I chose to start this article with some lessons picked in an encounter with the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Her Excellency Claudia Turbay Quintero who also doubles as the Colombian Ambassador to Ghana. She said something that was striking when myself, Elikem Kotoko and Daniels Hollie met her to present a position paper on how best we thought the Electoral Commission (EC) could have acted on the register that was set aside by the Supreme Court of Ghana. We sought the opportunity to meet her long before the judgement of the courts were delivered, but as late as it was, it gave us the opportunity to recount how some of the decisions following the ruling especially by the government and the Electoral Commission, are contributing to the infections of innocent Ghanaians by the novel coronavirus.
In our encounter, the Diplomat made key statements which are worthy of note. In her statements, she opined that there is always a better way in the eye of the public when a government makes a decision. She states that leadership at top levels is just like a building with many floors. According to her, the next person on the upper floor at all instances, sees clearer than the one on the floor under him or her. She particularly states that an opposition to government’s decisions, is always done from the point that there is the belief that everything government does, it could be done in another way.
These two statements are indeed, indisputable. They reflect the essence of opposition to government actions and inactions. However, it is always important to read between the lines when you have a government whose actions are too glaring.
This article would deal mainly with the COVID-19 situation in Ghana and how school children have been risked and placed in harm’s way where there appears to be no turning back. The rising figures which so far, at the time of putting this piece together, has crossed the 25,000 mark, depicts a situation of community spread which we have failed to contain from the beginning.
The law has spoken, and as law abiding citizens, there is the need to immediately follow the dictates of the law. Having regarded the supremacy of the law, it does not set aside the value of reasonableness which informed positions for the need to reduce the number of people to appear at registration centers ahead of the December 2020 elections. Unfortunately, you have people asking if the December 2020 elections should be canceled if registrations between June and August should not be carried out.
The weakness in such arguments remain that those asking for the registration to have been limited to a limited registration exercise, are aware that the EC at a point, upheld the credibility of the register they have since set aside. They have also drawn attention to the risks COVID-19 poses to the masses. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) protocols include the fact that the coronavirus finds a fertile ground to spread when people are in close proximity. This stands a reasoning along the line that engaging in a mass registration, has a greater propensity to record more COVID-19 cases as compared to a limited registration. In any case, December remain some five (5) months away. If we were to be cautious to uphold the old register, and proceed to focus attention mainly in containing the virus, December would come with minimal risk if we could win over the spread, making elections easy to carry out. In effect, the situation of registration between June and August, and conducting elections in December, have nothing in coming if we had focused attention on fighting the virus.
There are examples of other countries which have placed greater priority on the fight against the coronavirus. We can mention without effort, Mauritius which, as far back May 2020, has made strides in defeating the virus, (https://www.google.com/…/virus-free-mauritius-says-covid-1…/). Unfortunately in our case in Ghana, it appears the government was concerned over two issues at the same time without placing the most deadly as its top priority. The two issues that battled government’s attention were elections and coronavirus. The ruling government losing the upcoming elections, would not end the lives of the Ghanaian people if it so happen. On the other hand, the government losing the fight against COVID-19, has the potential of wiping out the Ghanaian population including those ruling, thereby, leaving us with no country to govern.
Two statements stands out for scrutiny. Even though one of the statements has been establish as having been plagiarized by Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo moments after they were made, Ghanaians need to place a lot of emphasis on interpreting government’s actions in relation to the claims the president made especially that these statements have gained space (one on the profile photo on the President’s Facebook Page to the effect that he is mindful of the next generation and not the next election https://web.facebook.com/…/a.10150633519…/10157032838614836… ) and (the other on billboards situated across the capital city of Accra and elsewhere, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/…/We-ve-what-it-takes-to-bring-…).
To deal with the first statement, “I am mindful of the next generation and not the next election”. This statement was made in or about 2016 the very year President Akufo-Addo was leading the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to wrestle power from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC). This statement was applauded and presents a certain genuine statement that was forward-looking and presents a leader who was seeking power to build for the next generation.
