Vice-Chancellors of some federal and state universities and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, were at daggers drawn yesterday over the resumption of universities in the face of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Universities Commission, NUC, had directed universities to resume on January 18, after the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, called off its nine months strike. While the VCs said they were ready for academic activities, ASUU insisted that Nigerian universities were not ready to re-open in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the VCs of a federal university who didn’t want his name in print said it was wrong for ASUU to claim that there were no guidelines for reopening varsities.
Noting that some of the VCs had planned to stagger resumption, the VC said: “I think ASUU should begin to speak to facts. In as much as we do not want the COVID-19 outbreak on our campuses, we had our plans.
“Some academic activities can resume for classes with a few populations, LASU recently held examinations for students in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, and it went well. What do they mean by saying there is no guideline for reopening?”
Another VC, who also preferred anonymity, agreed with his colleague, saying universities were ready to resume academic activities. On his part, VC of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Prof. Felix Salako, said universities were ready to reopen nine months after closure. Addressing journalists at the university in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Salako described ASUU’s position as shocking and a disservice to the university system.
Salako said contrary to ASUU narrative, universities, including his, had made adequate preparations for resumption. According to him, arrangements have been made for both medical equipment and infrastructure to ensure students receive lectures virtually and physically in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.
He said apart from the provision of hand sanitizers made by the university and handwashing facility at every point, the management had fumigated the campus and hostels more than 10 times since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria. Salako, who also took journalists on a facility tour, expressed regret that the ASUU chairman in the university was in attendance at the last Senate meeting where final decisions on the resumption of academic activities were reached.
He said: “It is also glaring even to the blinds that FUNAAB management kick-started the second round of fumigation of every nook and cranny of the university, including unions secretariat, two weeks ago.
“It is equally worthy of note that FUNAAB management provided wash hand basin/bucket and hand sanitizer at the entrance of each college.
“It is also on records that FUNAAB Registrar issues directives from time to time on the needs for everyone to adhere strictly with all non-pharmaceutical guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19.
“Above all is the training organised by the management for the academic staff this week to teach them how to handle virtual lecture. If the above were already carried out by the management, then what else is he insinuating.
On its part, ASUU insisted yesterday that Nigerian universities were not ready to re-open in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and asked the federal government to review its decision to reopen universities on January 18, arguing that more COVID-19 cases continued to be reported across the country.
National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who stated the union’s position on a Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said: “Our concern is rooted in the safety of our members.
“What happens to congested hostels, crowded classrooms? What flexible arrangements are in place? It is a situation of emergency. I’m not sure the universities can cope. Asked if e-learning was an option for universities, the ASUU President said the necessary infrastructure was not in place.
“We are aware that some universities are putting measures in place, with alternative learning models. Some are even trying blended classes, virtual and physical. But these efforts are limited. They get to a point they can’t go further.
“ASUU has been talking about revitalisation since 2012. These are some of the areas where the assistance would have helped. Universities need huge funds to do this.
“People are saying start virtual classes, but more than 60 percent of our students will run into trouble – they can’t afford data or smartphones,’’ he said.
ASUU recently called off a ten-month-old strike over demands related to salary structure and government support for universities.