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.