Adio Aisha and Daniel Ojukwu
On January 18, 2021, tertiary institutions in Nigeria opened their doors to students after a three-phase lockdown period as part of efforts to battle the novel coronavirus that introduced the COVID-19 disease.
Prior to this, there had been efforts by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to contain the over 110,000 confirmed cases and over 1,400 deaths in the country, with measures which included a total lockdown of the country, restriction on air travel, inter-state travel restriction, nightlife ban, curfew, public gathering capacity review, public transportation capacity adjustment, among others.
Having promised in October, 2020, to not shut down the country again, the PTF, led by Boss Mustapha, granted schools permission to reopen, with a guideline to ensure the disease and virus are kept away from students and staff alike. Among these guidelines were that social distancing be maintained where possible, regular checks be made at various entry points, face masks be employed alongside regular sanitization and other steps be carried out to curb the spread of the disease.
As institutions in the country eased into the new normal, 1,617 cases of the disease were recorded on the opening day, however, University of Ilorin (Unilorin) – a federal institution – took a delayed approach to its reopening. It had a more gradual reopening process which involved students at various levels resuming at different dates as directed by the management.
On face value, this appeared to be a good strategy, but implementation would prove to be the Achilles heel as students across all levels trooped into campus for all manner of activities within the varsity’s first week of resumption.
Prior to this, though, the institution had colluded with the transport service students patronize, to violate a key guideline in the guise of catering for the welfare of students. The tricycle and four-wheeler transport service, localized as ‘keke’ and ‘korope’ had operated at a rate of N30 and N80 respectively at full capacity prior to the COVID-19, but the restriction on capacity, coupled with a rising price of Premium Motor Spirit, forced the transport union to revise its prices and consider an increase to N50 and N100 respectively, with the Korope service going as high as N150.
It is important to mention that the university is located a reasonable distance away from residential areas, and students are better off boarding the available transport service than trekking the distance.
The transport service conveyed students from the school park to a bus/stop referred to as ‘terminus’ – some 7km away from campus – but students could alight at various stops along the way.
– The N20 Reduction –
On the collusion, Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Lanre Ajibade; Students Union President, Wisdom Okoko; Representatives of the transport union and other stakeholders, held meetings prior to resumption to reduce the cost from N50 (keke) and N100 (korope) back to N30 (keke) and N80 (korope).
Alongside the SAU, we last week met with the leadership of the KOROPE and KEKE with discussions around PRICE and COVID-19 protocols in transportation. More details to come in shortly, WeMove✊🏽. StudentFirstLeadership💖. @DavidTitiloye @intellect4all @Viktor4all @MFTeemah pic.twitter.com/XAGuIGvTaH
— PASSION (@wisdom_okoko) January 24, 2021
Following series of meetings with KEKE AND KOROPE LEADERS, Please note the following price on movements: KEKE is reduced to 30# from 50#, KOROPE is now reduced to 80# from 100# and movement to our college remains normal. Let’s avoid been extorted till #TheEndOfCorona. WeMove✊🏽. pic.twitter.com/CJycXWPPtl
— PASSION (@wisdom_okoko) January 25, 2021
In a telephone interview with our reporter, Okoko, popularly referred to as Passion, the SUG president at the time, confessed to holding a number of these meetings where “we looked at what was best for our students, and what would not be too burdensome for the transport guys, and they came up actually with their transport plan – about N150 – and we negotiated on the table for about two months before the resumption. So it was negotiations, we negotiated, we did analysis, we did calculation to represent the interest of our students. That was how we arrived at that price.”
He admitted to agreeing to an increase in the capacity of students during these meetings, and said the school management was represented there by the DSA Prof. Ajibade.
Video footage obtained by our reporter shows students queueing at the school park to board the vehicles. No social distancing was observed, and as it reaches its climax, two passengers clearly get into the passenger seat in front – originally designed to seat one passenger – and violate the adjusted capacity guideline to save the passengers N20. Their destination? Unilorin!
– The Was No Agreement, ‘Useless Students’ Violate Our Rules – Ajibade –
Reacting to the allegations, Prof. Ajibade admitted to partaking in the said meetings, but denied an agreement to increase the number of passengers in the vehicles, blaming ‘useless students’ for violating COVID-19 protocols in and around campus.
In a chat with our reporter, he said, “when you make rules, there are people who violate it. You can send somebody to our gate, the security men check everybody. The useless students, what they do, as soon as they leave the security point and enter the campus, they remove it (facemasks). Then any vehicle that has overload, they drop the students. In fact, Student Affairs, we have apprehended several vehicles and have punished them to pay N10,000 fine to make sure they abide by COVID-19 protocol.”
When the evidences of violation were posed to him, he dubbed it “a pure lie,” saying there was no agreement on overloading, and it was only obtainable anywhere beyond the campus. Ajibade denied our reporter’s efforts to present him hard evidences.
Unknown to the dean, his claim had been put to the test on multiple occasions, our reporter had boarded two overloaded vehicles from the terminus to the campus, and back to terminus, and on both occasions, the front passenger seats beside the driver, sat two passengers, and majority of passengers, as well as the driver, had no facial coverings. As expected, the security operatives sat idly.
– We Cannot Control Entrants Into Campus – VC –
Findings made by our reporters were brought before the Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Sulyman Age Abdulkareem. In a chat with our reporter, he said “the thing is that we cannot control all the passengers coming into our campus, some are not our students.”
He said he was not aware of the overloading of buses but claimed there had been times he had observed the security officials “pulling down” students for not wearing masks.
Abdulkareem had not participated in the meetings and claimed to not know of the agreement that birthed the violation of COVID-19 violations on the institution he heads, but like the DSA, he was quick to shift the blame back to students.
– Kwara’s Share Of The Blame –
The Kwara state government has its share of blame though, the DSA mentioned that violations of the vehicle capacity were obtainable beyond campus, and he did not lie. Our reporter journeyed in an intra-state taxi and ‘keke’ on two different occasions, and the taxi, originally designed to convey one passenger in front and three backseat passengers, conveyed four passengers at the back.
The tricycle (keke) was no different, conveying two passengers beside the rider in front, a complete deviation from its original design.