Desmond Mgboh, Kano
For seven months that schools remained shut in Kano State as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, proprietors of private suffered untold hardship. They went through a number of challenges and difficulties, resulting in the suspension of their staff salaries, among a range of austerity measures.
The staff, indeed, walked pass through the gate of hell. They were hunted and ruined by poverty. Many of them, left with nothing else, resorted to petty jobs, including home teaching and trade in agriculture products, to salvage the desperate time.
But like the proverbial bird, they also all waited patiently. They all knew their day would come. Today, the envisioned day has come as the schools have reopened. The students are back to schools from the COVID–19 break.
But parents are in for a hard, harsh time, a pay back time. Parents, many of whom are out of jobs for the same COVID-19, or have not earned a kobo over the last few months, must pay their regular school fees for their children to go to school.
It is against this background that the state government ordered the operators of private schools to discount between 25 and 30 per cent from their regular fees for the term. But the directive was shoved off with cold shoulders.
Commissioner of Education, Mohammed Sanusi Kiru, told Daily Sun that the decision to slice the school fees was taken given consideration to the social-economic situation of the people. He explained that the financial condition of many parents had not been any better, all due to the challenges of the lockdown that removed many from the means of livelihood.
He said given this background, it was expected of the operators of private schools to do the needful, adding that the burden would be too much if parents had to pay school fees by November and are expected to pay another fees by January 2020, when the new academic session would come to effect.
He said government would have little or no option but to cancel the entire third term academic session if the operators of these private schools refused to reduce their school fees. He observed that Abuja and other states like Kwara and Kogi had for this same reason, cancelled their third term academic session to allow parents to recuperate a little.
He insisted that government invested a lot of money in these private schools during the lockdown, adding that they fumigated all the public and private schools as well as provided them with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face masks, hand wash, temperature thermometers and sanitizers.
He argued that having received all these interventions, government expected them to reciprocate same gesture by being considerate to parents in the fees they charge: “If you are operating a private school purely for the purpose of enriching yourself and not for impacting knowledge or supporting government’s desire to promoting qualitative education, then it is better you go back to the market and sell.
“We as a government are in charge of the academic calendar. We are in charge of registering these private schools and we are also in charge of either re-validating or cancelling your certificate.”
However, the Joint Committee of Private and Voluntary Schools Association in the state rejected the 25 per cent discount. It said in a statement that its did not accepted any form of discount, contrary to the misrepresentation by the Ministry of Education. The statement was signed by Basheer Adamau Bello, chairman, Association of Model Islamic Schools, (AMIS); Alhaji Mohammed Mallam Adamu, chairman, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools and Mrs Fatima Bello, chairperson, Independent Schools Proprietors Association.
The committee affirmed that its members did not receive any form of financial assistance from government during the seven-month lockdown of schools. It also expressed reservation over attempts to tie up the issue of the cancellation of third term academic session with the controversial 25 per cent discount of third term school fees.
The proprietors cautioned that both issues are different adding that it would be in best interest of the public if both issues were treated differently. They noted that the shut down of schools resulted into many negative academic challenges, adding that the gloomy academic horizon would only get worse with the present debacle.
While they are adamant on the issue of discount of the fees, they said they would consider the issue of the cancellation of the third term if it is in the overriding public interest. An operator of a private school, who begged not to be mentioned, reiterated that government did not deem it fit to assist them while they were extending different forms of palliatives and assistance to others:
“Some of us, if not most of us, are operating on rented apartments and are billed to pay our landlords for all these period that the schools did not operate. Please help ask the commissioner if government would help us pay for rent, as he is busy asking us to reduce our fees.
“One of us was buried on Friday at the Ammaddiyya public cemetery. From what we hear, the proprietor may have died of complications related to high blood pressure. They said when they showed him his mounting debts and liabilities, he just walked away and slumped and it was all over.
“The commissioner said we should not make profit because we are teachers. I think he is wrong again. Every other sector that is serving the society, including the politicians, is making a living out of its profession. I don’t see why the teacher should not profit from his efforts. After all, we are running a free market economy. We are selling what we have and the market is left to buy it or to reject it.”
Daily Sun gathered that the operators took their petition to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Usman Alhaji, who made an assuring statement. It was, however, gathered that the position of the SSG is slightly different from that of the Commissioner of Education.
Meanwhile, the committee discredited a statement issued by the ministry. It said the position expressed by Hajiya Maryam Magaji, National Vice President, Association of Private School Owners of Nigeria (APSON) and its vice chairman, Murtala Hussain, claiming they accepted the 25 per cent discount did not represent its stand:
“Magaji is an employee of SUBEB, a state government agency, while Hussain is Assistant Director with the Kano State Private and Voluntary Institutions Board. It is, therefore, surprising that staff of the Kano State Ministry of Education are coming out to speak on behalf of the proprietors of private schools in the state.”