Ten months after they were forced to go home from March 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic and a strike by their teachers, the close to two million students of Nigeria’s 170 universities started getting notices from the Federal Government to return to campus by January 18.
The immediate challenge however was whether the tertiary institutions had the capacity, in terms of personnel and facilities, to meet the COVID-19 prevention needs of the burgeoning population of students.
With case counts still at a little over 100,000 in the country then, notable among the skeptical voices was that of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which asked students to remain at home, because of what it claimed were inadequate facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the universities.
But the management of many of the institutions responded with statements of assurances, promising the students and the public of safety upon resumption. As it is evident in some pictures posted online shortly after resumption, some universities made modest moves towards COVID-19 prevention. How have they fared two months down the line?
DUBUWA visited some of these institutions to ascertain their level of compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures, such as regular hand washing, temperature checks, physical distancing, and the wearing of face masks as advised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Feeble adherence in North-Eastern universities
Although students were compelled by university security staff to wear facemasks at the entrance gate of the Yelwa Campus of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), DUBAWA observed that most of them take off their masks as soon as they are within the campus. There were no temperature checks or hand washing facilities at the gate, hostels, or anywhere else on the campus. Furthermore, some classes visited were filled up with no adherence to the social distancing guidelines.
This is against the NCDC advice that schools should “ensure that a triage point is identified and well-marked at the entrance where everyone gaining access to the school is screened for high temperature, requested to wear masks and perform hand hygiene.”
A 100-level student who preferred not to be named said it could be worse when new students resume. “I was in a class with over 2, 000 students crammed up to the brink and I’m sure that’s not all of us because some new students from the 2020/21 session are yet to resume.”
“Please forget COVID-19 guidelines because nothing is fully adhered to here,” another student said.
Photos and videos taken in different parts of the campus proved the statements to be valid. DUBAWA made several attempts to contact the school via the contact email form offered on the institution’s website but no response was registered. The Public Relations Officer of the university, Abdulkadir Shehu, also did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
A 1000-seater lecture hall at ATBU, overcrowded with students on February 20, 2021
Federal University Kashere
The situation was similar at the Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State. When the school announced January 14 as its resumption date, it pledged to abide by the COVID-19 preventive guidelines.
The main entrance to the university had no hand washing facilities. Although some anti-Covid-19 items were present in the hostels and in front of some halls, most of them were empty or not functioning. The hand washing facility at the entrance to the Vice Chancellor’s office was also non-functional.
DUBAWA did not notice temperature checks anywhere on the campus and social distancing in classes was not adhered to as the classes were crowded. Furthermore, DUBAWA observed some lecturers who had no face mask on while lecturing in the crowded classes. While students at the gate were asked to put on their face masks, this rule was noticed to be broken soon after students stepped into school premises. Others merely hung the masks on their jaws.
The NCDC guidelines direct that “Schools should ensure that all staff, visitors, and students above 6 years wear face masks at all times.” DUBAWA placed several phone calls to Ali Magaji, the Unit Head and Senior Data Processing Officer of the school. When DUBAWA made a formal introduction, the call abruptly ended and was not answered on several follow up attempts. Text messages sent were equally ignored.
Not all failure in North-Central universities
University of Jos
“No facemasks, no entry” is an inscription displayed at some of the entrances and office complexes in the University of Jos. At the Bauchi-Road and Naraguta campuses, DUBAWA observed that some students, staff, and visitors came in with facemasks, others removed them after passing through the gate while some did not have theirs on. The security guard on duty with the thermometre for temperature check at the Naraguta campus did not use it as of the time DUBAWA visited the campus.
One of the gates in the University of Jos with no handwashing facilities or hand sanitizer
During a tour of the Bauchi-Road and Naraguta campuses, DUBAWA observed poor compliance. About half of the students were without facemasks and hand washing materials were not seen at the main entrance, lecture halls, office complex, and student hostels.
