The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has reacted to the abrupt U-turn made by the federal government on the resumption of schools across the country, and its earlier announcement of dates for the commencement of the 2020 May/June diet of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
The regional examination body said it is within the legitimate power of governments of the five-member countries to make such decisions.
In an exclusive telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the WAEC’s Head of Nigeria’s Office (HNO), Patrick Areghan, said the examination body was still reviewing the situation and that it would make its position known soon.
Mr Areghan, who came into office in March 2020, was supposed to oversee the May/June 2020 examination, the first national examination under his watch until the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing the indefinite postponement of the examination.
The HNO said he could not speak on whether the examinations would continue in the other four countries or not until the “coast is clear.”
He said; “We cannot make any categorical statement for now. We are operating in five-member countries and we cooperate with the government. We recognise the fact that the government has the right and power to take positions, and we cannot confront the government. We work hand in hand with the government.”
He, however, pledged to update the public as soon as final decisions are taken.
Nigeria’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu, had on Wednesday announced the reversal of the government’s earlier position on schools’ resumption, saying the atmosphere is yet unsafe for teaching and learning in the country.
Mr Adamu’s position was based on the rising cases of coronavirus diseases in the country, saying children would find it difficult to observe the required protocols including social distancing, to keep themselves safe if allowed to return to schools.
The minister also said no Nigerian school will participate in the WASSCE earlier scheduled to hold between August 5 to September 5.
The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, announced during a media briefing on July 6 that the examination will now take place between August 4 and September 5.
Speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, Mr Adamu said Nigerian schools will not reopen any time soon “until it is safe to do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
He said final year students preparing for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) will not be allowed to return to school contrary to the earlier announcement.
Mr Adamu said the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) cannot determine the resumption date of schools for Nigeria.
He said he would prefer that “Nigerian students lose an academic year than to expose them to dangers.”
“Schools under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education will not reopen on August 4th or any time soon. Our schools will only open when we believe it is safe for our children and that is when the situation is right, not when the number of COVID-19 infection is going up in the nation. So, I just want to make that clear,” Mr Adamu said.
He said the government will not reopen schools now for examinations or any other reason “unless it is safe for our students because WAEC cannot determine for us what we do so schools will remain closed.”
“Yesterday, we called a meeting of stakeholders to tell us their situation and what needs to be done in order to reopen schools but while the meeting was going on, WAEC announced that they will start exams so let’s see who they are going to start with,” he said.
The minister appealed to schools that have already reopened to rescind their positions.
He also said state governments that have already announced the reopening of their schools should reconsider “because it is not safe for schools to open.”
He said, “I feel responsible for the children in Nigeria not just those in federal government-controlled schools. Please let us save our children from the pandemic.
“You can look at this scenario; just one infected child going into a class can infect everyone in the class and after classes, they go back to the hostel. Because children cannot observe social distancing as expected. If one child in the hostel is infected, the next morning everybody will be infected so this is not the right time to open schools.”
He explained that what he said was not part of resolutions at the day’s cabinet meeting “but he needed to clear the air on the matter.”
He said certain protocols have to be met and schools have to be decontaminated before they reopen.