The Federal Government’s plan to disinfect and decontaminate schools nationwide is a right step but it is absolutely in the wrong direction.
The Minister of Environment had, the other day, revealed the plan of government at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja. “We are initiating a programme of decontaminating and disinfecting our schools before they open. Because subsequently in the phases (partial lifting of Coronavirus lockdown), I believe we will get to that point when we start opening schools. So, we will be liaising with the Federal Ministry of Education to make sure we have the needed data to carry out the exercise,” the Minister stated.
Does the Ministry of Education have a comprehensive database of all schools in the Federation? This is doubtful. Unreliable database in the age of the big data has been part of the bane of this society. Although the Minister did not state when the exercise would start, he said his ministry had been making efforts to commence the programme, noting that the awareness programmes of government are being scaled down to the rural communities in the various councils.
We would like to state that the fumigation or decontamination of schools anywhere in the country should not be national agenda of the Federal Government but a local grassroots responsibility of the states and local government councils that know where their schools are located.
In the context of our repeated calls here for federalism, that move amounts to usurping the responsibility of states and local councils that should implement the action. Government should drop the idea, lest the people will see the project as an avenue to steal again.
Any need to disinfect and decontaminate schools as envisaged in the light of the ravaging Coronavirus, should be the responsibility of the states, indeed, the local council authorities. It falls within their portfolio to take charge of such matters affecting the grassroots population even with our current complicated federation.
That being the case, it is preposterous for the Federal Government to pretend that there is such comprehensive database of all schools across the length and breadth of the country. That would not be possible in a country that lacks database on anything. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Only the states probably have a record of all schools in their domain. The job at hand requires local action.
Around the world, City Mayors are the ones spearheading action on issues affecting their people in their localities. For instance, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gives his daily Coronavirus updates on hospitalisation. At a point, he asked if Trump wants New York City to “drop dead” over COVID-19.
Similarly, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the City Hall, have been doing a lot for Londoners in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. The other day, the Mayor called for ethnicity record of COVID-19 deaths. These are local initiatives that matter to the locals so to say.
Certainly, there are issues that are better handled at the local grassroots level while others, bigger, as the case may be, could be handled nationally by the Federal Government. The Federal Government can’t be in control of everything. The security of schools issue at hand is a federation fine point that should be respected for efficiency.
It is baffling that the Federal Government, in a way, appears to monopolise every action on the Coronavirus fight. It has been in the forefront in managing the COVID-19 outbreak, without giving vent to what the local authorities could do.
Everything, from lockdown to quarantine of people, is being controlled by the Federal Government, thereby leaving the states as mere spectators. Some states including Kogi and Cross River are not even in the picture. They claimed they could handle their affairs alone.
We need federalism to manage actions like fumigation. There ought not to be complications if federalism is allowed to flourish. The local authorities will know how best to deal with the problem instead of the one-cap-fits-all approach.
All told, we don’t need the Federal Government to fumigate the schools in the remote rural communities. This particular governance issue is local. The Federal Government should fumigate and decontaminate its own schools and leave the states and private ones to their owners. The state and local council authorities are in a better position to engage local manufacturers of the fumigant and also hire service providers to do the job. That should be part of the majesty we would like to see in a federalism that should feed this democracy.