GENERAL

Covid-19: ASUU Vindicated On Objection To Resumption By Public Universities

IT is a notorious fact that the Federal Government closed down all educational institutions in Nigeria with effect from Monday, March 23 to curtail the spread of the invisible killer christened Covid-19 pandemic which made an incursion into the country the previous February.

Since then, the equation of virtually every facet of human endeavour, including education, has been altered to the discomfiture of all. However the on-going pandemic is not the first and it will not be the last the world will witness judging by the history of pandemics. Therefore we have to learn how to manage it the way we have managed and lived with malaria (1880), small pox (1492), flu (1889), influenza (1933), measles (1875), yellow fever (1793), polio (1916), cholera (1817) and typhoid (1880).

Blanket closure of universities by the Federal Government.

As earlier mentioned, all schools in Nigeria have remained closed since March 23, leaving Nigerian young adults idle for over 5 months. Education is a necessity because it is the panacea to lack, ignorance, diseases and all forms of extremism.  To underscore the importance of education, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, recently said that Covid-19 is a disaster while the closure of schools is more disastrous. He went further to say: “…Keeping schools closed a moment longer than is absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible. Without the resumption of formal education, a generation of children is likely to have its employment and earning prospects blighted”. I cannot agree with him any less because we are all too familiar with the aphorism that “an idle hand is the devil’s workshop”. When we therefore leave young Nigerians idle for almost six months, and the end is not even in view, we may be wittingly or unwittingly destroying their future.

Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 Guidelines:

To curb the spread of Covid-19, the Federal Government set up the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19. I am impressed that the PTF came up with a guideline for resumption of schools which I agree with. Final year students in Primary and Secondary Schools were allowed to write their final Examinations. Unfortunately however, the Final year students of tertiary institutions were not allowed to write their own Final Examinations. This is in spite of the fact that it is the Final year students in Secondary Schools that will become First year students in tertiary institutions whenever the tertiary institutions are reopened. This is the more reason why Final year students of tertiary institutions would have been allowed to write their Final year Examinations at the same time.

The Associations of Vice Chancellors of and Pro Chancellors of Private Universities in Nigeria have written to NUC that they had complied with government guidelines and are therefore ready to resume. They went ahead to ask the Ministry of Education and the PTF to visit their universities and verify their readiness. Unfortunately up till now, there has been no response. To underscore the readiness of private universities to resume, the parents and students have protested the continued closure of private universities even after the private universities have met the PTF conditions. It is common knowledge that many universities in countries such as the United States of America, England and even China where COVID-19 originated have since resumed. Back home in Nigeria, only the children of politicians and wealthy Nigerians have returned to schools overseas leaving the children of those who cannot afford to send their children overseas to be roaming about.

Lessons from Covid-19:

Covid-19 is a two-phased phenomenon. The first phase is destructive while the second phase has exposed the unpreparedness of public universities in the areas of poor infrastructures, underfunding, inefficiency and corruption which ASUU had documented and published. These inadequacies and neglect by those managing the nation’s public universities forced ASUU to go on strike and are still on strike long before the universities were closed down.  Covid-19 has now vindicated ASUU’s position that rightly concluded that public universities are not safe for resumption because of the intolerable and poor condition of most of the public universities. The PTF has laid down conditions in its guidelines for resumption of universities. However, as things are, most of the public universities can not comply with these PTF conditions due to lack of funds.

Vindication of ASUU

From available facts on ground, Covid-19 has undeniably vindicated ASUU’s position, protests and grievances over the years about lack of necessary facilities, equipment and decayed infrastructure. This is in sharp contrast to what obtains in private universities most of which are reputed for their moral and physical discipline, quality and functional education, hygienic and safe environment, predictable academic calendar, absence of unionism, committed teachers, modern teaching equipment and laboratories as well as adequate preparation to prevent Covid-19.

Lumping of private and public universities together

It is hereby suggested that the NUC, Ministry of Education and PTF should advise the Federal Government on the danger of lumping public and private universities together when considering whether or not to allow universities to reopen.

  • Aare Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D (London), LL. D (UNILAG), LL. D (UI), D. Lit (NDA), FNSE, FNIALS, Founder & Chancellor Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.

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