The 11th Convocation ceremony of the National Open University of Nigeria held on Saturday, 26th March, 2022, where 22,250 students graduated, has come and gone but we cannot but talk about the activities of the event.
Instructively, barely weeks after the ceremony, which was, for the first time, held both physically at the headquarters in Abuja and virtually at the various study centres in the country, the government announced the lifting of the embargo on large social gatherings.
It could be recalled that the Covid-19 pandemic-imposed ban in 2019 by the government had an immediate impact on the university as it affected its then planned 9th Convocation Ceremony. Hours before commencement, the ceremony was abruptly suspended. The suspension stayed almost two years before it was lifted on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19.
In a message titled “Implementation Guidelines for Easing COVID-19 Restrictions,” the government finally lifted the ban due to the significant drop in the number of new cases of the scourge.
The PSC said the social restriction recommendations were revised in line with the three established thematic areas of movement, industry and labour, as well as community activities. It also said the decision followed the reduced risk of importation of new variants, availability of vaccines and the increasing number of people vaccinated in Nigeria and globally. Consequently, physical convocation ceremonies can begin to take place again at the Nigerian universities.
Furthermore, NOUN’s recent convocation also featured a tweak in the erstwhile arrangements, where everybody used to converge at the headquarters for the ceremony. The blended ceremony held simultaneously both at the Abuja headquarters and in its various Study Centres across the nation, was decided by the management to permit only grandaunts of postgraduate, 1st class awardees of Bachelor of Science and other award winners to be physically present at the headquarters. The unique simultaneous event made it possible for parents to attend their children’s convocation without having to travel to Abuja as it was before.
The convocation, among other activities, featured vox pop from students, vendors and well-wishers, in view to know their opinion on the event. Many graduating Students had a lot to say about the convocation. A Ph.D graduand of English stated that the blended style was commendable considering the Open and Distance Learning system of the university that takes education to the doorstep of people.
NOUN, according to other students, has brought quality, cost-effective and flexible learning to the masses and these qualities have influenced the 2022 convocation.
Considering the limited number of graduates at the headquarters, most vendors were unable to make sales as planned. The previous convocations favored them, considering the large number of graduates from all the study centres that converged at the headquarters for the event. The crowds translated into a good business day for the vendors.
Friends and family on the other hand were impressed by how well-organised the convocation went with minimal crowd and applauded the management for allowing Study Centres plan and organise their own convocation ceremony.
The event also served as advocacy for the university as well-wishers were convinced that NOUN is a good institution to study without the conventional way.
Even though NOUN was a trail blazer as the university that initiated the issuance of certificate on convocation day, the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions had stopped this from happening, so the university had to device a means of taking the certificates to the graduates. At the combined 9th and 10th convocation held last year, the certificates were shared at the zonal level in the six geo-political zones as against the sharing on the spot on the convocation day.
But the university management took it a step further as the 11th convocation certificates were taken to each state for sharing. The sharing, which lasted for five days, started on the 4th to the 8thApril, 2022. It was a success as it involved high ranked employees for close supervision.
The usual hustle and bustle associated with the ceremony was missing in the blended event this year, which equally drew mixed feelings amongst students, vendors, staff and even the invited guests.
From the foregoing, therefore, the university management can consider certain steps towards reverting to the all-physical convocation ceremony or stick to the recent blended one. But as the Federal Government has removed the clog in holding such large gatherings, the ball is now in the court of the university management.
Emem Oshionebo is a staff of the Directorate of Media and Publicity, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)
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