Faced with the reality in 2020 to prove his commitment to his words some four (4) years on, it appears the reverse of the said statement is the case. Government’s calculated efforts presents it and the President as suddenly placing the next elections over the next generation. Today, we have a generation of Senior High students who stands a risk of being wiped away by coronavirus. Instead of being mindful of their future, a future they cannot participate in if they are dead, we are using them to satisfy the future political desires of the ruling government.
We cannot say we expect schools to remain closed forever. Indeed, schools cannot close forever. But, a momentary closure to ensure our school children are safe to return to school finally, is needed under the circumstance. Nigeria has set some example by withdrawing from this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), (https://www.myjoyonline.com/…/nigerian-students-wont-write-…). It must be stated that this move is not without criticism from the Nigerian public. A read from the internet would inform readers of the scale of disagreement and criticisms that the government’s announcement by the Nigeria Minister for Education Mr. Adamu Adamu has received. The narrative would change if the situation we face in Ghana begins to show in Nigeria should schools reopen.
Kenya has, based on their assessment of the devastating threats of the virus, cancelled all academic activities until 2021, (https://www.google.com/…/www…/news/amp/world-africa-53325741). Education Minister George Magoha said students would repeat a year as schools had closed in mid-March, three months after the school calendar had begun, the BBC has reported. This is an example that seeks to protect young lives and for that matter, a whole generation for the future that is being built for them.
I revert to the second statement by the president in one of his national addresses to the people of Ghana while announcing measures put in place to fight the novel coronavirus. He re-emphasized the statement that we know how to bring back the economy to life but that what we do not know is how to bring back the dead to life. This statement was applauded and once again, exudes a certain genuine interest to the lives of the ordinary Ghanaian in the midst of the threat coronavirus poses to the population.
Soon after that statement, announcement upon announcement by the government were subjected to how it supports his stated claim. For instance, when it came out that schools are to be opened, the point was raised that this poses a risk. It stands a greater risk of getting school children infected. In an attempt to allay the fears of Ghanaians, the President announced certain measures that he believed would ensure the safety of these school children. Key among these announcements, are the provision of 3 nose masks to each school child, provision of hand washing buckets, sanitizers, soap among others. Unfortunately, some schools remain without these protective equipment weeks after they were opened.
Delays in the provision of these protective gears means risking the lives of these young children. Today, some schools have begun recording COVID-19 positive cases. The Accra Girls Senior High School in the capital city of Accra, has recoded 55 coronavirus cases as of 13th July 2020, (https://www.graphic.com.gh/…/accra-girls-records-55-covid-1…). Similarly, other infections have been reported from Ola Girls in Ho, Bishop Herman in Kpando all in the Volta Region, Odorgonno Senior High School in Accra, Wesley Senior High School in Konongo in the Ashanti Region, Mpraeso Senior High School in the Eastern Region, and many other schools across the country.
Government, prior to the reopening of schools, through the President, announced that schools would run in such a way that boarding schools would make provision to accommodate day students in those schools. But, the reality today is that you still see school children board public transport every day to and from school. You meet school children to and from school, observing little or none of the safety protocols. This presents a clear case that the pictures we see from schools, is not the same as we see of these same students outside of their school premises. Like the Nigerian Minster for Education Adamu Adamu stated during his brief where he announced the withdrawal from this year’s WASCE, people have two separate behaviours towards the virus. According to him, people behave differently when a camera is watching them and behave differently when the camera is not watching them. For him, because of the impact of what people do when the camera is not watching them, they wound rather take precaution than risk the lives of their students.
Some important suggestions were made ahead of the reopening of schools. The potent of all, was to ensure that these students were tested before they are returned to school. That was the most responsive call at a time that COVID-19 cases were on the rise, which directs us to wide community spread. Unfortunately, such calls were dismissed as not practicable. Indeed, it was not practicable to test all these students, but, the risk of not testing them in a country where the community spread has been established to be massive, there is no alternative. If there was any alternative, it was to keep the schools closed until such a time that we are able to contain the community spread, lowering the risk, then we can open the schools for our children without need to test them.
