Universities in the country are stretching resources and other measures to keep the campus safe from COVID-19.
The schools which reopened after a nine-month closure due to the strike embarked on by the academic staff as well as the COVID-19 pandemic are finding it difficult to enforce the COVID-19 protocols in the halls, residence and lecture theatres due to the pressure on them.
Most of the university officials who spoke with LEADERSHIP Friday said there are no challenges in enforcing the rules in these areas, but some students disclosed that ensuring social distancing in the classrooms and hostels was difficult.
In the hostels, they said as many as eight students still live in a room, adding that because of the congested accommodation, there was nothing the authorities could do.It however observed that the use of facemasks and hand washing by students, members of staff and visitors was fully enforced.
At the Senate buildings of most of the schools, officials are positioned at the entrance to ensure full compliance, even as the same practice obtains at the gates of the institutions. Universities in Nigeria were closed since March 2020 following a strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as well as the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. They resumed academic activities on January 18, 2021 following the directive of the presidential task force on COVID-19.
LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that since over four weeks after the schools resumed the level of compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines and basic safety procedure in some universities, especially the public ones has improved even though there are still challenges in handling the overcrowding and lack of temperature checks in some areas.
While there is progress in some areas, investigations revealed that one of the major challenges had been overcrowding, including limitations in class sizes and hostel occupancy and availability of functional health clinics with facilities for isolation and transportation of victims.
A visit to University of Abuja where the semester examinations are in progress showed that more needs to be done even though substantial progress had been made.
At the entrance of the university, students were seen adhering to some of the COVID-19 protocols by putting on their face masks but no temperature checks and hand washing equipment apart from those located in other strategic places in the university.
While temperatures were conducted on people entering the Senate building, some students were seen wearing face masks in the wrong way.
Some students told our reporters that exams started a fortnight ago without social distancing being enforced in the classrooms.
However, the head, information and public relations, Dr Habib Yakoob, told our correspondent that the university had prepared well ahead of time, saying they are not having any challenges
"Our staff and students are complying very well with the protocols of COVID-19 in all of these places you have mentioned.
"For instance, no staff/student is allowed into any of these places without them appropriately wearing a mask.
"Staff and students are also going about with their pocket-sized sanitisers. And to complement this effort, there are hand washing machines at several points on campus including the Senate building and hostels.
"Staff and students are also encouraged to keep social distancing. And to ensure that everyone keeps to the protocols, there is a subcommittee on enforcement in the university. This is made up of well- trained staff members who know what it means and how to enforce the protocols."
Aminu Ibrahim Onipe, who is the Faculty of Science Students Association president, said the students are compelled to put on their face masks before entering the gate likewise the respective hostels,
"The association secretariat is also equipped with hand sanitiser just like faculty of science students secretariat we ensure we sanitise any students that's come to the secretariat and make sure they are always with their facemask
In Lagos State, the Lagos University (LASU) runs physical academic calendar since January 4, 2021, with staggered timetable to observe the COVID-19 guidelines. The university suffered a setback when the university's local staff unions of SSANU and NASU embarked on a strike over the failure of the state government to pay them the arrears of the new minimum wage.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday, the coordinator, Centre for Information, Press and Public Relations (CIPPR), Ademola Adekoya, said the school management had always observed strict protocols with the COVID-19 prior to the reality of the strike action.
Adekoya added that following the ongoing dialogue between the management, unions and the government, he's optimistic an agreement will be reached soon and students can resume and round-up with their exams/calendar.
Having lost more than 10 months of academic activities to the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Ilorin began a phased resumption of academic activities on February 1, 2021.
This is to prevent rowdiness in the lecture rooms, hostels and offices
Furthermore, because of the need to observe all COVID-19 prevention protocols, most especially physical distancing, the university has put in place a number of preventive measures which include the adoption of virtual learning, by which lectures would be delivered and taken online.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Friday, the institution's Director of Corporate Affairs, Mr Kunle Akogun said, "As the need to resume physical classes becomes imperative, we have adopted a phased system whereby the return of students to campus has been staggered into four phases. This is to ensure that we don't have a huge concentration of students on campus at any given time.
"The university management has provided hand washing facilities in all students' areas, such as lecture theatres, examination halls and places commonly frequented by staff and students on campus. Also, the Unilorin Coronavirus Prevention Committee has provided hand sanitizers at each handwash points.
Each student was mandated to have at least five changeable face masks, and pocket sanitizers, among others.
"Enforcement of the No-Squatting policy in the University hostels is being strictly pursued to ensure the physical distancing policy of COVID-19 prevention."
LEADERSHIP Friday, however, observed that there is the need for government to provide resources for the expansion of the existing infrastructural facilities, especially classrooms and lecture theatres to make physical distancing possible while physical lectures are going on.
At the University of Jos (UNIJOS), which resumed academic activities on January 22, 2021, our correspondent who went to Bauchi Road campus and Naraguta permanent site discovered that the Senate building which accommodate the VC's office and other non-academic staff was shut down as a result of NASU and SSANU strike.
