Although President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has kept millions of children at home to allow for voter registration in schools, the president’s two children and those of other affluent citizens are attending school uninterrupted.
The elite school these children attend, the American International School, Abuja, is in full session. The Federal Ministry of Education had on January 6, ordered all schools to postpone their resumption date until February 4. The American International School, Abuja - which counts among its pupils and students children of prominent senators, ministers, governors, and even the president - resumed on January 10 and has remained open ever since, running a normal school programme.
A reliable source at the school, who would like to remain unnamed, confirmed to NEXT that the school, which runs an American system of education, is attended by the children of high-ranking government officials and politicians, many of whom are active members of its Parent-Teacher Association.
According to the source, who is a staff member of the school, “This is an American school but I don’t think it is enough reason for them to disobey [a] government order. I see it as an embarrassment. Maybe it is because all the teachers are foreign and they are sure that the school will not be used for voter registration.
“The school fees range from between N600,000 to N4 million, and no parent will pay that much and see their children at home during [a] normal school session for any reason. National Assembly members, ministers and even the president’s children are here. The two of the president’s children are in primary school in this school.”
Business as usual
When NEXT visited the school last Friday, students were seen playing on the school’s playground. Yesterday afternoon, parents and guardians were seen driving in to pick up their children and wards after a full day of school activities. The school’s gates, which are usually shut with to-and-fro traffic closely monitored during school hours, were wide open.
Efforts to get a response from school authorities on why the government’s directive had been ignored did not yield any results.
Amy Uzoewulu, the school’s director, in an email response to NEXT, said: “We are not authorised to communicate with the press unless we have approval from the president of the board of governors.”
When NEXT asked her to pass the message to the president of the board, she promised to do so but then replied with another email, directing us to send our enquiry to the American Embassy in Abuja, revealing a hitherto unknown formal link to the American Embassy. The school is a private institution, and it is not clear if the American government is a shareholder in the enterprise, but Ms. Uzoewulu was clear in her response.
“Please forward your inquiry to Peter Claussen, Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy Abuja,” she wrote.
At press time, Mr. Claussen had not responsed to the email enquiry NEXT sent to him.
The federal government had announced that all primary and secondary schools in the country would be closed for over three weeks between January 7, 2011 and February 4, 2011 to allow for a more efficient voter’s registration exercise in the country.
It was revealed, however, that a number of private schools have successfully pressurised the government to allow them to open on Tuesday, January 18. It does not appear that a similar concession has been made for state-run schools. Investigations by NEXT showed that public school students were still earmarking January 31 for a return to school.
Kenneth Gbagi, minister of state for education, had stated that the original directive was to all public and private schools in Nigeria, adding that the move was initiated by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“We acceded to the request of INEC,” he said. “INEC actually wrote a letter to us requesting that we shift the resumption date from 7th of January to 4th of February.”
The schools, he said, would be closed because many schools would be used as registration centres nationwide.
“We don’t want interference of our children with visitors in that critical period. You know the government and people of this country place a lot of premium on the issue of election and everything will be done to make sure we do not have excuse for Nigerians regarding that election. As a result, we have directed that all schools within the country, both private and public, remain closed. Resumption date will now be in February 2011,” he said.
Spokesperson for the ministry of education, Peter Obidiegwu, in a telephone interview, said that any school that disobeyed the resumption date directive was doing so at its own risk.
“That some are in session brings to light the fact that they have no regard for the law,” he said. “It doesn’t speak well of them as a diplomatic entity.”
Further investigations revealed that when another private school in Abuja, Regent Schools in Maitama, attempted to reopen on Monday, there was a swift directive from the ministry of education to the school to close or risk having its licence withdrawn.
However, one week after flouting the government’s order, it appears that no similar action has been taken against the American International School, Abuja.
Nigerians criticised President Goodluck Jonathan for sending his children to school (Punch)
Nigerians have criticised President Goodluck Jonathan for sending his children to school despite the Federal Government’s directive for pupils to remain at home for the duration of the ongoing voter registration.
Government had last week extended the resumption date for the second term from January 10 to February 4. It was later changed to January 30.
Though school owners and parents opposed the order, the Federal Government had refused to shift ground, insisting that a number of public schools were to be used for the registration. However, a national newspaper on Tuesday reported that a high-brow school, the American International School, Abuja, where two of Jonathan’s children are pupils, defied the government’s order.
This caused an uproar as furious parents and school owners said the President’s attitude amounted to an ‘insensitive and discriminatory’ disregard for government’s orders. They said the fact that the President’s children had continued to attend school while children of less privileged Nigerians were at home showed that Nigerian leaders were ‘above the law.’
An aggrieved school owner, Dr. Titilayo Shittu, told THE PUNCH that it was wrong for Jonathan’s children’s school to disobey government’s directive.
“If it is true that the President’s children are in that school, it means that his children must be in school because that school is the only private school that has opened its doors to all its pupils in Abuja since the government directed us to extend the resumption date to February 4. But if his children are in SS3, then they are not doing anything wrong.
“Otherwise, I will describe the action as a double standard and I will call for the urgent reversal of the order,” she said.
A source in the school, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The information you seek we cannot give because of security. We do not want a situation where our students will become targets for kidnappers.”
When contacted by one of our correspondents, the Director of the school, Amy Uzoewulu, asked that all enquiries be directed to the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy.
She said, “We are not allowed to speak to the press on any issue without authorisation from the president of the board of governors.”
A promise by a Public Affairs Specialist at the embassy, Mr. Sani Mohammed, to get back to our correspondent did not materialise as at 8pm on Tuesday. Also, officials of the Federal Ministry of Education saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the directive declined comments on the development.
Calls and text messages sent to the mobile phones of the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqquayyat Rufa’i; the Minister of State for Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi; and the Deputy Director (Press), Dr. Peter Obidiegwu, went unanswered.
However, some parents said the President was not leading by example, noting that even if his children were in SS3, it was morally wrong for him as the nation’s leader to allow his children to be in school.
A parent, Mrs. Hope Orivri said, “It is unfair for some children to be in school while other children are forced to stay at home. They should be in the forefront of what is being propagated. They are not leading by example.” Also, the Secretary, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Somolu Branch, Lagos State, Mr. Familugba Samuel, “If it is true, it is condemnable. They are the ones who give orders while others obey. This simply means that they are above the law. I see no reason why people who call themselves leaders cannot abide by the laws and orders they make.”
Another parent, Mr. David Sule, “No government official, from the presidency to the local government, should be seen disobeying the law. But it is unfortunate that is happening in our country and there is nothing can do. What they are telling us is that their children are more important and superior to other kids; it is bad.”
Another school proprietor, Mrs. Deborah Okuwoga, said it was ‘a selfish act.’
“This is wrong, they gave the directive that schools should not resume, so why are they now kicking against this directive? This is selfishness. This shows that our leaders don’t have sympathy for the masses,” she said.