Set up N15bn COVID-19 Emergency Fund, House of Reps tells Federal Government
The House of Representatives has on Tuesday urged the Federal Government to set up a strategic N15 Billion Naira Coronavirus Emergency Fund for Nigerian Universities and Tertiary Institutions to respond to the impact of corona virus on academic, research and administrative operations.

The Green Chamber further urged the Federal Government to immediately establish an Infectious Diseases Research Institute in 6 selected Federal Government universities across the Six Geo-Political Zones of the country, which will be given specific research funding by the federal Government;

It also urged Nigerian Universities and Tertiary Institutions to launch a Corona Virus Student Emergency Fund, where indigent and vulnerable students can apply for student emergency grant to assist them recover from the economic impact of the COVID–19 pandemic.

The lawmakers called on the Federal Government to empower some special universities to build the capacity to do the required testing so as to meet up with the national demand on testing due to rising number of coronavirus cases;

They also urged the Federal Government to constitute a team that will comprise of representatives of the government, academia and relevant stakeholders to undertake a study tour to Madagascar and Senegal to explore the reported progress in indigenous research into a possible cure of COVID-19 and bring back relevant knowledge and knowhow back to the country;

These resolutions were sequel to the passage of a motion by Reps Steve Azaiki, Ndudi Godwin Elumelu and 8 others with the title: Need to Set-Up a N15 billion Naira Corona Virus Emergency Fund for Nigerian Universities and Tertiary Institutions.

The resolutions were adopted by members without dissent on the floor at plenary on Wednesday.

Azaiki while arguing the motion, the lawmaker said “The House notes that Africa and particularly Nigeria is still being viewed through a colonial prism due to the continent’s vulnerability rather than its capacity to contribute to concerted global efforts to defeat coronavirus.

“Conscious that Nigeria must be counted as one of the countries making contribution in science and research to find the cure and vaccine for COVID–19 and to achieve this objective there is need to provide support and funding to universities and research institutions through special emergency funding to enable them carry out such responsibilities.

“Also notes that due to the outbreak of Coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID–19 most universities and tertiary institutions in Nigeria have suspended classes as a prevention in the absence of any known vaccines.

“Aware that the COVID–19 pandemics have had a devastating impact on Nigeria’s universities and tertiary education system and without a major mitigation, like discovering an effective therapy or vaccine, mass testing and a new strategic infusion of federal funding, the landscape of Nigeria’s university and tertiary institutions may be forever change;

“Also aware that the Federal Government, in lieu of the COVID–19 pandemic outbreak and the enormous public health dangers that it poses is yet to decide on a date for the re-opening of schools including universities and tertiary institutions across the country;

“Concerned that for four-year institutions, enrolment means revenue; and in the midst of the short-term economic and social shocks of ‘stay-at-home’ orders coupled with difficulties of containing the virus, there are estimates that universities and tertiary institutions will experience at least a 15% reduction in enrolment, as many students will likely decline to enroll in the new session as they may consider delaying their tertiary education;

“Worried that universities and tertiary institutions’ tuition income will nose-dive as parents who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic are less likely to fund the university or tertiary education of their wards, as students may demand fee reduction and waivers in the light of economic recession coupled with the shock of unemployment rates that could reach an estimated global average of 25%, higher education may also seem like a luxury for many.”

The lawmaker acknowledges that in the continent and globally, some institutions are establishing the infrastructure needed so that they are able to move all their courses online (should there be an extended lockdown due to the pandemic now or in the future).

He further said “that Nigeria provides up to 80% funding for public universities occasioning for more far reaching means of raising funds for universities and tertiary institutions who need to prepare a business continuity plan for their administrative and academic staff to be able to work remotely while under government’s orders to lockdown due to the pandemic;

“Also worried about the need to ensure the provision of appropriate student support scheme (COVID–19 Student Emergency Grant) for those affected by the impact of the pandemic physically, economically and mentally, especially the vulnerable students’ groups e.g. persons living with disabilities, students with trauma or mental health issues, refugees or displaced persons within the tertiary education system;

“Recalls that the government of the United States recently provided the sum of $14.3Billion Dollars for higher education, with $12.4Billion Dollars split between emergency grants to student and money to colleges for expenses directly related to coronavirus and the disruption of campus operations, as $1Billion Dollars would be targeted at historically black colleges and universities, while $300Million Dollars will be given to colleges most affected by coronavirus;

“Aware that in March, 2020 the government of Canada earmarked an investment of $275Million Dollars in funding for research on medical counter measures against corona virus, which will allow 96 research organizations and projects to continue essential research within the field of infectious diseases, vaccines and clinical management.”

The parliamentarian also took cognizance of the efforts by some Nigerian institutions like University of Benin (UNIBEN) Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (ABU) and Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) in contributing to the ongoing fight against COVID19, where researchers have produced clinically tested low-cost and effective ventilators saying strategic additional funding could increase their capacity in that regard.

After the passage of the motion, the House mandated the Committees on Tertiary Education, Emergency and Disaster Preparedness and Science and Technology to ensure implementation, adding that the concurrence of the Senate be sought on the motion.
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