the elections for security reasons.
“In preparing for examinations, this will bring about unwanted distractions,” Bessong said.
She said teachers will have less time to cover the set scheme and syllabuses, adding, “so, longer hours after school is likely to be the lot of those teaching older students in final year classes; primary six, year nine, year 11 and SS three.s
“Most private schools may take the initiative of cancelling their mid-term break if they have not already had it, but public schools may not be able to; so that means even lesser time to meet up with the calendar for the term and subsequently, it may spill over to the next term.”
The Administrator of The Foreshore School, Ikoyi, Miss Oyindamola Egbeyemi expressed concern about the two half term breaks schools have to comply with, when typically there should be one break in a term.
“This disrupted schedules during the second term which is usually the shortest school term for the academic year. At least two days of learning were lost and school heads and administrators had to rework their plans to ensure that this did not affect the children’s education.
“While educators would try to understand that changes were due to uncontrollable circumstances, they would not deny that this is quite a disruptive time.”
Egbeyemi said children are learning indirectly from the country’s leadership and are also a product of their environment; they should be able to imbibe good values from the leaders.
“We must remember that children are impressionable and become a product of their environment. If they live in an environment where the leadership is perceived to be inefficient, ineffective and inconsiderate in their planning, they would think that this is the normal. They may inevitably imbibe such values (or lack thereof) in their own way of doing things and this is not a good trait that the future leaders of our country should start to learn,” she stressed.
A lawyer, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa appealed to all Nigerians to be patient and give room for a proper election at the times rescheduled for it by INEC, adding that “no sacrifice should be too great for us as a people in order to get the country to the destination of our dreams, whilst we await the immediate action of the National Assembly on the issue.”
For students in tertiary institutions, whose academic calendar had already been altered by their lecturers’ prolonged strike, postponement of the elections will probably worsen their situation.
A former Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Michael Faborode said usually, universities are conscious of the security implications of having students on campus during elections, based on previous experience, hence most often steps are taken to keep students away.
“But then some provisions are made for those who registered on campus (usually very few) to have the opportunity of voting, so as not to be totally disenfranchised. I am sure we shall be able to manage this situation better as our democracy matures and violence and wrong use of youth power during elections are minimized.
“For now, some politicians exploit some weakness in our youth, especially students, either as organised students unions or individuals, to recruit, entice them with money and encourage them to serve as thugs, or what some called in modern parlance as special or security assistants. Gone were the days when youth wings of parties were properly organised, guided and properly mentored to be observant successors being properly groomed.”
He said the country needs political reforms that would restore orderly development of ethical political conduct, adding that as progressive youth wing members, diligent mentees and budding politicians, there is nothing wrong fundamentally with youths and students engaging in politics.
The don described the scenario during the current election period leading to the postponement of the elections as a bit different, saying that the strike by ASUU that lingered for a long time had just been called off and many institutions had not formally recalled their students.
“Even those who did were only trying to minimise the losses that would affect their calendar, which was already distorted. They were conscious of the reality that many students, if not most, prefer to be at home where they registered during elections. Only very few registered on campus. So really the impact of the postponement was not significantly different on students and institutions much more than the general populace. Don’t forget that schools at the other levels, secondary and primary had been forced to proceed on some contrived break, which would only be marginally extended because of the postponement,” Faborode said.