Ebola: Jonathan’s re-election rallies continue while government orders schools to stay closed

Federal education authorities have ordered all schools to stay closed in response to President Goodluck Jonathan’s directive on gatherings over Ebola fears, but the president appears set to violate his own rule yet again by expanding his re-election rallies amidst outrage following two previous campaigns in Awka and Ibadan.

The Federal Ministry of Education on Tuesday directed that all public and private primary and secondary schools should remain closed till October 13, about a month extension of normal school resumption date.

“All primary and secondary schools both public and private are to remain closed until Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, which is the new resumption date for all schools throughout the federation,” the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau, announced after a meeting in Abuja, with Commissioners for Education from all the 36 states.

“This is to ensure that adequate measures are put in place before the students report back to school,” Mr. Shekarau said. Mr. Shekarau said the meeting also agreed that all Ministries of Education should immediately organise health training for at least two staff in each public and private school.

The schools must ensure the trainings are provided by appropriate health personnel on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, he said. The trainings must be concluded not later than September 15.

The minister also directed all the state ministries to establish a Working and Monitoring Team and also appoint a designated Desk Officer on Ebola. The officers must report on daily basis to the commissioners on situation in the schools not later than Sept. 1. In further measures to curb a deadly virus that has killed five in Nigeria since July, Mr. Shekarau also ordered the immediate suspension of ongoing summer classes conducted by some private schools.

Mr. Shekarau also advised all tertiary institutions to suspend exchange of staff and students’ programmes, visits, and major international seminars and workshops until further notice.

“They are to monitor movements of foreign students in their campuses and liaise with appropriate government health institutions to organise and ensure effective sensitisation programme for all their staff,” he said. But while the directive holds, the Transformation Ambassador of Nigeria [TAN], a group campaigning for the re-election of President Jonathan in the 2015 election, has announced four more political rallies for the president.

The rallies are scheduled to hold from Saturday, August 30, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for the South-South region; while another will hold in Minna, Niger State September 13, for the North-Central Region; and in Gombe three days later for the North East.

The final rally will hold in Kano, September 27, for the North West. By September 27, TAN would have completed its final regional rally at least two weeks before schools reopen for learning. There were no indications as of Wednesday that the organizers of the rallies, which draw tens of thousands of Nigerians together amid an outbreak transmitted through body contact, intend to shelve further gatherings after earlier ones sparked outrage.

The government too has not indicated it plans to halt the campaigns. Lagos lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, accused the government of lacking the moral and legal grounds to stage the events. “It is hoped that the organisers of the rallies will stop them on legal and moral grounds,” Mr. Falana said after the first two rallies.

TAN kicked off its series of zonal rallies in Awka, the Anambra state capital, on August 16, just a week after Mr. Jonathan said such gatherings be suspended across the country.

The Awka meeting, covering the South East, held just two days after news broke that a nurse under observation for the Ebola virus had fled Lagos to Enugu, about 78 kilometres from Awka. A week later, on August 23, the South-West version of the TAN rally was staged at the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, about 136 kilometres from Lagos, where health officials battled to trace primary and secondary contacts of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American, who brought the Ebola Virus to Nigeria. While the government allowed TAN to continue its rallies, it made attempt to stop the Nigerian Bar Association [NBA] from proceeding with its annual general conference scheduled to begin on August 24 in Owerri, the Imo state capital.

President Jonathan wouldn’t halt the rallies despite personally warning against such large gatherings as part of measures for checking the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria. “Religious and political groups, spiritual healing centres, families, associations and other bodies should, in the meantime, discourage gatherings and activities that may unwittingly promote close contact with infected persons or place others at risk,”

Mr. Jonathan said on August 8 while declaring the control and containment of the Ebola virus in Nigeria a national emergency. The president’s directive came on the heels of a similar one by the Lagos State Government, which has been working hard to stop the deadly virus from spreading in the country.

The state Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris, had while briefing journalists on August 6 advised churches, mosques and other religious organisations to suspend all activities that involve large gatherings of people until the Ebola outbreak is brought under control.

The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, also said at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Meeting on Wednesday, August 20, that the Osun Osogbo festival as well as other major events in the country should be put on hold to curtail the spread of the virus.

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