COVID-19 pandemic had barely inflicted or contracted by less than 20 victims when all schools in Nigeria were closed down towards the end of March, 2020. Everyone took to his/her heels. The economy of the whole world, particularly Nigeria, was locked down.
Governments across the world imposed a compulsory lockdown and asked everybody to stay indoors. Students in secondary and primary schools who were preparing to write their second term examinations were forced to abandon that and took refuge in their various homes. The examinations, which would have been an assessment of the performance of the students in that particular term were never written even after parents/guardians had paid for all the necessary fees for the term. Nobody blamed the schools for their inability to write the examinations, it was clearly beyond their control.
Third term, according to Nigeria’s academic calendar, which ought to have started in May, 2020, couldn’t take place because the pandemic lockdown spanned several months and actually still very much around with us.
The lockdown and forced stay-at-home have been lifted by various countries of the world so that people could engage in economic activities to feed themselves. In Nigeria, when the pandemic had less than 20 victims, the economy was locked down. Ironically, the economy and the subsequent lockdown have been lifted now that the pandemic is still recording hundreds of victims according to daily statistics reeled out by the Nigerian Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC). One begins to wonder the logic in such action, and regrets that pupils and students in primary and secondary schools couldn’t write their second term examination let alone the third term. The very week they wanted to begin the examination was the week the total lockdown was enforced by the Federal Government. If man is as omniscient as God, these children should have gone ahead and finished their second term examinations. By Nigerians academic calendar, third term is usually from May to July. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic consumed that term to no fault of anyone.
However, it’s quite curious and appalling that since the lockdown has been lifted, private school owners, particularly in Imo State have become tyrannical, wicked and exploitative. Majority of them have been insisting on exploiting parents / guardians in order to recoup their lost investments for the forgotten third term.
These private school owners have been insisting on parents / guardians paying the school fees of the long forgotten third term even when the students/pupils were all at their various homes. Some of them have devised a most disingenuous means of using the month of October only for the abandoned third term in order to ensure the parents pay for the schools fees.
For them, first term which normally spans three months (September-December) would now be divided for two terms. It means that first term in Imo State would be between November and December instead of the normal three months. Some schools are demanding for 100 per cent school fees while few others are insisting on 80 per cent or 70 per cent payment. For instance, the school where this writer’s children are schooling is demanding for 70 per cent just for one month teaching. A quite negligible others, which owners have human conscience, started the normal first term, and are not collecting any third term school fees.
The government of Imo State led by Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma, needs to intervene on this serious matter. The way or manner these private schools owners are behaving is implying as if there’s no government in the state, and that they can run their schools whichever way they deem fit. It shouldn’t be so.
In Abia State, for instance, the state government issued a serious warning at the begging of this academic session that under no condition should private schools collect more than 30 per cent of their normal school fees for the forgotten third term. What Abia government did was trying to strike a balance between the school owners and parents/guardians. The Abia government didn’t want the school owners to lose out completely and also ensured that parents / guardians are not unduly and brazenly exploited. Therefore, it means that, for instance, a school that collects, ₦10,000 as school fees should collect ₦3,000 as school fees for the forgotten third term while the normal fees subsist for the new term. So, what parents should pay to the school will be ₦13,000 in total instead of ₦20,000.
In Abuja, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has warned that no kobo should be paid for the abandoned third term. In Lagos, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi states, etcetera, it is the same governments’ directive. Why then should that of Imo State be different?
The COVID-19 pandemic affected everybody, both in the public and private sectors. Every business man/woman suffered losses. School owners should see the forgotten third term school fees as their own loss, after all in business you can never make profit at all times. In the alternative, the Imo State government should apply the Abia State formula of 30 per cent school fees payment just for the sake of private school teachers who have not been paid their monthly salaries for months.
The state government should also consider a tax rebate or exemption for these private school owners for a period of one or two years for those that comply strictly with 30 per cent directive. In the same Abia State, the government availed the citizens of Abia a lot of telephone numbers to inform the government in the event of any private school which breaches or violates the directive? Imo State government should take a cue from Abia State and rein in these tyrannical and exploitative private school owners in the state. Things about Imo State shouldn’t be always different for the wrong reasons.
• Maduako writes from Owerri