Most of Nigeria's students back to school after Ebola lay-off

Lagos (AFP) - Nigerian students prepared to return to school on Monday after an enforced summer break because of Ebola, but lingering fears over the virus prompted the Lagos state government to announce at the last minute it would keep pupils at home for longer.

In the country's largest city Lagos, Governor Babatunde Fashola late on Sunday said primary and secondary schools in the state would now not reopen until October 8, his spokesman said in a statement.

The extra time would be used to finish distributing personal hygiene and other preventive materials against Ebola infection to the schools, the governor said.

"My greatest concern is that nothing happens to you and the children," Fashola was quoted as telling teachers at a meeting where the decision was taken.

Eight people have died from the 20 who have contracted the haemorrhagic fever in Nigeria.

Last month the government postponed resumption of classes at all public and private schools until October 13. But as the rate of confirmed cases began to slow, ministers brought forward the start of term to September 22.

There have now been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria for 10 days, although some 350 people remain under watch for symptoms of the virus in the financial capital, Lagos, and the oil city of Port Hartcourt.

Yet concerns remain about the disease -- spread through close contact with bodily fluids of a person displaying symptoms -- which has claimed more than 2,600 lives in west Africa this year.

Nigeria's largest teachers' union said it was still too soon to restart classes and called on its members to stay away from work. President Goodluck Jonathan has said the order was "uncalled for".

"The safety measures to contain the spread of Ebola have not been put in place," the head of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Michael Olukoya, told AFP.

- Public v private -

The federal government has ordered all schools to implement training programmes for staff in hygiene procedures, including temperature checks, and to put in place hand-washing facilities -- or face sanctions.

But there are signs that schools in the private and public sectors are at a different state of preparedness.

Speaking before the extension of the Lagos school closures, administrator Edmond Akpala of St Gregory's Roman Catholic school in the Obalende area -- within sight of the First Consultants hospital where Nigeria's first Ebola patient died -- said they were ready.

Everyone who steps onto the campus of the private, all-boys school will have to use hand-sanitiser, he said, adding that any further delay in resuming classes could affect students' education.

"Exams are coming in March.... If they don't resume, they may find it difficult to make their papers," he added.

At the state-run Somulu Senior High School, principal Ayodeji Fatoki said he was frustrated by the local government's slow response.

"No sanitizers, no hand wash. Those things are not in place," he said.

It was only on Friday that the government told him supplies were available.

- 'Wash your hands' -

Temperature checks and the use of hand sanitisers -- as well as greater awareness about the dangers of sickness -- have become a way of life in Nigeria since the first confirmed Ebola death on July 25.

Airports, offices and even restaurants have introduced new hygiene rules as a matter of course. A public information campaign includes a giant electronic billboard next to First Consultants, at the bustling Obalende roundabout, ordering: "Wash your hands."

But after months of worries, students who broke up for the summer holidays back in July are just keen to get back to their books.

In Nigeria, where education is seen by most as a key to escaping poverty, already more than 10.5 million children are out of school -- the most in the world, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF said in June.

"It's going to slow down the children's education" if classes aren't resumed, said Fatai Oduntan, a recent high school graduate, as he shopped in Lagos's Somulu neighbourhood.

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