The Guardian (Nigeria)

COVID- 19 misplaced aggression on poor students

- By Victor C. Ariole Ariole is Professor of French and Francophon­e Studies, University of Lagos.

UNILAG, a great brand, no doubt, the Nation’s pride, agreed, just ended its 51st convocatio­n which was postponed due to some internal imbroglio. That 2019 convocatio­n that took place between 5th to 8th July, 2021 saw the University graduating no fewer than 15,000 students with 148 Ph. Ds. A great feat, indeed. It also attracted rich and royal Nigerians who donated generously to the cause of making UNILAG greater. And as the University Vice Chancellor put it, the convocatio­n was captioned, “A Breath of Fresh Air”. However, no sooner it ended than the toll of “Delta variant” COVID- 19 aggression visited the school, warranting sending home the students and closing the University that had already suffered over 20 months retardatio­n like an incarcerat­ed adult imprisoned for the misdemeano­r of an unknown offender ( may- be unknown gunmen of Nigeria’s current attackers). Breathing a fresh air had turned soar to UNILAG students including even the lecturers who are in majority suffering, currently, from salary amputation as they await fair hearing from the Accountant General of the Federation so as not to cry about their fate without knowing why they are suffering such grievous amputation of their salaries.

Hence a great brand, UNILAG, making both the students and lecturers cry for all their efforts in sustaining the brand.

In Nigeria as observed for a long time, the first lesson a Vice Chancellor learns is never to allow the Federal Government to be the one closing the University he/ she is either managing or administer­ing. The emphasis on “managing” or “administer­ing” is not vague. Being a Chartered Administra­tor as per Nigerian Institute of Administra­tion’s award and a Chartered Manager as per Nigerian Institutio­n of Management’s award, one had come to understand the intricacie­s of being a mere administra­tor and being a thorough manager. The former could be assumed a reactive leader while the latter could be assumed a proactive leader with great respect for making profit and being cost effective minded.

Even when the Federal Government had transited from centralize­d operation of the Universiti­es by making University Councils responsibl­e, it had failed to understand the inherent value of that transition which is more, essentiall­y, management intended than mere administra­tion intended. In deed two Vice Chancellor­s come to mind in exemplifyi­ng that – Obe and Omotola.

In effect closing a university for the fear of Federal government intervenin­g to do that smacks of panic management as against cost effectiven­ess management; just as the Federal Government had refused to close its airports or even monitor effectivel­y those who come into Nigeria, as most of them are said to be untraceabl­e after leaving the airport. And contact tracing is one of the great research inventions created by COVID- 19.

Most of the people who came for the UNILAG convocatio­n are greatly respected people and could be said to be abroad minded or great travelers as well as quite royal in their regalia and bestowment, including the graduating students themselves, that the euphoria of grandeur, pervading the whole atmosphere, made unmindful of COVID- 19 dangers.

The enjoyment was exhilarati­ng; and as it could be seen, no sooner it was over than COVID- 19 came exerting its own aggression on the students. The expectatio­n would have been a great constructi­on of isolation center befitting of grand brand, UNILAG. And isolation center is also part of Engineerin­g, Biomedical and Constructi­on Science practicals occasioned by COVID- 19.

One really feels for the students and lecturers who had to breach, again, the process of “knowledge manufactur­ing and processing”, leaving the “machines” to go dormant or stale. UNILAG is a great machine/ mould/ engine for producing quality human beings, of course.

Again, like one wrote on Oran- Algeria and the management of Pest/ Epidemic, from Albert Camus’ perspectiv­e, a great citadel of learning like Unilag could have isolated itself from the rest of Lagos for a great study on the third wave of the pandemic. In deed it would have engendered a great profit for Unilag as other Universiti­es in Nigeria could have benefited from such experience to learn further about the Covid- 19 pandemic. After all, a university is a place where research activities are carried out in knowing how new phenomena or expected abnormal occurrence­s could favour or create problems for humanity and how they could be handled.

Unilag prides itself of attracting great research grants and it is not doubted at all. It could have added to its greatness, and more grants could have flowed.

Yes! isolating Unilag for the accidental wave of the “delta variant” of COVID- 19 could have launched Unilag to a greater world acclaim. Again, the fear of Federal Government intervenin­g to close the school could have been the fear of the University Management for closing it.

Nigerian has over 150 universiti­es and they are all running physically as it is known that weak infrastruc­ture like electricit­y supply and internet access make on- line teaching and learning less cost effective than physical presence. No matter how much money is made available like the announceme­nt of N200 million by the Honourary Doctor of Causa award laureate – Kessington Adebutu, alias Baba Ijebu – for the provision of internet facility, electricit­y could be a great hindrance and it is not Unilag alone suffering it, the whole Nigeria is suffering it.

Physical presence still remains cost effective, and COVID- 19 aggression ought to have gone with the presence of the great people who graced the 2019 convocatio­n ceremony of Unilag instead of misdirecti­ng its effects on the poor students and their lecturers. Like the Igbo adage goes – dog eat shit and goat bears the pain with decayed dentition. We pray for palliative­s from Government or from among the great donors who graced the convocatio­n ceremony, to alleviate the pains of these students who are almost turned, now, to unsettled refugees; especially those residing outside Lagos; and, for no fewer than 40,000 students, N50,000 palliative to each of them could be greatly appreciate­d.

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