It is a thing of joy that our children are going back to school. We all know the risks involved but then, everything about life is a risk. Besides, those children we’re worried about are the managers of their parents’ shops and offices these days. You must have noticed that for some months now, our markets are filled with young sellers. I was shocked yesterday when I learnt that the girl handling her father’s provision store is in JSS 2. And she was doing that job perfectly well. All I’m trying to say is that the reopening of schools for students in exit classes is a good move by the government. Believe me, there’s no longer any need to keep those schools closed down.
Even though these children have been allowed to return to school, the government will not leave them unprotected. Ogun State government, for instance, insisted that every student returning to the boarding house must carry out COVID-19 and malaria tests. This is a very good initiative because it will ensure that students that test positive will not endanger the lives of others. With this, we are sure that students in Ogun State will be well protected from COVID.
However, the way in which the government is going about the test is becoming a thing that raises eyebrows. On Sunday 2 August, 2020, parents of private school students protested against the way the government is enforcing the conduct of this test. According to the aggrieved parents, they were asked by the state government to pay the sum of twenty-five thousand naira for the test. These parents questioned the reason for this payment since it was generally believed that testing for COVID-19 is free. Apart from that, they discovered that some students will pay for this test while others won’t. Well, the demand for this fee has raised a lot of unanswered questions.
Premium Times contacted the Special Assistant to the governor of Ogun State on Public Communication, Remmy Hassan, and he confirmed that students that attend private schools are to pay for their own tests. Hassan said that COVID-19 test costs “about” fifty thousand naira per person and so those in private schools should pay 50% of the cost. He, however, said that the test is free for students in public schools.
Regarding why there is a difference in the cost of the test between students from public and private schools, Hassan first said that private schools could not provide the state government with the total number of their students and so they have to pay the subsidised amount for the COVID test. Later, Hassan said, “private schools should pay half of the cost since they are profit makers.”
The decision that private schools’ students should pay for COVID-19 tests is disturbing and unfair. The SA made it look like these students should pay for the test since their parents felt they are rich enough to send them to private schools. If not, what does he mean by saying that private schools are profit makers whereas students were asked to pay when they went to the venue for the test? Is it the school or the students that are making profits? Why won’t the government task the schools directly instead of doing so through the parents?
Apart from that, since when did COVID-19 testing in Nigeria stop being free? I know that NCDC has several debunked news that people pay for the test. They claimed those news were fake and misleading. So how come Ogun State is saying that NCDC charges fifty thousand naira for test reagents, which the agency will supply? If the Ogun State government is lying, how come NCDC has not come out to refute the claims? What is actually happening in Nigeria? Has COVID-19 been turned into a money-spinning machine?
Now let’s look at the discrimination the state government is exhibiting here. What is the difference between students in public schools and their counterparts in private schools? Does it mean that the former are Nigerians while the latter are aliens? If the state government can pay fifty thousand naira (assuming that is true) for the innumerable students in public schools, how come it can’t pay for the very few in private schools? I don’t know if I am the only one that is confused here.
Like the Igbos will say, the mother hen that kept shouting when her chick was stolen by a hawk is not asking the hawk to release her chick (because she knows it will definitely not do so) but because she wants the world to know what just happened to her. Likewise, Ogun State government may insist and do what it wanted, and NCDC may keep mum about charging fifty thousand naira per test, but let it be known that their move is going to become unbearable to many parents, who are still resuscitating from the near-death economic experience caused by COVID. Apart from that, if nothing is done about this, other states in the federation may emulate this inhuman treatment and go for their unjustifiable pound of flesh.