“I have not seen any handwashing point around. The worst of it is that our classrooms are crowded and using facemasks is very inconveniencing. In my opinion, the management failed to comply with the protocols; they need to revisit their strategies”, observed a 300-level student of the Faculty of Education who DUBAWA decided not to publish their name owing to a record of victimisation by Nigerian tertiary institutions. At Skye Bank Hall, a lecture theatre on the Naraguta campus mostly used by the Faculty of Education, students were crowded during a lecture; some were sitting on the floor with no physical distance observed, and the majority of the students (including the lecturer) were without their facemasks.
As seen in the picture above, the one-metre distancing advised by the NCDC was not adhered to. When DUBAWA reached out to the institution, Ben Mairiga, the Director, Health Services of University of Jos stated that the university had commenced the process of ‘erecting mitigating and preventive policies and structures’ . He added that it is a work in progress and they are unrelenting. As regards lecturer/students’ poor compliance, Mr Mairiga explained that behavioural change is sometimes very difficult especially when dealing with students with some in their adolescent, implying that they can be rebellious. Nonetheless, he said despite very obvious challenges, the university was unrelenting and progress was still being made. As follow up on efforts ongoing, he sent a picture of a handwashing facility which, he said, was currently being installed in several parts of the school.
Nasarawa State University, Keffi
A visit to the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, on Monday February 15, 2021, revealed the adherence to some protocols like temperature check at the gate and the enforcement of face masks. However, there was no hand sanitizer and the handwashing facility at the gate was not useful.
Generally, students at different points within the school did not have their face masks on. Social distancing was also not observed in crowded places within the school. Across faculties and departments, handwashing facilities are available but students rarely use them. From our observation and interview with students, we understood that in class, how strictly the protocols (face mask and social distancing) are adhered to depends on the lecturer. While some lecturers strictly enforce it, others don’t. Also, we noticed that the school clinic was under lock and key due to a strike action by its staff. Dubawa emailed the information and protocol officer of NSUK and got no response several days after.
University of Ilorin (UNILORIN)
Upon resumption in January, the Head of Public Relations unit of UNILORIN said the institution was ready to welcome students back to campus, saying the management had provided handwashing facilities in all students’ areas and that physical distancing would be strictly adhered to.
Although the university management provided hand washing basins in different faculties and hostels across the school, only a few had water and none had soap or sanitizer as of the time of visit.
The number of people wearing facemasks is high in the school. Although, many still violate the facemask guidelines.
There are instances of overcrowded classrooms and big gatherings at pavilions and class entrances.
Dubawa reached out to the school’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Kunle Akogun, who said the school had put in place different measures to guarantee full compliance in the school. “If not maximal, at least, to a very large extent, we have complied with the protocol,” he said.
Same story in North-western institutions
Bayero University Kano
On a visit to both the old and new sites of the Bayero University, Kano (BUK) on Monday, January 18, 2021, DUBAWA noticed that only the use of face masks was enforced at the gate. There were no temperature checks; hand washing facility or the use of hand sanitizer.
This is a violation of the NCDC guideline that “all schools must ensure that there is sufficient access to running water, soap and hand washing facilities.”
Moving around faculties, departments, the library, and the mini-market known as Coke Village in the school, DUBAWA noticed a mechanical hand washing facility but they were all redundant and hand sanitizers were not available to cover for this. Aside from the library where students were asked to put on their face masks before entry and the Faculty of Communication where there was temperature check, enforcement of face masks, and the use of hand sanitizer, elsewhere around the school, students were left to their discretion.
One could say the university has failed to live up to its promises. Fatima Mohammed, the Registrar of the university, had issued a statement in January urging students to resume classes, assuring them that that the university had fully prepared for the re-opening and had put in place all measures in compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.
When Dubawa reached out to Ahmad Shehu, the Director, Public Affairs, he said the university had made much efforts to meet up with the COVID-19 guidelines. He added that some of the handwashing facilities could be empty at times but the management has provided enough motorized hand washing machines and hand sanitizers at strategic places. As regards irregular use of face masks within the campus, the director said there was a general pessimism as regards the existence of the pandemic which is reflecting in people’s inconsistency in abiding with the general protocols.
Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria
When the school resumed after the strike, the management assured that “all non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 protocols would be strictly observed anywhere on campus”. How have they been able to keep the promise?
