· Warn against resumption without adequate measures
· Recommend virtual learning, preventive measures
With the rising incidence of COVID-19 infection, lecturers, parents and students have expressed anxiety and apprehension over a directive of the National Universities Commission (NUC) that all public universities should resume on January 18.
Consequently, they have warned the federal government, especially the NUC, against directing all public universities to resume without putting in place adequate measures to curtail the rate of COVID-19 contagion among lecturers and students.
In separate interviews with THISDAY on Friday, they urged the federal government to adopt e-learning or virtual learning to teach students rather than exposing them to graver health hazards.
A 300-level student of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Abiodun Ajetomobi acknowledged that he was no longer excited to resume school activities due to what he ascribed to the second wave of COVID-19 infection.
Unlike when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended strike on December 23, Ajetomobi said he was actually afraid of returning to school due to the scary reports about the grave effects of COVID-19.
He said: “In truth, I am afraid as much as I am eager to complete my programme. The pandemic is claiming more lives by the day. The chance of surviving is very low, especially with poor healthcare facilities.”
Rather than exposing the universities to undue health risks, Ajetomobi urged the federal government “to work out strategies to train tertiary students without coming together in large numbers. It is too risky.
“The world is going virtual now. The federal government can adopt virtual learning. There is nothing wrong about it. If the authorities insist on resumption, adequate preventive measures should be put in place to avoid unnecessary loss of life,” Ajetomobi said.
Also, a 100-level student of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Deborah Akinola said she would be excited only when protocols are put in place to stop the spread of the pandemic and mechanism for enforcement laid out.
She said: “If the authorities cannot guarantee right measures, there is no reason for resumption. I am satisfied with virtual learning. The authorities must consider safety of lecturers, students and other staff members first and foremost.
“If public universities must resume, it must be limited to a fraction of students, especially those in terminal classes after stringent conditions must have been institutionalised,” the UNILAG student said.
A parent, Mr. Abraham also buttressed the viewpoints of the students, warning the federal government that the risk of resumption “is too high at this time with the increasing rate of the pandemic.”
He urged the federal government “not to expose its young population to undue health hazards, especially the increasing rate of COVID-19 infection.
“Rather, like the UK, it should work out an alternative method to teach and train tertiary students without exposing them to any health risk. Nothing stops public universities from adopting virtual methods.
“If private universities can teach their students virtually, nothing will stop public universities from doing the same,” the parent said.
A Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Dr. Johnson Idowu noted that after the lockdown and ASUU strike, every reasonable lecturer or student would want to resume.
In March, he reflected that the federal government “locked down all schools in Nigeria. Between August and September 2020, they lifted the lockdown. ASUU was only on strike from September to December 2020.
“In its wisdom, ASUU called off strike on December 23. The second wave of COVID-19 started in January 2021. If ASUU had not suspended the strike, the federal government would hide under COVID-19 and would not pay lecturers.
“But now, the federal government has no option not to pay lecturers. Every lecturer is also a parent. They will resume. But if they cannot observe COVID-19 protocols strictly, they have to go back again.”
He admitted that virtual learning would have been an alternative to physical learning, though doubted the capacity of the tertiary institution to teach or train students virtually.
He noted that the public universities “are ill-equipped. Students cannot afford. Most students do not have money for data. As I speak, we do not have internet service in my department.
“Power is not stable. Has the federal government come with communication strategies that will enable virtual learning. Even most private universities that are using it are not deploying the way they ought to. Parents are complaining about the amount of money they are paying as tuition fees,” Idowu explained.
Likewise, a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Prof Julius Olujimi admitted that nothing was wrong with the directive of the NUC
Ordinarily, Olujimi explained that every lecturer and even students “will be excited to resume. Inasmuch as the federal government can put in place all necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, universities can resume.”
However, Olujimi lamented that the universities “are not prepared amid the second wave of COVID-19. If you are bringing a large number of people together at this time, there must be adequate preparation in place.”
While doubting the possibility of managing COVID-19 effectively if the public universities resume activities, he urged the federal government to adopt e-learning as an alternative method to teach students.
However, he observed that nearly all the universities “are not well-equipped for it. Most universities do not have functional internet service. Power is not stable in all our universities.
“In this context, e-learning will be difficult. The federal government should have prepared for this period long before now. It is not what they can introduce suddenly or without adequate preparation,” Olujimi explained.
In terms of welfare, Olujimi asked the federal government “to honour all agreements it has with ASUU. For instance, a 2009 agreement has not been implemented. It is too sad.
“The federal government should also pay our salaries up to date. It will be difficult for lecturers to function effectively when the government fails in its obligations,” the professor noted.
Despite apprehension about the directive of the NUC, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) observed that the NUC would have directed all universities to comply with COVID-19 protocols.
In conversation with THISDAY, NMA’s President, Dr. Innocent Ujah noted that NUC “will set up regulatory mechanisms to ensure compliance with the protocols so that the cases will not escalate among students.
“The PTF was set up for managing COVID-19 infection. I expect that the taskforce will have given all universities guidelines for seamless resumption.
“This includes building isolation centres on campuses and ensures that this centre is well equipped. Any student or staff suspected to have COVID-19 will be treated in the isolation centre. Asides, there are isolation centres within the cities the universities are located,” he explained.
He added that the association “is playing our own roles. Our members in isolation centres, treating patients. Many of them have died. Many of them are infected. In Nasarawa, 30 doctors have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are doing the best we can in terms of public enlightenment and national response. Our doctors are very committed to special responses. The risk of contacting COVID-19 is quite high. The possibility of dying is also there. But we continue to render service,” he explained.