My attention was drawn on May 1st to an article published on the ongoing crisis at the National University of Nigeria written by a social commentator Ahmed Abdullahi as published in The Nation newspaper. As a student of that prestigious institution of higher learning, I could not have been happier that after what seems like an eternity, the current situation at NOUN is finally getting the attention of the public and especially experts in the education sector.
Mr Ahmed Abdullahi in his well-written piece did his best to describe the ordeal currently being endured by all students and staff of the National Open University as a result of the actions and inactions of our Vice Chancellor Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu since his appointment a little over a year ago. But the situation is even worse than Mr Ahmed managed to portray in his column in The Nation. NOUN is sinking as we speak and if nothing is done by the federal government and all stakeholders to rescue the institution, Nigeria’s only open and distance learning university will be history in no time.
To be clear, while the bulk of the mess we are dealing with as students revolve around the VC’s decision to abruptly close the school’s registration and iLearn platform, the issues go even deeper than that. These platforms are the lifeline of our institution, it is the gateway, the channel through which we the students connect with our lecturers and through which NOUN itself connects to the world. That lifeline, that gateway, that channel no longer exists as we speak. Professor Adamu in his wisdom decided to shut it down without providing any adequate alternative.
The implication of this abrupt closure of the portal and iLearn platform by the VC is that all NOUN students can no longer pay their school fees online, or register for courses online, or get tutorials and other learning materials, access past exam questions, submit assignments and reports, or access results from past sessions and semesters. NOUN has essentially been stripped of everything that makes it an open and distance learning institution and we the students are paying heavily for that.
It’s like after travelling a long distance by road through a car for several times, we are suddenly being asked to ride camels. We are made to understand that the school management lost all student data in the database when the platforms were shut down. So as we speak the school management cannot authoritatively say who is a student or not. Imagine being born in the age of mobile phones and 4G internet and someone asks you to hire a town crier to broadcast a message to global audience. So many students also have their school fees trapped inside the old portals and are now being asked to pay new fees.
It goes beyond shutting down the e-learning and registration portal and throwing the school into the darkness technology-wise. The VC has shown favouritism and displayed tribal sentiments in conducting the affairs of the school. Some senior officers have been demoted to lower positions and their juniors placed above them. We are also made to understand that some staff fringe benefits are being withheld and the video recording allowance of our facilitators are not being paid.
Essentially nothing is working in NOUN right now. Our study centres no longer have internet connectivity. The erstwhile smooth school academic calendar has been disrupted as a result of these and many more issues, all directly or indirectly tied to questionable decisions and policies introduced by Professor Adamu. There is a distinct lack of transparency in the administration of the school, policies are announced out of thin air without any consultation with students or staff.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the Honourable Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu also have their fair share of the blame in the chaos that is engulfing NOUN under Professor Adamu. The issues surrounding his appointment as Vice Chancellor last year apart, the President and Education Minister owe Nigerians a duty by virtue of their respective positions to uphold the integrity of one of the most important higher institutions in the country. The fact that the President and the Minister have been unlooking this crisis at NOUN for a year now despite several appeals to intervene by the students and staff makes them complicit.
As students of the National Open University, our demands are simple. NOUN was a perfectly functional institution before Professor Adamu became the VC, the least we ask of him is to keep it that way and not make it worse. We implore the VC to rethink some of his decisions that have crippled our institution and immediately reinstate the formerly well-functioning portals so all students can carry on with their education without further disruptions.
Patrick Omoregie writes from Lagos