At the school gate at the Samaru main campus, there was strict enforcement of temperature checks and the use of face masks.
While some faculties and departments had handwashing facilities, others did not. Also, some lecture halls were filled up with poor use of face masks, while others were properly spaced and students had their face masks on.
The entrance to the school library had different handwashing facilities and the use of face masks was enforced.
Enquiries made to the school management via the help desk email address found on the site has not been answered. Dubawa also reached out to the school’s PRO, Mr Auwal, via text message but did not get a response.
Not much difference in Southwestern institutions
Moshood Abiola Polytechnic
DUBAWA noticed minimal compliance with the Covid-19 protocols at this school. Students and workers moved about freely without using nose cover within the school premises. Students only abide by the rules in offices that have notifications on its wall.
The students 18-passenger buses still convey the same number of students to school, and the long vehicle popularly known as “ECONOMY” in the school still carries over 50 passengers, many times in excess of the limit. During visits to some departments, DUBAWA noticed low compliance with the Covid-19 protocols as the halls were congested with no social distancing as only a few students were seen with face masks.
However, Yemi Ajibola, the school’s Public Relations Officer, disputed Dubawa’s findings. “That’s a lie, we have put in place measures to support the protocols. The school inaugurated a task force to ensure that covid-19 protocols are strictly adhered to, at the gate we have a hand washing machine and access into the school is not granted without a nose mask.”
He also said classes have been divided to reduce contact; ND students come in the morning while HND students come in the afternoon.
Osun State University
DUBAWA noticed a hand washing basin at the entrance of the institution and other places in the school. However, some of these basins were found to be non-functional as of the time of visit on Friday, February 12, 2021.
With respect to the use of face masks, a good number of students were seen with their face masks. However, most of them had it on their jaw.
DUBAWA also noticed that some of the COVID-19 precautionary facilities on the campus were not effective. Also noticeable was the non-adherence to physical distancing in most classes and hostels.
When contacted, Shola Awojide, the Director of InterCampus Affairs, said the school had put measures in place to aid compliance with the covid-19 directives but that the management could not be everywhere to enforce them. In his word, “Management cannot be everywhere, we have put things in place to ensure that protocols are being observed.”
He added that the school was punishing defaulters.
Federal University Oye-Ekiti FUOYE
At the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, the majority of the faculties have a hand-washing machine but provided no soap and water for students to use.
DUBAWA also identified that across all the faculties in the institution, no hand sanitizers and temperature checks were provided by the school for students and staff to use.
A certain student who pleaded anonymity lamented that the hostel was not complying with Covid-19 protocols as expected. “I feel terrible and insecure because lately, I have not been feeling too well. I hope it is not Covid-19. They are not following Covid-19 measures because there are even eight people in a room,” the student said.
“Even the handwashing stuff is not working, no thermometer, no hand sanitizers, and nobody uses facemask. So you can just come inside the hostel and get out. I feel unsafe being in the hostel,” the student added.
Adeyinka Ademuyiwa, the school’s Deputy Director of Corporate Service, when called on the phone said that the state COVID-19 taskforce had been to the school and also noticed some faults in its adherence. However, he said the school had since intensified its efforts to attain full compliance.
He said, “All those things have changed. We are taking steps to enforce that no classroom is loaded more than half its original size and also incorporating virtual learning.”
COVID-19 Prevention Protocols In Nigerian Universities
COVID-19 precautionary measures are not well adhered to in most Nigerian universities. DUBAWA’s findings point to the reality that most of the universities, especially the ones visited, are not keeping up with the prescribed coronavirus standards and cannot provide or even enforce full adherence to COVID-19 precautionary guidelines.
Furthermore, social distancing was being violated across all the campuses visited, despite most of the lecture halls being crowded with students. The regular use of face masks across these institutions is most of the time ignored, as face masks are usually worn on the jaw or not at all. Some lecturers were even seen without facemask while delivering lectures while handwashing facilities were either absent or non-functional with no enforcement school officials. These lapses could be linked to the long trend of poor funding of the education sector, inefficient facilities, and the increasing number of students in schools without adequate resources. This reality also confirmed that most universities which promised strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols are unable to fulfill their promises.