COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus disease 2019 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The said disease has now resulted in an ongoing pandemic across the globe. The disease had led to legion of mortality of more than 16.1million across 188 countries of the world according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). From Europe to America, the Middle East down to Africa and Nigeria in particular had been ravaged by it.
COVID-19, was first identified in Nigeria, as the index case was discovered in February, 2020 upon the arrival of the carrier into Murtala Mohammed International airport (MMA) Lagos. Sequel to this a total lockdown on 2 States of the federation (Lagos and Ogun) and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was declared by the President of Nigeria, Mohammadu Buhari. Subsequent to the total lockdown for the first 14 days in the first instance on the above states, interstate travels were banned alongside except for movement of classified goods and drugs, with curfew declared from 8pm across the Nation. The Government alongside shut down all the schools in the federation from primary to tertiary. Both private and public.
The Leadership of the Nation had immediately inaugurated a COVID-19 Presidential Task Force (PTF) led by its Chairman and Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha. The Director General (DG) of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu is also a member of the taskforce among others. NCDC, an agency of Government, with a mandate established in the year 2011 in response to the challenges of public health emergencies and to enable Nigeria’s preparedness and responses to epidemics through prevention, detection and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases. As at 25th July, the agency had tested 256,038 people, confirmed cases of 22,135, and discharged cases of 16,559 with the death of 845, spread across the 36 states of the federation and FCT. The agency had given strict guidelines for any activities of Nigerians in the public places. Similar guidelines could be given to the Universities for opening
All Universities (Private and Public) in the Nation had since been shut down since March, 2020. Most Schools were about ending the First Semester of 2019/2020 Academic Session. Thus far, both academic and non-academic activities across the Universities in the Country had since been totally locked down for four months now. Although this is not peculiar to Nigerian Universities. For the Institutions across the globe suffers same but with peculiarities.
As the world begin to search for solutions to the pandemic in form of vaccines and other veritable means, Intellectuals are seriously needed to be actively involved in Nigeria going forward. The University system need to respond to the COVID-19 challenge in the country, not withstand the ongoing industrial dispute between the academic staff of the Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
ASUU is the umbrella body that coordinates labour activities among public University Lecturers in Nigeria. The closure of the Universities system in the Country due to the above mentioned reasons had really affected the effectiveness and efficiency of the academic in many ways, having in mind our state of development in the country. As the world seeks for fundamental solutions to the pandemic, Nigeria must come along as a Nation that yearns for change and progress. The leadership of the Country as led by President Mohammadu Buhari, having the COVID-19 PTF and NCDC on board in combatting this menace must be more proactive and create a strong level of trust among Nigerians. The systemic failures on governance in the country over the years had reduced the trust citizenry have on political leadership.
Having in mind the globally acceptable preventive measures of using hand sanitizers, nose mask, maintaining social distancing, the Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Education should consider a partial and systemic reopening of the Universities, for there lies strategic solutions to the disease .The University is the house of Intellectualism. Relevant stake others in this line like the National Universities Commission (NUC), ASUU, Federal ministry of health, Association of Nigerian Universities’ vice chancellors and the Association of Nigeria private Universities vice Chancellors should be brought on board.
Unlike the Universities in the developed Countries, where technology innovation is on the increase which enables academic activities to still go on without the physical meeting point across their campuses, the reverse is the case in Nigerian Universities. The need for a rise in technology beckons. The need for a strategic innovation is now. As Schools are shut down, the academic are totally locked out of the system. Having in mind the preventive measures as provided by NCDC, Universities academic should be mandated to go to work, where COVID-19 preventive measures would be adhered to. This will enable the academic launch into their wells of knowledge and begin to speedily research for solution to the disease. The Government should make deliberate funding available, so the academic can launch out with innovative ideas in responding to the pandemic.
At this level, Government should for the sake of development engage in strategic discussions with the leadership of ASUU, to resolving the issues that continually lead to the industrial actions which had more or less become an annual occurrence over the years. A Nation that handles education with levity is far from development. Opening of the system could be in phases but must be deliberate, like having the principal officers in the Universities, resume with senior administrative officers upward in the system. Professors alongside should be mandated to, as a matter of urgency resume academic and research activities immediately for the purpose of responding to how the disease could be handled. Next phase could be that other academics in lower cadres should resume to work for 3 to 5 days of the week in the first instance. The purpose will be to have them launch into innovative ideas to combat the disease. Having in mind that the Universities have some large population of students, Doctoral/Research students could resume first. Among them, we have those who would launch into research work to combat the disease with the available funds provided by the Government. From there, proactive measures could be taken, having systematic devices in place to prepare other students for resumption. We should not continue to lockdown the University system, without a corresponding projections to respond to the course of lockdown. The University houses more matured students who can strictly comply with the preventive procedures than those in the pre-varsities. Meanwhile, strategic measures should be put in place to enforce any policy of Government on the prevention of COVID-19. Political leadership should endeavor to lead by example.
Private universities in Nigeria possess better facilities in the country to manage their populace. They could be considered to resume first. Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti (ABUAD) had already provided facilities in place to welcome their students, even as staff in same institution and several others are already benefitting from such digitalized process in COVID-19 prevention. The Government of Nigeria should engage the Professors in the Universities, private and public, as a matter of priority, with proper funding, to build capacity in the exploit to combat the deadly Coronavirus .Developed countries across the world, even though their Universities are partially shut, but with the effort of technology already making projections into having vaccines on the virus and predicting the situations in the years to come.
The best time to rise from the back role of creativity and innovation in technological development in the world is now.
Femi EPEBINU (email@example.com)
Faculty of Social and Management Science,
Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) Nigeria.