For close to nine months, higher institutions across the country were closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the relaxation of restrictions, most tertiary institutions resumed classes in January — some virtual and others physical.
In a memo dated September 18, 2020, the National Universities Commission (NUC) wrote to vice-chancellors on the guidelines for the resumption of academic activities.
“Universities must continue to adhere to the safety protocols and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines which are very much in force. The decision to re-open institutions should not, in any way, diminish the importance attached to full compliance. The virus is still potent and there is no cure as of yet,” the NUC had said.
But the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took a different position on the reopening of schools, saying there are inadequate measures in place to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“The response of the public universities to the call by the National University Commission for their readiness to reopen indicates that public universities are not ready,” Olusiji Sowande, coordinator of the Lagos zone of ASUU, said.
“Hostel accommodation is inadequate; there are no facilities on the ground to carry out physical distancing in large and crowded classes; water and electricity supplies are not reliable. Reopening tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to address these issues will be suicidal. Therefore, the government should be ready to take responsibility for any possible negative consequences after the reopening of universities.”
In the past month, TheCable reporters visited some institutions to observe the level of compliance with COVID-19 safety measures, state of health facilities on campus, and the institutions’ readiness to address the medical needs of students.
OVERCROWDING, STAMPEDE, PROTEST AS STUDENTS BEGIN EXAMS
On February 10, thousands of students of Ebonyi State University (EBSU) converged for a computer-based test (CBT) on campus. There was no social distancing; many students were without face masks, just as there was no handwashing equipment insight. The crowd was massive. What started as a peaceful gathering later snowballed into a stampede. Five students were reported to have fainted and they were immediately rushed to the nearby clinic.
The next day, there was a protest. Students trooped out carrying placards, chanting songs, lamenting about the poor state of infrastructure on campus and the lack of coordination for students expected to write examinations during a pandemic. The students blocked the Abakaliki-Enugu expressway, as they demanded an end to the computer-based exams.
But the situation is not peculiar to EBSU.
At the Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Edo state, hundreds of students marched towards the information and communications technology (ICT) centre on campus to write a CBT exam when Newsmen visited the school.
Students wearing different types of face masks were seen sauntering in and out of the school as the first semester examinations, which should have been written last year, were ongoing.
At the university’s main gate, you will be turned back by the security if you have no face mask on. There were about ten bucket taps stationed at the entrance where incoming students and visitors are supposed to wash their hands, but the reporter noticed that most of the students did not comply.
A large crowd waiting outside Main Library to write their exams. Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma
Within the school premises, some of the students had no face mask on. When interrogated, some said they do not believe there is anything called coronavirus.
“No one holds you for not putting on a face mask unless you’re going for an exam. That’s the only time I know they are serious with the guideline. A lot of us don’t even believe there is really COVID-19 because we won’t be writing exams in this situation. If there was, a lot of us would have contracted it. I haven’t heard that any student has fallen sick due to COVID-19 since we resumed,” Judy Anyanwu, a 200-level student of education, said.
“Look around. See the way everybody is clustering together without protection with no care in the world. Nobody is even scared. Even in the hostel, nobody monitors you.”
Students waiting outside New Hall, College of Medicine, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma
At the school’s college of medicine, students trooped out of the lecture theatres, having just finished writing a paper.
Favour Aribisale, a 300-level student of the department of nursing, told Newsmen that although there were bucket taps placed at strategic points, students hardly make use of them. She, however, said social distancing was observed in the examination halls.
“I’m an example; I’ve never washed my hands, despite having these buckets of water around,” Aribisale said while laughing.
“There was spacing during our exams — one seat empty in-between. We used two big halls for more than 300 students. There are washing basins at the entrance but students don’t really wash their hands. The major thing is for you to use your face mask before entering the hall.”
SKELETAL SERVICES AT THE HEALTH CENTRE
When asked if there had been suspected cases of COVID-19 in the school, a student answered in the negative. “If a student tests positive for the disease, how would we know? The health centre is locked because of NASU strike,” the student said.
But when Newsmen visited the health centre, despite the strike by the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), six officials were found seated outside. Taking the reporter around, a top official at the centre, who insisted on anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the staff members have not really been working and most of the students are not aware that the clinic is open.
He noted that the work schedule is skeletal as a result of the strike, but that the school is prepared for emergencies and adequately equipped with protective kits.
“I can say the COVID-19 observance is 100 percent ideal. You can see all these signs — ‘no face mask, no entry’ — everywhere. Even when they come, they wear their masks but once they leave, it is removed,” the official said.
“For now, any student coming in must wear a face mask and in case of emergency, we have to protect ourselves. Like a student that was brought four days ago, she was unconscious. Do you tell an unconscious patient to wear a mask? All those things, when you make rules, there are exemptions. In case of emergencies or COVID-19 scare, the patient is referred to Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital.”
He added that the NCDC had provided the school with protective gears but they are not needed at the health centre because it is not designated for the treatment of patients. When the reporter pointed out that none of the preventive measures stated was carried out while entering the school premises, he replied: “It is difficult to enforce all these rules in a large population. There is a limit to how far you can enforce the rules. We are doing our best and we pray we don’t have an outbreak.”
The situation was not really different at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo state, when Newsmen visited. From the entrance to the heart of the campus, it was a free world. No one compelled students or visitors about compliance.
“We were told to resume with our face masks, hand sanitisers. Before you go into any class, you wear a face mask. Lectures for some courses are online but the use of face masks is not really working; it’s only at the gate. Even when students come into the school, they remove it. It is not being taken seriously,” a student who identified herself as Destiny said.
At the faculty of education, while students stood chatting in the corridors, the classes were jampacked with students waiting for their lecturers.
UNIBEN: IT’S DIFFICULT TO ENFORCE COMPLIANCE