After about 10 months of the closure of Nigerian public universities due to a strike declared by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the National Universities Commission (NUC) on January 8 directed that schools should resume on January 18, 2021.
The directive, which was signed by the commission’s Deputy Executive Secretary (Administration), Chris Maiyaki, on behalf of the Executive Secretary, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, said the resumption date was in accordance with the directive of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
Maiyaki urged universities to safeguard lives by strictly adhering to the extant safety protocols and guidelines communicated to the Nigerian university system through NUC’s circulars.
“I am to add that universities on resumption of academic activities, must under no circumstance violate the full cycle of the semester system, consistent with the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) approved by the NUC, as well as other extant quality assurance standards and guidelines,” the statement reads.
Nigeria’s public universities have been shut down since February 2020, following the strike action embarked on by ASUU.”
With the temporary resolve between the federal government and ASUU, students have been asked to go back to school.
Though universities have different dates of resumption, many have already resumed.
Some students who spoke to Daily Trust expressed excitement returning to school after a long break resulting from the COVID-19 and strike, praying that no strike will occur any time soon.
A Theatre Arts student at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Catherine Chetawomelo Stephen, said she was excited to resume school and that every other Nigerian student should be excited too, after almost a year of being at home.
“It’s really an exciting feeling for me to be back to school after the ASUU strike and the pandemic break because staying at home was frustrating and wasn’t helping matters. So it’s really good to be back in school,” she said
She said: “My school has resumed but lectures haven’t really commenced but hopefully they will by Monday. Just a few students in school now and registration is ongoing so I am sure by Monday lectures will fully start,” she said.
“It is my prayer that this kind of strike doesn’t occur again because it makes studying in Nigeria frustrating.”
According to her, the COVID-19 protocols, like wearing facemask, checking temperature and social distancing, are observed strictly from the school gate and that students were complying with them.
For John Blessing of the same varsity, resumption was long overdue, so she was excited to be back in school, this is even as she prayed that the federal government will honour the agreement with ASUU to avoid another strike.
“Most students are ready for classes because we can’t wait to graduate and face another stage of life. Imagine staying at home for nine months or more. If that happens again, it means addition of two years to a four-year course.”
Chinedum Azubuike, a Computer Science student at the University of Abuja, said he can’t wait to go back to class and prayed that the government and ASUU are able to resolve their disagreement permanently.
“It is so painful to remain in a level while your mates in private schools will have moved ahead of you because of incessant strikes by government and ASUU,” he said.
On the possibility of another strike, the immediate past chairman, ASUU-UNIABUJA, Ben Ugheoke, said the only way to avert another strike is for the government to honour the MoA it signed with ASUU.
He said: “ASUU conditionally suspended its strike on 23rd of December, 2020, with a clear message that “should government renege on the terms spelt out in the MoA negotiated and signed between government and the ASUU, the union shall without notice, commence the suspended strike.”
Ugheoke noted that since December 23, 2020, ASUU members returned to their duty posts with the hope that the government would honour the terms of the MoA.
“December 31, 2020, was such a critical timeline by which date government was supposed to have paid EAA to ASUU members, disbursed withheld union check-off dues to ASUU, transmit a letter to the National Assembly on mainstreaming of EAA into annual budgets, and payment of part of the withheld salaries of ASUU members.
“So far, government has failed to live up to its promise. This is seriously a red line the government has crossed.”
Meanwhile, he added that going by the NCDC guidelines on COVID-19 and what’s on the ground in most universities, “it is safe to say, the universities are not ready for reopening.”
He said: “It is not certain if we may have good answers to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, should the country decide to “herd immunity” approach. Sweden tried it with poor results. We are really at a crossroads.
“The best way out would have been the virtual study system, using online platforms. However, lack of infrastructure and the poverty level of many students would hamper this mode of learning or lecture delivery.”
He said the entire situation needs careful scientific analysis, devoid of politics or pecuniary considerations.