COVID-19: How prepared are Nigerian universities as schools resume?
Tunde Balogun, a 200-level engineering student of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) in Ondo State, would visit the university campus after ten months of being at home.
The university, like other schools in Nigeria, has been shut since March 19, 2020, following government’s directives that all schools nationwide be closed due to the deadly coronavirus in the country.
Few days after the closure of schools, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began an indefinite strike over the federal government’s decision to withhold the salaries of its members who defied the order of government to enrol on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS).
On July 13, 2020, the presidential task force on COVID-19 gave guidelines for the resumption of schools.
Asides from fumigation and disinfection of schools, the 52-page document also showed that where the two-metre rule cannot be reasonably applied, other risk mitigation strategies may be adopted such as “alternative learning models for safe distancing” like the use of shelter outdoors for the protection and safety of learners and teachers.
The federal government, through the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, on October 2, 2020 eventually ordered the reopening of all schools in accordance with the guidelines given by the PTF.
Despite the announcement of resumption, universities could not resume because of unresolved ASUU strike that later came to an end on December 23, 2020.
By this time, the nation had already entered the second wave of the pandemic, recording more deaths. Again, schools were forced to close before Christmas and New Year break.
The Federal Government last Thursday, however, gave the nod for schools to resume on Monday, January 18, following a consensus with governors, commissioners and others.
“Ensuring constant supply of water and sanitisers, enforcement of maintenance of social distancing and suspension of large gatherings such as assembly and visiting days, avoiding overcrowding, including limitations in class sizes and hostel occupancy,” he said.
The ministry also advocated functional health clinics with facilities for isolation and transportation of suspected cases to medical facilities.
More so, adherence to all other non-pharmaceutical protocols, restrictions and containment measures as may be prescribed/ approved by the PTF from time to time.
But how prepared are universities?
Mr Balogun of FUTA told our correspondent that while he is happy to return to school, he is not so sure that resumption will not be detrimental.
“Students have long stayed at home and we cannot continue to have education remain on the spot all the while. Other countries have moved on and Nigeria needs to learn from them. I’m happy to have left home and returned to school, but the fear is how the school itself has prepared for the resumption. I can’t tell this until we get to campus on Monday . The major challenge is that not every lecture theatre have water close to them, this then brings us to the question of how water would be gotten at all time,” he said
The spokesperson of the institution, Adegbenro Adebanjo, could not be reached as of the time of filing this report.
His telephone number was not connecting and he is yet to respond to text messages.
Meanwhile, the management of Osun State University (UNIOSUN) told PREMIUM TIMES the school “has developed mechanised sanitised machines and started virtual learning for courses being taken by many students”.
The Public Relations Officer of the university, Ademola Adesoji, also explained the distribution of nosemasks to students by the institution.
“UNIOSUN is one of the state public universities that started virtual teaching long before COVID-19. We’ve also developed mechanised sanitised machines and we are already distributing them to other universities. If we could do that, we should be good to go,” he said. “Before you enter any of our campuses, security operatives ‘will sanitise you’ and we shared and would continue to share nose masks to all students. It is compulsory for them. It is a sin to be in the university without maintaining social distance.”
Asked how the university plans to deal with the crowd of students taking general courses, he simply said: “For us in UNIOSUN. We have switched them to virtual. We have no issue with that.”
When asked how the school hopes to meet up with the protocols ordered by the federal government despite incessant water scarcity at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, the university spokesperson, Abiodun Olanrewaju, told PREMIUM TIMES “OAU is prepared”.
“The Senate of the university will meet on Tuesday as far as resumption is concerned and to determine the date of resumption. But I can tell you that we are prepared. That’s all for now,” he said.
A final year Engineering student of OAU, Dunsi Olowolafe, however, suspects that the resumption of tertiary institutions raises a lot of questions about the integrity of the government.
“How sure are we that resumption of students will not cause more harm than good? Thousands of people are coming from all parts of the country and many of these students and lecturers may have contact with COVID-19 victims without being aware. Rather than resumption on campus, a country like Nigeria should be talking about virtual learning,” he opined.
The head of the public relations unit of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Kunle Akogun, said the institution is ready to welcome students back on campus.
“The University has put in place the adoption of virtual learning, by which lectures would be delivered and taken online. This started on January 11th and it has since been going on smoothly. Again, as the need to resume physical classes becomes imperative, we have adopted a phased system whereby the return of students to campus has been staggered into four phases. This is to ensure that we don’t have a huge concentration of students on campus at any given time.
