LOCKDOWN! It sounded like a long distant drum

At first it was Wuhan in China where Corona Virus was said to have originated. It moved to the Western world and before we knew it, it came to Africa. Like a onetime president of an African country said, “When Nigeria sneezes, the rest of Africa catches cold.” Like a joke, an Italian sneezed in Lagos and the reality dawn on Nigeria-Corona Virus 2019 landed in Nigeria. It was therefore no more a distant drum, but a reality. As at the time of writing this article, thirty-four of the thirty-six states including the FCT have all recorded index case or cases while all states have been in Lockdown. The world thought it wise that the name Corona Virus 2019 was too long a name so it abbreviated it to COVID19. Since then, the world has never been the same.

Lockdown introduced another slogan, Stay Home, Stay Safe. Lockdown locked down every facet of the world economy-Nigeria inclusive. Businesses locked down, banks locked down, offices, schools, churches, mosques and even individual life got locked down. As expressed by a popular CNN presenter-Richard Quest, a new terminology known as Work From Home or WFH entered the English Language Lexicon. So the entire economy and the school system of the world became WFM. Typical of Nigeria, the country was left behind. Why? Because in Nigeria, it was merely a slogan since a large population of the Nigeria work force only know their office tables and drawers. So how can they work from home? Suddenly, Nigeria Leadership remembered that schooling from home could be a good idea. That is a story for another day. However, when a different virus–HUNGER VIRUS threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria, the authority that could not care for the citizens of its country had to quickly embark on what it called ‘gradual easing of the lock down.’ So, markets, offices and other corporate entities have gradually begun to open doors for business. Nevertheless, one vital sector of the Nigerian society has remained locked down almost indefinitely. That sector of the society is the school system. Even though the entire school system is involved, the focal point of this write up is TERTIARY EDUCATION. Tertiary Education in Nigeria encompasses universities, polytechnics, colleges of education as well as other institutions involved in the provision of higher education to the Nigerian society.

The question is, if the education system in Nigeria had been properly planned and executed, would Nigeria have locked down the whole gamut of education system in the country? The answer is ABSOLUTELY NO. So where did Nigeria go wrong? Nigeria went wrong because the education leadership in the country has never ever thought right. Even when it introduced a new education policy to jettison or to modify the existing one, the newly introduced system or policy will be poorly implemented.

Let’s look at it this way, Nigerian government established a tertiary education institution known as National Open University of Nigeria. It was to provide distant or nonresidential tertiary education to benefit the Nigerian society. Ever since the establishment of that institution, there has been a running battle between NOUN and the NUC-the body saddled with the responsibility of regulating what happens in the university system. This is because NUC tends to look at NOUN with the same eyes it looks at the Brick and Mortar universities. Had NOUN been optimally operating open tertiary education system from inception, with the full support of the powers that be, many students will not be wasting away in their various houses as a result of lockdown. This is because only those who were in conventional universities would only be thinking of how to go about their lectures which of course would have only involved their practical while the theoretical lectures would have been going on online . With the experience garnered from COVID 19, Nigeria has to rethink how it should run its tertiary education post COVID19.

This column is of the opinion that Nigeria has too many supervisory bodies overseeing tertiary education. This situation creates conflict and makes the management of tertiary education cumbersome which results in unnecessary cost of operation. In order to ameliorate and streamline the way tertiary education is run in Nigeria, this column wishes to make the following suggestions:

Firstly, the three supervisory bodies overseeing tertiary education-(NUC for universities, NBTE for polytechnics and NCCE for colleges of education) should be merged into one supervisory body to be known as TERTIARY EDUCATION COMMISSION with the overall boss designated as Executive Secretary.

Secondly, NUC should then be renamed DIRECTORATE OF UNIVERSITY EDUCATION while its chief executive should be designated as Director of University Education and answerable to the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Commission.

Thirdly, NBTE will be renamed DIRECTORATE OF TECHNICAL EDUCATION with its boss called Director of Technical Education. Its function will be that of the current NBTE.

Fourthly, NCCE will tow the same line and renamed DIRECTORATE OF COLLEGES OF EDUCATION to be headed by Director of Colleges of Education. It will carry out the functions of present NCCE and answerable to the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Commission. Each of their operational bases will be where their directorates will operate while NUC building will serve both as corporate office of Tertiary Education Commission and directorate of university education. This arrangement will greatly reduce operational cost and make for greater efficiency.

One may want to ask, how does this improve post COVID19 education system in Nigeria? The answer is that for once education system in Nigeria will positively think online with the full deployment of ICT. In addition, ALL ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE PROGRAMMES including LAW resident in the present university campuses will be made non-residential and shifted to National Open University of Nigeria. NOUN will then make its offices visible in all local government headquarters including important towns and cities across the country; and not concentrating in state capitals as is currently the case. With this arrangement, it will be able to reach more candidates than it really has at the moment. The present Federal Universities will now completely be in charge of ALL PURE AND APPLIED SCIENCES, MEDICAL SCIENCES, AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING PROGRAMMES. Polytechnics and Colleges of Education will continue on their present trajectory of producing middle level man power mainly on technical education oriented programmes. It will also transfer all non-technical programmes to NOUN. In the same way, colleges of education will continue to care for teacher education.  All students offering pure science, applied science and engineering programmes will be resident on campuses. This will eliminate the current accommodation problems facing universities at the moment.

In conclusion, this column believes that should this idea of TERTIARY EDUCATION SYSTEM be adopted, any other pandemic that may befall the world-the possibility of which cannot be ruled out, will NOT lead to a lockdown of TERTIARY EDUCATION as experienced during this current pandemic.

Richard Akpan is Head of ICT, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, Aba, Abia State

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