By Adesina Wahab
With the gradual reopening of the school system across the country after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Government-owned universities may be in for another round of controversy, as the two academic unions, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, are set for a test of strength.
This is because the two unions have different views on how safe it is to reopen universities and other tertiary institutions across the country.
ASUU’s position is that universities should not be reopened until some issues are resolved, while CONUA says it is ready for resumption.
CONUA, a splinter group of ASUU, is coordinated by Dr Niyi Sunmonu and is active in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; Ambrose Alli University, AAU, Ekpoma; Federal University, Oye Ekiti, FUOYE; Federal University, Lokoja, FUL, and Kwara State University, KWASU, Malete.
Sumonu said: “CONUA members are ready to resume work. Everything necessary in terms of COVID-19 protocols must be put in place before reopening the universities in order to prevent students and staff from contracting the disease.
“The education sector cannot continue to stagnate. As it appears, COVID-19 would continue to be a threat and we must, in the circumstance, learn to strive to lead our normal life.
“The Union urges the government to make available everything that can help our universities to resume work as it is being done elsewhere in the world.” Sunmonu said.
However, the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said without the Federal Government fulfilling its part of the agreement reached with the union, there may not be industrial harmony in the universities. Ogunyemi said the Federal Government has continually failed to implement the Memorandum of Action agreed to in 2009.
He noted that unlike other sectors, nothing had been put in place by the government in accordance with the COVID-19 health protocols for reopening of schools adding that, “Students’ hostels, lecture rooms and laboratories do not meet standards of schools in other countries.
“The narratives coming from government quarters does not edify what the university stands for. What they have said about us does not represent what we are doing but because they have polluted us with those undeserving of the job.
“The ASUU strike of 2013 that lasted six months, we wrote about 59 letters and had 20 meetings but in this ongoing strike we’ve written about four letters and we’ve had few meetings.
“We’ve met with the Senate President and the Speaker and several ministers but the only language they understand is strike action.”
The National Parent Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, has always canvassed phased reopening of schools and the government seems to buy the idea with the phased reopening of secondary schools across the country.
The National President of NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, opined that government should do the needful by providing all safety measures and nets for all stakeholders in the education sector.
“It is the duty of government to provide all the safety measures and items needed for teachers, students and all stakeholders in the sector to be free of being affected by the disease when schools are reopened. As a body, we are ready to do our part by supporting the system like we did during the Ebola virus outbreak.
“When the needful is done, schools should be reopened. We cannot shut down everything forever. We also appeal to ASUU and others to be considerate. Our children have stayed so long at home and nothing again should be done to waste more time,” he stated.
What are students saying?
The Coordinator, South-West Zone of the National Association of Nigerian, NANS, Comrade Kappo Samuel Olawale, said while the safety of students and others is important, there must be a way out of the problem.
“Already, students are fed up staying at home for almost half of the year. So, if the government says they should come back to school, they are ready to do so.
“We are also hopeful that everything necessary to guarantee the safety of all is in place. If those things are in place, lecturers now refusing to work may be difficult for students to accept. We appeal to them to be considerate,” he noted.
Government’s likely position
“Feelers from the Federal Ministry of Education indicate that tertiary institutions may reopen in a couple of weeks. However, individual universities may adopt different modes, depending on the point at which they stopped before the. COVID-19 trouble.
Some of the universities may toe the line of Lagos State University, LASU, where students are to resume in batches, starting with final year students.
If universities are reopened and ASUU members stick to their guns and CONUA members go to work, how successful academic activities flow on campuses may let Nigerians know who is in charge of the campuses between the two unions.