The Academic Staff Union of Universities, on Monday, warned the Federal Government against reopening tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Zones of the union said social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols were practically impossible in public tertiary institutions, which were always overcrowded in the country.
They, therefore, warned that any attempt to reopen the institutions would not only be suicidal, but also worsen the spread of coronavirus.
Also, the National Vice –President of the union, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, in an interview with The PUNCH, called on the Federal Government to upgrade the education sector, if it wanted universities across the country to resume.
Recall that the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba had, on August 22 said tertiary institutions shut in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in March, would reopen “very soon.”
During a Nigerian Television Authority programme, Nwajiuba said the Federal Government was also working to end the strike embarked upon by ASUU.
But the National Vice–President, Osodeke, in the interview with The PUNCH to resume.
Osodeke said that if government believed that the education sector was critical, it should meet the COVID-19 guidelines which it prepared for school reopening.
He maintained that a topnotch procedure was created at airports because the elite children needed to be kept safe while returning to school abroad, whereas other Nigerian children were asked to go back to campuses which were not COVID-19 complaint.
Because of elite children, govt ensured COVID-19 protocols at airports – ASUU vice-president
Osodeke stated, “If government believes that the education sector is critical, they should try and meet those rules. They met them for the airports, you are aware. If you get to an airport before you board a plane, there is a procedure you will pass through because the airport is for the elite. Their children are going back abroad for studies so the airports should be okay so that they can go back to school. Meanwhile, they want these children to go back to schools where there are no health facilities, no good accommodation; lecture theatres are so small for the students and you want them to go and have a high rate of infection.
We expect the parents, students and our colleagues in the media to put it to the government that they have spent so much money on COVID-19 since it started, why can’t they spend money on the education sector and upgrade the facilities so that the children can go back to school? That is what we should be talking about.”
Osodeke said that he expected government to meet the rules it set for schools but was surprised at its refusal and the sudden call for resumption.
He stated, “It is not safe to return to school. The government set the rules for schools on what should happen before schools can reopen. Has the government met the rules? No, they have not. Do we have enough space where the students can keep social distancing? A room that is going to contain two students, we have between 10 and 20 students, will they change that? The lecture theatres too… Do they have improved medical facilities in case of an emergency. These are not there. We expect government to meet those rules before it thinks about reopening.
Also, the Lagos Zone of ASUU, during a press conference at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, said the Federal Government should be ready for any possible negative consequences if it reopened the institutions without putting necessary measures in place.
The zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Prof Olusiji Sowande, who addressed the press conference lamented that government made arrangements for special bailout for airline operators and other private individuals, but did not extend such to public universities.
He cautioned that it was not enough to have the students back on campuses, but that the atmosphere and conditions must also be right.
The coordinator said hostel accommodation was inadequate, adding that there were no facilities to ensure physical distancing in large and crowded classes.
He declared 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.