Thursday, November 25, 2021

ASUU strike, COVID-19 and the uncertainty of re-opening Nigerian universities

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The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had in the month of March 2020 declared an indefinite strike over the federal government withholding the salaries of its members who defied the order of government to enroll in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS).

ASUU responded by declaring an indefinite strike, while the government closed down all schools as part of the measures to contain COVID-19. It is clear that no sign that the impasse would be resolved soon as the last meeting between ASUU and FG ended in a stalemate.

The coronavirus crisis has since shifted the attention of the government and the public away from the dispute with ASUU with the teachers who are not being paid mostly bearing the brunt of the stalemate.

The question is: Will the Federal Government listen to the ASUU’s request when it had already issued a statement urging people to ensure social distancing in the face of rising coronavirus cases? The answer is simple that the government is hell bent on ensuring that the protocols are strictly adhered to.

According to the Union’s President, Biodun Ogunyemi the strike became necessary because “the Nigerian government has chosen to use hunger as a weapon of war against its academics and we are not going to sit and watch”. Though the Union included the age-old non-implementation of agreements reached with the Federal Government dating back to 2009 and aimed at fostering better conditions of service for its members and the upgrade of Nigerian universities, the main sticking point this time is the deadlock over the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System, IPPIS.

The ASUU argued that the IPPIS does not capture the peculiarities of University system and if government continues with its plan, its members would continue to remain at home.

The Federal Government had enrolled everyone under its payroll into this scheme in order to fight ghost workers and arrest corruption at source. ASUU had refused to embrace this because, according to it, IPPIS is an “imposition” by the World Bank. ASUU also argues that IPPIS would erode university autonomy.

ASUU developed a separate accountability platform for the universities known as the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS.  The two parties couldn’t reach a concrete agreement. The Federal Government in January 2020 stopped paying salaries of ASUU members who were not enrolled on IPPIS.

As it stands now, it is difficult for the two parties to sit and discuss the way out despite the fact there were some fruitful discussions prior to the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.

No re-opening of schools soon – FG

Students all over the country have been listening to news and reading the pages of newspapers to know when the schools will be reopened. Many students have been recounting their ordeals of endless stay at home. It was reported by the media that the federal government has said that schools would not be reopened soon.

The Federal Ministry of Education has urged Nigerians to disregard some false news making the rounds that the Federal Government had directed the reopening of schools.

The ministry’s Director of Press, Ben Goong, said on Sunday that there was no such directive from the minister, Adamu Adamu, as everyone had been instructed to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Goong noted that parents, guardians and stakeholders must not be misled by fake news but should continue to abide by the Federal Government’s regulations to tackle the ravaging pandemic.

“Any insinuation in that direction is simply emanating from the fertile imagination of the author and that the ministry has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Stakeholders and indeed the general public should disregard such statements. Stay at home, stay safe. Let’s work from home like I’m doing. Only the living can work or worship,” he said.

Rising cases of Coronavirus biggest threat

Globally, the rising case is alarming, with 2.1 million infected and 146,000 deaths according to John Hopkins University.

The rising cases of coronavirus disease have been the biggest challenge facing every sector in Nigeria including the education sector. While stakeholders have been patiently waiting for the reopening of schools from primary to tertiary level, the threat becomes alarming. As at 17th April, 2020, Nigeria recorded 442 coronavirus cases with 12 deaths.

President Muhammadu Buhari made his second national broadcast on Tuesday, 13th April, 2020 extending the lockdown imposed on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun by two weeks. This has added another woe to the people having spent two weeks earlier under the lockdown.

Kano State, which recorded its first coronavirus case on 11th April, 2020 now has 21 cases with one person confirmed dead. This has also posed another challenge to a state that had not recorded a single case before.

Any hope for Nigerian schools?

As it is now, Nigerians have been praying fervently for the situation to change for good because the attention have been majorly focused on the case of coronavirus.

I am highly impressed by the gallant effort of members of ASUU in this regard because despite their salary being in a lockdown for two months, they have joined the fight against the coronavirus. Many researchers have embarked on producing hand sanitizers for use in containing the spread of the virus. Bayero University, Kano produced hand sanitizers and distributed over two thousand to Kano State Government.

Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry in BUK made this giant stride in producing the hand sanitizers made up of mostly academic staff.

But the situation rests squarely on how soon the cases start fading by the day and how the death rate reduces in the country. The federal government and state governments have taken stringent measures to ensure the containment of the spread of the pandemic.

The reality is that the education system in Nigeria has been in an uncertain situation that demands God’s intervention.

People at this trying time must adhere strictly to the guidelines set by the health professionals. “You must wash your hands regularly with hand sanitizers and observe social distancing. This is the only way we can contain the spread of the pandemic in the societies like ours where we hardly observe distancing. If care is not taken it will portend danger and result in absolute community transmission of the virus,” said the Director Centre for Infectious Diseases Research, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Isa Abubakar. He was also against the relaxation of the lockdown by some state governments now.

Prof Abubakar described the decision by some state governments to relax the lockdown in their states over the COVID-19 outbreak as “ill advised.”

“Many are being deceived by the fact that we are not recording astronomical numbers, but I want to draw their attention to the fact that we are not testing enough people and that is why our figures are not high,” he said. He advised that few countries such as China and to a large extent Germany have recorded success in containing the virus spread and their success is based on vigorous testing, stringent lockdown and serious contact tracing, which Nigeria must emphasize upon to successfully contain the pandemic.

For now the education sector is in serious crisis occasioned by the rising cases of coronavirus.

But with prayers and observance of the measures, there will be light at the end of tunnel and the schools will be back into businesses. For ASUU strike, once the pandemic is over, I can see the two parties reaching consensus.

Nura Garba Sabonsara, a staff of Directorate of Public Affairs, Bayero University Kano, can be reached via: [email protected]

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