BY Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The Academic and Non-Academic staff in the nation’s university education, yesterday, warned that there would be dire consequences if the Federal Government went ahead to reopen the ivory tower closed following to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, warned the federal government to be ready for negative consequences of reopening the tertiary institutions, the Non-teaching staff described it as dangerous, plan to re-open universities, arguing that it would lead to higher number of cases of the COVID-19 pandemic not only on campus but also the host communities.
ASUU, speaking through its Coordinator, Lagos Zone, Prof Olusiji Sowande, at a briefing after a meeting at Olabisi Onababjo University, Ago-Iwoye, insisted that reopening of tertiary institutions without addressing issues in the universities would be suicidal.
According to him, “presently, hostel accommodations are inadequate, no facility on ground to carry out physical distancing in large crowded classes, water and electricity supply are not reliable. Reopening tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to address these issues would be suicidal.
“While government made arrangements for special bailout funds for airline operators and other private entities, no such arrangement was made for public universities. Therefore, government should be ready to take responsibility for any possible negative consequences after reopening of universities”.
Claiming that it was not enough to have the students back on campuses, Sowande said that the atmosphere and conditions must also be right.
He lamented that years of neglect of both education and health sectors in the country had resulted in inadequate infrastructure and lack of well equipped diagnostic, testing, treatment and research laboratories in both sectors.
On the ongoing strike by ASUU, Sowande said ASUU had written relevant agencies with the hope that steps would be taken to put an end to the strike, alleging “It seems that some government officials are benefiting from the prevailing situation.”
He added that ASUU demanded that the Accountant-General of the Federation must immediately remit all illegally withheld check-offs, and other third party deductions with accrued interest.”
On its part, Chairman of the Joint Action Committee, JAC, of the non academic staff comprising of Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions, NASU, and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Samson Ugwoke, said members would not resume until the coast was cleared.
Ugwoke, who is President of SSANU, said even if the government decided to reopen universities, the two university based unions would not resume work until all their demands were settled by the government.
According to him, “Government is not ready. The offices, the hostels and the university campuses are not ready, the campuses are overtaken by bushes/grasses. And again, you cannot resume now because we have overcrowded situation, the facilities cannot accommodate the figures.
“Now that we are talking about physical distancing, students do stand outside and take lectures from the windows, crowding on top of tables to take lectures and now no additional infrastructure to support physical distancing. Therefore, government is not ready unless they want to send them back to school to die. There will be massive infection and transmission if the students are sent back to school under this condition.
“Above all, some of these students make up the population of the catchment community because a lot of them are living off campus and they mingle with the people in the community. You can get students in the hostels and off campus staying six in a room. So, sending them there is like sending a cow to abattoir for slaughter.”