[OPINION] COVID-19 and Misplaced Aggression on Students — By Prof. Ariole

The closure of University of Lagos is regrettable, writes Victor C. Ariole

University of Lagos, a great brand, no doubt the nation’s pride, just ended its 51st convocation which was earlier postponed due to some internal imbroglio. That 2019 convocation that took place July 5 – 8, 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. Breathing a fresh air had turned soar to Unilag students including the lecturers who are in majority suffering, currently, from salary amputation as they await fair hearing from the Accountant General of the Federation.

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.

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 effective 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 respected people and could be said to be abroad minded or great travellers 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 many 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. 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.

Ariole is a Professor of French and Francophone Studies,

University of Lagos

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