Opinion

When Will The Universities Re-Open?

Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige with ASUU leadrrd

By Bola Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com 0807 552 5533

Since March this year when the universities were shut down on the orders of the Federal Government, they are yet to re-open. While it can be said that the shutdown was occasioned by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, no one can say for certainty now that this is still the reason for the continued lockdown.

To begin with, very few people believe that coronavirus ever visited these shores. Going by the way the pandemic wrecked havoc on developed countries such as the United States of America, Italy, Spain, the UK, Germany, Russia  – not to mention China, the originator of the virus – it was expected by many that COVID-19 would whack underdeveloped Africa so much so that dead bodies would litter the streets. But not so! Instead, it was in Europe and the Americas with their state-of-the-art medical facilities and personnel that the virus ran riot.  

Africa watched the calamity that COVID-19 visited on other better endowed countries on screens and read the horror stories of the pandemic’s trajectory in the newspapers and on the internet. So was the scripture fulfilled that says “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee” (Psalm 91: 7). This psalm was one of the most famous psalms in the heat of the pandemic!

Surely, God is the helper of the helpless. Maalu ti o n’iru…As the saying goes; it takes God to keep fleas at bay for the cow without a tail. Africa is such a cow and God did not disappoint. Ours have been derided as a religion economy as opposed to the developed countries’ knowledge economy; that being the case, God not only announced Himself, He, in fact, showed up in Africa’s hour of need. We shall soon return to that.

For reasons which need not detain us here, many of the known Nigerian casualties of COVID-19 were the big and mighty – men of power and of means; men of influence, men of timber and calibre (to quote KO Mbadiwe), leading to the narrative that coro was a disease of the rich and powerful. Only the wealthy had the means to access the best available medical facilities; still, many of them succumbed to the virus while millions of Nigerians who cannot even afford to treat common malaria marched up and down unmolested by coro.    

To many, measures rolled out by the government to fight COVID-19 were mere pretence and aping the advanced countries. Coro o si n’ibi you will hear people chorus again and again. And if at all we had the virus here, it could not have been of the same virulent streak that was witnessed abroad. Another widespread belief is that government officials merely used the excuse of coro to further mindlessly loot the treasury. The billions and trillions spent on palliatives/isolation centres were mostly on the pages of newspapers and on television screens. Where some action was seen at all, it was in a section of the country, especially in the North.

Recent events of hoarded palliative materials uncovered all over the country have further confirmed the suspicion of the people that their government merely rode on the back of COVID-19 to further short-change them. It can now be said conclusively that Nigerians truly know their leaders to be heartless, selfish, and self-centred. The leaders here are also unrepentant hedonists and incorrigible liars. The excuses they gave for hoarding indomies, rice, salt, vegetable oil and what-not are better told to the marines!

Now that the developed countries are talking of a possible – or already here – second wave of COVID-19, the government here is also parroting the same hogwash. First or second or third wave, Nigerians cannot be bothered. Anyone who contemplates another nationwide lockdown – or any lockdown in Lagos as was the case the other time – courts disaster. How useful was the first lockdown anyway? It was observed mostly in its widespread breach and abuse, the government itself leading the way, followed closely by the security operatives that were meant to enforce compliance.   

An excuse is already trending: That people have relaxed on the maintenance of physical distancing as well as on the observance of other COVID-19 protocols. Here, again, our leaders led the way for the people to follow – in the impunity displayed during the burial of VIPs who succumbed to the virus; in the way physical distancing was rubbished at VIP marriages; and the impunity displayed by political leaders at campaign rallies. If gold rusts, what will iron do? Leadership properly so-called is leading by examples and not barking out orders they themselves will do nothing to observe.

Various sectors of the society have been unlocked, at first partially and, later, fully. Businesses have been opened. Places of worship have been opened. Schools at primary and secondary school levels have been opened. Tertiary institutions, however, remain firmly locked. Ours must, indeed, be a religion or sentiments-based economy as opposed to a knowledge-based economy for this to be so. Ours must truly be a religion economy for places of worship to have re-opened since August in Lagos, one of the last places to do so, but tertiary institutions are yet to re-open three months after.

No one is even talking about it! If part of the reasons for the continued shutdown of the universities is COVID-19, it is because the government has not lifted a finger to prepare the schools to become COVID-19 compliant. Nothing has been done in this regard. Absolutely nothing! The hostels are cramped and students virtually sleep on top of one another. The lecture theatres are worse. Maintaining physical distancing is a tall order. There are no isolation centres in the institutions of higher learning just as there are acute shortages of medical facilities and edibles. Opening the schools is, thus, a catastrophe waiting to happen. Except, of course, we trust there is no coro here and if at all there is, we rest our hope in God almighty! He has done it before, He will do it again!

There is also the hurdle of ASUU and the other non-teaching staff unions that are up in arms against the government. Again and again, the government has reneged on its negotiated agreements with the unions, so much so that it has lost all credibility. Funding education has been Herculean for the government but funding RUGA and creating grazing routes for cattle have not. Funding corruption has been easy and rosy in the quantum of resources wasted on trader-moni and on palliatives that were hoarded. A fraction of this amount would have settled the unions, thus paving the way for the re-opening of the universities.

Everyone, except this government, is tired of the continued closure of our institutions of higher learning. The cost to the economy is staggering. The debilitating effect on national development beggars belief. The students are tired of their continued stay at home, wasting away. Parents are tired watching their wards pine away. The costs apart, the sociological and psychological impact on parents and wards cannot be easily quantified. Many students would have lost interest in studies by the time school re-opens – if at all!

ASUU has alleged that the government is deliberately but stylishly divesting from public education. When parents are tired of waiting for Godot, they will withdraw their wards from Nigeria’s God-forsaken institutions of higher learning and find the means of sending them abroad. Expect a hike in education tourism and more capital flight from the local economy. To think that this is the same economy we have been told has relapsed into another bout of recession!

Except pressure is brought to bear on this government, it does not appear in a hurry to re-open the universities. It will continue to hide behind one finger like a grasshopper, giving the excuse of ASUU’s objection to the IPPIS payment platform. ASUU is right to reject the IPPIS conundrum, which is a cesspit of corruption and malfeasance. For a government that pays lip-service to the fight against corruption, its insistence on IPPIS, which gives a lot of lee-way for the bureaucracy to play monkey games with the universities, is another proof of its lack of fidelity.

They can afford to let the schools stay closed ad infinitum because their own children attend school abroad. And they flaunt this before our eyes each time they post pictures of their wards’ graduation ceremonies from iconic universities abroad. Ours are not leaders but dealers, wheelers, looters, and conscienceless lot! But if COVID-19 taught any lesson, it is that the facilities the leaders neglect to build here today will become their Nemesis tomorrow. Many of the VIPs who died from coro as a result of underlying health challenges might have survived if the medical facilities here were up to standard. Their misfortune, thus, was self-inflicted.

In the same manner, those leaders deliberately ruining our institutions of learning at home simply because they have no need for them should understand that a day is coming soon when the stone which the builder rejected will become the head of the corner. Somehow, this will happen. And you will say I said so!

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