Schools Reopening: If not now, when?


By Seun Awogbenle

In my last intervention on Nigeria’s education, an article which was widely syndicated, I remarked quite soundly, that I can imagine the cloud of uncertainty and despair over most Nigerian students particularly those in their final year, at a time their colleagues abroad are concluding examinations, moving to another level, concluding their academic Programmes and even attending virtual graduation Programmes, two months after, the uncertainty and confusion is even more palpable.

This week, social media has been agog with pictures of graduating students from private universities in Nigeria, while I am happy to see that some private universities have been able to evolve by maximizing digital technology to deliver teaching and instruction to students at home to avoid disruption in its academic calendar despite the temporary closure of schools, my joy is however short-lived knowing that the number of students who have this advantage are minimal.

While there are only about 79 private Universities in Nigeria today, there are 43 Federal Universities and 52 state Universities respectively as at the last count. Let’s assume for a second that the physical closure of schools did not impair academic learning in all our private universities, the bulk of students who have been denied access to learning for over 6 months are clearly in federal and state universities.

Yesterday, I decided to distill my thoughts on the current educational misadventure, one of the profound reactions I got on Twitter was the one from Fatimah Muhammad who is the Vice President of the University of Ilorin, Student Union. I have decided to reproduce her response “for many of us, our fate is still unknown as ASUU is still on strike and will probably still be, if things are not sorted between its union and federal government when schools are reopened”.

I am devastated by the fate of not just Fatimah, but several other Nigerian students who are not just confused but have been rendered completely hopeless by a government that cares less! At a time Nigerian Universities should be coming together to restore sanity, I hear the Universities themselves, have in fact become the theater of jokes, from the ongoing power play, shenanigans and open shame going on, in the University of Lagos between its Governing council and Vice Chancellor to the rather unfortunate if not the most disturbing news from University of Ibadan that it could not submit its audit report to the Auditor-General of the Federation since 2014 because the external auditor became blind on the Job! I am forced to ask what our Universities and higher institutions of learning are turning into?

Before the Federal government ordered the immediate closure of schools on March 19, most Nigerian Universities were already grounded over the fallout of negotiations between the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) and the Federal government. I am made to understand the industrial action is a result of the fallout of the 2009 agreement and the lingering issues around the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).

To be clear, I am completely uninterested in how we got here, my intervention today is to demand that schools reopen which would not just require that the federal government lift the current restrictions on schools, it should also immediately resolve the ongoing ASUU crisis.

Since we all agree that the fight against Covid-19 is a long haul, why has the ministry of education not released safety guidelines for the reopening of schools, how long will students have to live under this cloud of uncertainty. The impact is unimaginable, the lives of most Nigerian students have been truncated by the inefficiency and incompetence of those managing the sector. I am unable to understand why the Economy is opening up for all other sectors, while education has continued to be downplayed, recall it took mounting pressure before the minister even allowed students in exit classes to write WAEC, more than a week into it, how many outbreaks have we recorded?

If after 6 months, the ministry of education is clueless on general school reopening particularly tertiary institutions, then the minister and his ilk should be sacked, even the United States which has turned the epicenter of the pandemic, has reopened its schools. Adamu Adamu’s legacy is nothing but failure and he will forever be remembered for his monumental incompetence! He had only one job, which is to provide leadership at this critical time, he failed spectacularly.

Some students whom I have interacted with most recently in different tertiary institutions, who were originally thought to graduate this year as the class of 2020 said they have become “Class of Insha Allah”, an informal remark that has been adapted to mean they have become hopeless about their own fate and that they have resigned their fate God. For me, I do not think we should have gotten to a point, where our bright minds would completely lose confidence in the system. It is dangerous!

At this time, we can not continue to pretend like all is well, academic activities can not continue to stall because of the spectacular incompetence of Nigeria’s leaders, if we do not reopen schools now, when?


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