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Universities reopening: How safe?

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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Early last year, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a strike over several issues such as: failure of the federal government to implement the agreement it had with them in 2009, decay in the university system and the federal government’s plan to implement the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
Added to this was the closure of all institutions of learning in the country because of the outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Consequently, undergraduates were compelled to stay at home till God knows when. Towards the end of last year, the COVID-19 pandemic subsided and state governments across Nigeria began to ease the lockdown which they previously imposed on their states.
Unfortunately, all hopes of Nigerian university students to go back to school remained dashed as the federal government and ASUU could not resolve the crisis between them. Several meetings were held but both parties could not settle their scores and allow the future leaders, who could also be described as the future of the nation go back to their studies.
Luckily, there is a green light indicating that university students can now have an opportunity to resume and continue their studies from where they stopped, as universities have been directed to re-open on January 18, 2021. While responding to questions from our correspondent, the Chairman of ASUU in Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Dr. Simon Ehiabhi, noted that the union suspended its strike on December 23, 2020.
However, it is not yet Uhuru. The university body has reportedly suspended its industrial action, indicating that students who have almost become frustrated by the protracted strike can return to school. There is a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading, in the light of is it safe for universities to be reopened for learning.
According to Dr. Ehiabhi from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, “The reopening of schools is outside the control of ASUU as our members are ready to resume once schools are reopened. Government closed down all learning institutions in March 2020 in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID 19. Presently, it is difficult to say that government has put in place adequate infrastructure to curtail or prevent the spread of COVID 19 in learning institutions. With this observation, it is very risky for Government to reopen schools now except adequate arrangement are in place to make staff and students safe to come to school.”
Some branches of ASUU in several other institutions also gave their reactions to this development.
The union Chairman at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, in a recent interview said classroom and hostel situations in universities do not in any way conform with COVID-19 protocols.
He further said no preparations had been made so far for the safe re-opening of the universities and urged parents to insist on safety before re-opening.
Dr. Egbedokun added, “COVID-19 is very real and this second wave is as real as described. We cannot afford to toy with our health and the health of our dear students in the name of resumption.”
“There are no preparations for safe re-opening of the universities and I think parents must insist on safe re-opening. The current classroom and hostel configurations in our universities do not in any way conform with the PTF (Presidential Task Force) on COVID-19 protocols. There is no way universities can achieve that.”
The OAU spokesperson, Abiodun Olanrewaju, said the university management was ready for resumption and had put in place “a lot in relation to the COVID-19 protocols” in a bid to ensure safety.
In the words of the Chairman of ASUU, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Dr Adebayo Oni, “The lectures halls are overcrowded. As of today, in my own campus, I have not seen any facility for hand washing Who is to provide sanitisers? Do you expect lecturers to provide sanitisers for themselves?
“Fumigation of the environment from time to time should be done, How do you cope with students surge and the challenge of power supply?”
Dr. Oni said the union had observed that conducting physical lectures with students would be more disastrous. He described as alarming, figure of COVID-19. He said, “It is definitely a threat to the resumption of academic activities.
He added, “The fact is that under this circumstance and looking at the threat of the figure, going physical with students would be more disastrous. Conducting physical session, physical lectures with students would be more disastrous. The truth of the matter is that we now propose a mixed model of online teaching and probably some level of physical teachings. Even the online teaching also comes with its own facilities which are not readily available.
Speaking further, he said, “We don’t want to be pessimistic to say that it is not going to be workable. However , it is going to be at the risk of our lives and the lives of our students if the required facilities are not provided by the government. The truth is that the facilities to cope with the pandemic are not available in our institutions. It appears the government is not ready and our institutions are not helpful.”
While reacting to the issue of social distancing on campus, chairman, University of Lagos branch, Dr Dele Ashiru, explained that the union had been justified over their agitations for expansion of infrastructure in Universities across the country.
He said, “ASUU has been clamouring for the expansion of infrastructure in the universities. This is a testimony to the justification of our struggles over the years because the situation as at now leaves more to be desired.
ASUU Chairman, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Rabiu Nasiru, stated that the lecturers in that university were prepared to go back to work. He, however, expressed concern that no adequate measures had so far been taken by the school’s management against the spread of the virus.

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