“The university management has provided hand washing facilities in all students’ areas, such as lecture theatres, examination halls and places commonly frequented by staff and students on campus. Also, the Unilorin Coronavirus Prevention Committee has provided hand sanitisers at each hand-wash point. Each student should have at least five changeable face masks, and pocket sanitisers, among others.”
Enforcement of the ‘no-squatting policy’ in the university hostels will be strictly pursued to ensure the physical distancing policy of COVID-19 prevention. The University management will continue to support the University Health Services to ensure safe handling of emergency cases, he added.
Already, the Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM) campus has been shut down after three students and some officials tested positive for the coronavirus infection.
The spokesperson of the institution, Ademola Adekoya, told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday that the college has directed students to self-isolate for 14 days “and if they develop any symptoms, they should present themselves for treatment”.
The development also put academic activities on hold, while a communique containing modalities for school resumption will be circulated after the two weeks isolation period.
Mr Adekoya could not be reached on Sunday evening because his telephone number did not connect while filing this report.
There is also fear in University of Lagos (UNILAG) as some top university officials recently tested positive for the virus.
While the university had announced resumption, Olufadeke Akinleye, head of the media unit of the university said the institution would commence online classes instead.
A student of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Micheal Okoro, doubted the school was ready to receive students.
He wondered “how students who live three to four in a room would stay together despite coming from various places through transportation system with zero social distancing”.
“School resumption will only mean cross fertilisation of coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Concerned groups, parents
ASUU had earlier raised concern over the directive of the government.
The lecturers said institutions are not safe while Nigeria is battling with the second wave of the pandemic.
The national chairman of the academic union, Biodun Ogunyemi, during an interview in Abuja last week said there were no safety measures in place in most facilities. He also expressed worry over the deaths of some professors due to COVID-19.
“We have not seen government and university authorities taking concrete steps to access the level of safety for our members and for our students. In as much as we are ready to go back, we are ready to put in extra efforts but it appears that the government is not doing enough to address the two emergencies that we have – the emergency in the health sector as well as the emergency in the educational sector,” he was quoted as saying by the Punch newspaper.
The professor also explained why virtual learning may be difficult in countries like Nigeria.
“People are saying start virtual classes but we know that more than 60 per cent of our students will run into problems because they cannot afford data on their own and the wifi you are expected to see on campuses are not there. We have this limited capacity where the government should come in and ensure that the university environment is conducive for alternative models of teaching and learning.”
More so, a group Education Right Campaign (ERC), in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday by its National Mobilisation Officer, Adaramoye Michael, said the approach of the federal government towards the question of how schools can be made safe for resumption of academic activities is far from reassuring.
“A direct visitation by the ministry or any committee, including elected representatives of workers and students, so mandated to verify the situation on the ground in each campus before announcing resumption would have been more reassuring as it would at least show that the Ministry knows what it is doing.
“As things stand now, there is nothing to show that the Ministry of Education can vouch for the safety of any school yet it has gone ahead to announce resumption date despite outcry by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
“In a matter of life and death, words alone do not count but actual verification of real processes and measures to keep our schools safe. Unfortunately, all the minister of education can vouch for to open the school gates to hundreds of thousands of students and staffs are words of assurance from commissioners of education, state governors and proprietors – generally corrupt elements who cannot be trusted with the standard of our education let alone the health and lives of students and staff.”
The group also advocated the provision of isolation centres in schools.
Meanwhile, Titilayo Adejumo, whose son is a final year student studying Physical Health Education in LASU told PREMIUM TIMES that releasing her son for studies is difficult but compulsory.
“It was a difficult thing for me to allow my son, Quadri, to join his colleagues in school but I have no choice. The academic activities cannot be withdrawn or put on hold because I care too much for my son. I have given him enough sanitisers and face masks. Importantly, I will continue to pray for him,” Mrs Adejumo said.
Another parent, Segun Ajomole, said the future of the students are of utmost importance and should not be allowed to remain stagnant.
“I am scared but my son who got admitted into OAU since 2019 has not even received a single lecture. I understand that the federal government would not want to see people die so they must have been convinced that schools are safe before saying universities should resume. It is not too bad in the schools authorities adhere strictly to protocols,” he said.