Nigerian university students started returning to classes in January for the first time in nearly a year.
The federal government had on March 19, 2020, ordered all schools to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The authorities said they were concerned about how to reopen the schools without exposing students and lecturers to the virus.
In June 2020, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 issued a 52-page document containing safety protocols and guidelines for school reopening.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, on October 2, 2020, eventually gave the green light for schools to reopen, based on the COVID-19 safety guidelines issued by the PTF.
But the announcement came while the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was on a strike that started shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak.
By the time the university lecturers eventually called off their strike on December 23, 2020, the second wave of the pandemic was underway, further pushing back the reopening plans.
The government finally directed the schools to start reopening from January 18 after a protracted debate.
It was a tough decision for the government to allow students back to schools amid the spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths. It has even been tougher for the school authorities who now have to contend with a disrupted academic calendar and ensuring safety from COVID-19 on campuses.
PREMIUM TIMES, over three weeks, monitored compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines and basic safety procedure at some universities across the country. The exercise revealed several gaps in the management of the COVID-19 safety protocols in most of the universities visited.
Some lecturers were reluctant to return to the classrooms for fear of contamination. Poor internet access and concerns about widening achievement gaps were also making virtual learning, which is another option for teaching, extremely difficult to explore in the universities.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, at a recent press briefing, said the reopening of schools was contributing to the spike in COVID-19 infections in Nigeria due to the flouting of safety guidelines.
Below are situation reports from some of the universities our reporters visited for this report.
Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE)
When the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) reopened on January 19, the COVID-19 safety guidelines immediately became an issue on the campus.
Two unions had accused the school’s management of being lackadaisical in providing safety and washing equipment as well as enforcing the guidelines.
Apart from the science laboratories and administrative blocks, there is no running water in any other department in the school.
“There is no water even in the toilets. Most of them are always locked and student do their ‘business’ at the back of buildings,” Iretomiwa Dele-Yusuff, the president of the school’s Union of Campus Journalists, told PREMIUM TIMES.
At the main gate and in some strategic points of entrance, there are water basins and buckets but no water in or near them.
The security guards at the main gate enforced wearing of face masks before allowing access to the campus, but students and visitors who do not have face masks can avoid the gate and use a bush path. On the school premises, there was no enforcement of wearing of the material.
Social distancing was also not maintained in the classrooms with some students not also wearing masks.
Campus journalists reported that officials of the Nigerian Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) during a visit disrupted lectures over lack of social distancing in the classrooms.
The Dean of Student Affairs, Dosu Malomo, however, told PREMIUM TIMES it was not the NCDC that did this but the Ekiti COVID-19 taskforce.
Mr Malomo refused to speak further on COVID-19 management in the school, instead referring our reporter to the university’s spokesperson, Adeyinka Ademuyiwa, who said he would “get back” to the reporter but never did.
Meanwhile, some lecturers had not resumed classes while some had opted to conduct classes online.
“I am taking six courses, two of them physically while four are online,” Miss Dele-Yusuff, the campus journalist and an English Language student, said.
She said the online classes would have been a better option if not for the poor internet network in the school and the surrounding areas.
Dissatisfied with the management of COVID-19 safety protocols, the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) of the school threatened to embark on a strike until things were put in order.
A group of departmental governors, class captains and students were also organising a boycott of classes at the time of our reporter’s visit.
University of Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is the second city most impacted by COVID-19 in Nigeria with over 18,000 infections and about 134 deaths. Yet, enforcement of safety measures at the University of Abuja is weak, PREMIUM TIMES observed.
There are no handwashing equipment or hand sanitisers at the main gate and temperature checks on people were not carried out before they were allowed into the campus.
Wearing of face masks was also randomly adhered to as many students were seen either wearing them wrongly or not at all in the school premises.
Also, there were no cleaning equipment in the administrative and school blocks. However, there were temperature checks and small hand sanitisers at the senate blocks and the vice chancellor’s office.
Some students told our reporters that exams started a fortnight ago without social distancing being enforced in the classrooms.
Security officials told our reporter that the vice-chancellor was in a meeting with officials who would have taken questions on COVID-19 protocols in the school.
Nasarawa State University
Safety measures and protocols were in place when our reporter visited Nasarawa State University (NSUK), Keffi in Nasarawa State last week. Officials checked the temperature of people at the gates and the entrance of any block in the school premises.
There were hand sanitisers and water and soap for handwashing at strategic points.
The two-metre rule was strictly maintained as the students observed social distance in the classrooms, although the measure was not fully complied with outside.
University of Ibadan
Many universities resumed in January but lectures were yet to resume at the University of Ibadan when our reporter visited.
Only postgraduate students were on the campus while the undergraduate students were expected to resume on February 20.
Even when lectures fully resume, some lectures will still be held virtually as some of the COVID-19 measures are not yet being enforced.
While handwashing and temperature checks were in place, social distancing was not being enforced.
University of Ilorin
The University of Ilorin in Kwara State can stand as a model for COVID-19 safety protocols management. The situation there was a sharp contrast to what was observed in FUOYE and many other universities.
The school management was actively using social media platforms, especially Twitter and Youtube, to disseminate information on COVID-19 safety and protection.
There were hand washing equipment and temperature checks at strategic points and entrances to the school. Also, social distancing and proper wearing of facemasks were being enforced by a student taskforce inaugurated ahead of the reopening.
Wisdom Okonko, a member of the taskforce, said the members ensure students followed the guidelines while in the school premises.
On his Twitter account @wisdom_okonko, he shared a picture of how the committee was inaugurated on January 27 by the COVID-19 committee of the university.
“We have to maintain all the measures. Wearing of facemasks, regular washing of hands and maintenance of social distancing must be kept. The taskforce is actually working,” a student told our reporter.
Some of the private schools visited in Abuja were rigorously enforcing the COVID-19 safety protocols.
Modern handwashing equipment containing water, soap and sanitisers were strategically positioned within and outside Baze University in Abuja.
Wearing of facemasks was compulsory as no student was seen without one during the visit by our reporter.
Social distancing was also maintained and signposts in strategic locations carry information on COVID-19 safety.
It was the same scenario at Nile University also in Abuja.
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