Parents are suddenly getting agitated. Teacher unions are getting agitated. There are rising calls for schools to be closed and for these school children to return home. Indeed, the Minority of Ghana’s Parliament, have made similar calls for schools to be closed, (https://www.myjoyonline.com/…/sick-or-dead-students-cannot…/). These calls are yet to be heeded.
An event clearly mapped out the government’s agenda for the reopening of schools. Just last weekend, the Electoral Commission moved into Senior High Schools across the country to register school children who have turned 18 and above. These schools, although we must admit some serve as polling stations, were not gazetted for registration. The Electoral Commission was expected to have published in a gazette, its registration centers 21 clear days ahead of registration. But that was not the case. Political parties were met only a day ahead of the deployment by the EC for registration across the various Senior High Schools.
The move drew criticisms which were rightly grounded. When the announcement for the reopening of schools were made, the government was clear to parents of these wards that they are not allowed to visit their own children in their schools. Government made this announcement with the hope that it help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as one could not tell whose parent(s) may get infected thereby transferring same during such visits. It came as a surprise that officials of the Electoral Commission and party agents whose statuses are not known, are allowed into the premises of these schools to engage in a registration exercise at a time that some of the schools began recording positive cases. Let’s even assume these EC officials and party agents have been tested and pose no threat, who knows which student is infected as of the time of registration when schools have already began recording infections?
It clearly exposed the political motivation that led to the reopening of these schools. The president perhaps, is of the view that these school children, having been given Free Senior High School under his government, would vote for him. What is missing here is that all of these students are not under any obligation to vote. Even when they would vote, they are not bound to vote for him for using the taxes of their parents to take care of them in school. He forgets that these students would not end their education at the Senior High level. Some would proceed to other institutions that were not built by the President. Those who would proceed to the University for Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), would eventually understand that someone built it. Those who would proceed to UDS, the University of Environment and Sustainable Development, among others, would also cherish the one who created such opportunities for them in public universities to afford education. He also forgets that these children, some have parents who hold political ideologies that are different from his and would pass same to their children. He also forgets that there are those who do not just vote for the sake of it, but would do so based on their assessment of who can do better for the country.
Today, even as calls for the closure of schools intensify, is that the appropriate solution? Could these school children be released back to their homes? Take for instance, when the Accra Girls issue broke, only 6 initial cases were reported. Soon after, 600 or so students were isolated and tested. Out of the test, their cases rose from 6 to 55 which is some 49 additions from the 600 tested. Before these results, parents thronged the institution to demand the release of their children. If these children were released at the time their parents demanded for them, what would have been the situation by now? Where would the 49 new cases have taken us? And how many people would they not have infected?
It is not possible again at this moment to release these kids back to their houses if they cannot be tested. Those who are undertaking voluntary testing on their own, are bearing costs of close to Ghc500. How many families can afford this amount just to ensure their kids are safe to return home if government decides to close these schools? The situation is dire and requires some deep thinking.
For government to maintain the position that these kids could be infected even if they were home, is to say the least, coming from an uninformed position. It is also the case that some of these students would not have been infected as their infections were purely as a result of coming in contact with their colleagues who were infected. In any case, after they are done writing their WASSCE exams, is government proceeding to camp them in a palace where they can all be monitored and released after 14 days without showing signs, or would they be tested and kept until their results are out? This measure is not clear to us as we speak, and we need to understand what government’s position would be after WASSCE.
We have seen state institutions including cabinet of 19 members, closing over fears of contracting the virus. Unfortunately, school children some of whom are as young as 13, are being kept in schools outside the reach of their parents. Aren’t the lives of these young ones important to us? Could their lives be brought back when they lose their lives to this virus? After the WASSCE exams, if we lose our children to the virus thereby wiping out completely the next generation, of what benefit would that be for Ghana?
I am of the view that we could have handled this matter better if we had not prioritized political interest above the lives of our own citizens. Governments and presidents would come and go, but citizens of our nation would remain here. Their very livelihoods and welfare, must be our ultimate focus.
By Stephen Kwabena Attuh (ASK)