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Reopening universities in overcrowded classrooms and hostels is unsafe – ASUU

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Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU have raised concerns over the reopening of universities amidst the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recall that ASUU embarked on a nine-month nationwide industrial action on March 23, 2020, following its dispute with the Federal Government over their insistence on the implementation of the IPPIS in the payment of University lecturers’ salaries and allowances, as against the ASUU-developed homegrown payment platform, UTAS, which they believe guarantees the autonomy of the university. 

It called off the strike on December 23 after reaching a agreement with the government team led by Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige. The Memorandum of Action signed between the government and ASUU at the meeting stated the Federal Government to release N40 billion to ASUU as earned allowance on or before December 31, 2020. 

Following the end of the strike, National Universities Commission, NUC on Friday, January 8 told universities to resume academic activities on January 18 and adhere to COVID-19 prevention guidelines in hostels and lecture halls. 

However, Punch reports that some chapters of the union believe that it is ill-advised for universities to reopen because the government has not put in measures in place for the smooth reopening of schools. 

In interviews with The Punch, the Chairmen of various chapters of the union expressed concern with observing the COVID-19 guidelines in overcrowded classrooms and hostels. 

The chairman of the union at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, said no preparations have been made so far for the safe re-opening of the universities and urged parents to insist on safety before re-opening.

“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, which is politically motivated,” he told Punch. 

“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. I have said this elsewhere, that rather than for government to have addressed the obvious deficits in the public universities during the lockdown and strike, they were playing to the gallery.”  

The chairman of the union at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta FUNAAB, Dr Adebayo Oni, said the government should make provisions of facilities to prevent the spread of the virus before it asks schools to reopen. 

“The lecture halls are overcrowded.  As of today, in my own campus,  I have not seen any facility for hand washing. Who is to provide sanitizers? Do you expect lecturers to provide sanitizers 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?

“It is definitely a threat to the resumption of academic activities. 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 sessions, 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 online teaching also comes with its own facilities which are not readily available.

“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.” Oni said. 

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