At the entrance to the two campuses are big billboards urging both students, lecturers, non- teaching staff and visitors to observe COVID-19 protocols.
Students were however seen in lecture halls not observing social distancing, but they wore face masks, while some were seen with hand sanitisers as well as putting on hand gloves to prevent physical contact directly.
The announcement by the federal government of a 2nd wave of COVID-19 has continued to pose a big challenge to students, staff and management of some universities in Ebonyi State.
There has been a perpetual fear of another possible closure of schools and in a bid to obey all the COVID-19 protocols and curb the spread of the virus, management of different higher institution has put some measures on place.
Compulsory wearing of facemasks by visitors to the school, students, staff and the management, social distancing and regular washing of hands are some of the measures put in place by the management of the Alex-Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo, the Ebonyi State University and the Federal Polytechnic Unwana.
When LEADERSHIP Friday visited the schools, apart from the Federal Polytechnic Unwana where students and staff were seen not wearing facemasks, the story was different at the Ebonyi State University and AE-FUNAI.
But at the Ebonyi State University main campus, most of the students, staff and the management of the institution wore face masks. It was also observed that at every entry point, there are people who display facemasks to enable staff or students with it to purchase one.
In an interview, Public Relations Officer of the Ebonyi State University, Patrick Itumo, said, "The need for absolute compliance to all NCDC COVID-19 protocols cannot be over-emphasized. In Ebonyi State University, it is given priority attention".
"Management rolled out a number of measures to ensure that staff and students stay safe from the dreaded scourge. Such measures include provision of several hand-washing points at various Faculties and Administrative building".
"These include platforms with big drums of water as well as many Veronica buckets. A dedicated Water Tanker is mandated to go round daily and replenish the water. No staff or student is allowed to enter any building, lecture hall or office without properly worn face-mask".
At the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, a senior staff of the Public Relations Department who does not want his name in print told Leadership Friday that "there is total compliance to the COVID-19 protocol as established by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control".
"The wearing of face masks is mandatory for all staff students , and visitors. No one is allowed entry into the university campus, offices, classrooms including talking around the hostels without face masks, except you are in your room.
FG Plans Supplementary Budget As Vaccines Arrive Next Week
Meanwhile, the minister of Finance, Budget and National planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, has announced that the federal government was planning a supplementary budget majorly to address the issue of COVSID-19.
Ahmed who disclosed this to State House correspondents during the maiden ministerial briefing at the presidential Villa, said, "The first one will be in March but we will also have a mid-year review like we did last year of the budget and if at the time we do the review and there is a need to go back to do any amendment for supplementary budget, at that time we will take that decision, if not, we will just report the review."
On the seemingly rising external debts which is now N31 trillion, the minister insisted that the country's debt is not unreasonable or high.
She added that Nigeria's problem was that of revenue.
She noted: "There is a lot of sensitivity in Nigeria about the level of borrowing by the government and it is not misplaced. And I said earlier that the level of borrowing is not unreasonable, it is not high. The problem we have is that of revenue.
"So, what we need to do is to increase revenue to be able to enhance our debt to GDP obligation capacity. If we say we will not borrow and therefore not build rails and major infrastructure until our revenue rises enough, then, we will regress as a country. We will be left behind, we won't be able to improve our business environment and our economy will not grow."
Explaining further she said "Again, we all have to work, not just the federal government but state governments to increase our revenue to enhance our debt service obligations.
"We also have to make sure that when we are choosing the projects, we are choosing carefully the ones that will enhance business environment so that more revenue yields come into the treasuries of the country."
Ahmed also informed that the federal executive council will soon give approval to compel federal government agencies to buy made-in-Nigeria vehicles as much as is practicable.
On the issue of Chinese loans, she said "if I may be permitted to speak to the question by business. I think it's useful to look at the budget for each year; look at the revenues, look at the expenditure, if you take out the new borrowing, really, what will the size of the budget be? How much can government spend?
"So there will be a lot of capital projects that are affected, so we need to look at it that borrowing is, even as you see it in the budget every year, used to support infrastructural development, otherwise, there'll be a challenge.
"Second, let me add, I think we're going through a process where we need to borrow now, let's just say in the short to medium term, to get the economy going, while we also expect revenues to improve.
So in terms of the pressure of debt service, by the time the revenue comes up, that should be lower, but there's some things you need to do now, to ensure that revenue comes up. So we need to keep that in mind that if the economy grows and revenues improve, then debt service to revenue, in future, should be lower," she said.
NPHCDA Trains 113,000 Health Workers
Meanwhile, as Nigeria expects the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines into the country in a few days, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has assured it will train 113,000 health workers to carry out the exercise.
At present, 13,000 have been trained but the additional 100,000 are being documented.
A statement issued by NPHCDA head, Public Relations Unit Mohammad Ohitoto said over 13,000 health care workers have been trained at the national training of trainers in the first phase adding that by March 1, 2021, the training will be cascaded to the ward and facility levels where over 100,000 health workers will be trained.
Executive director/CEO, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib urged Nigerians particularly health care workers to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the federal government to protect themselves and curb the spread of COVID-19.