Respite might have come the way of exiting pupils in both primary and secondary schools across the country, but the fate of students in tertiary institutions remains uncertain due to outstanding issues between the federal government and the Non Academic Staff Union (ASUU). HENRY TYOHEMBA writes.
The fate of at about two million Nigerian students are still unknown following orders from government to close all educational institutions in the country to contain the possible impacts of COVID-19.
As the government began the process of reopening schools for exit classes in secondary schools, the hope of university students particularly, federal universities has remained in doubt.
This is marred by the existing ASUU strike and the union’s position against reopening of tertiary institutions. Days after the federal government announced the closure of schools nationwide, ASUU embarked on another indefinite strike, meaning that public universities in the country still have a bigger issue even after COVID 19 is over.
While private universities, through the Committee of Vice-chancellors, have warned that the academic calendar would be seriously affected if universities remain closed beyond one more month, ASUU has reiterated that Nigerian universities under it the watch should not be reopened even if the federal government orders the resumption of all schools due to the outstanding crisis between the Union and the government.
University students have therefore raised the alarm over the future of federal institutions under, calling on the government to resolve the issues now and reopen the schools for tertiary education students who are staying idle at home.
Seven days after the government announced the closure of schools in the country, ASUU declared an indefinite strike to agitate for the federal government unwillingness to pay the salaries of its members who defied the order of government to enroll in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS).
The coronavirus crisis has since diverted the attention of the government and the public away from the dispute with ASUU members who are not being paid, but the fact still remains that if the strike is not called off now the possibility of the university students completing the session in their homes is certain.
The union’s president, Biodun Ogunyemi, said t 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.”
Although, 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 students who expressed their feelings in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP said the best time to resolve the issue between ASUU and the federal government was now so that once schools are reopened learning will continue in tertiary institutions.
In one of such, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Zone C Director of Campus Affairs and Intervention, FCT Zonal Leader, Comrade Anzaku Shedrack called on ASUU to negotiate with the federal government and allow students to go back to school as other large gatherings of people are already taking place.
He said, “When ASUU went for this strike they didn’t consult the leadership of NANS and we are not in solidarity with them because we want our students to go back to campus because if churches are opening and other large congregations are holding just like Glory Dome at Dunamis and even people going to markets I see no reason why the students cannot go to the campus. They can divide this lecture scheme if the lecture is supposed to hold for two hours that lecture should hold in three places for like forty minutes each and all the students will benefit. So I see no reason why COVID 19 should be stopping the reopening of campuses. ASUU should go back to the drawing board and federal government also should be hasty in their decisions with ASUU so that students can go back to school.
“So I recommend that ASUU should negotiate with the federal government as quickly as possible because the zonal leadership is organizing a massive protest very soon. We are already on it, we held two numerous congresses just to see how we can come together and register our displeasure with the federal government. So in sum, ASUU should call off the strike and order for the reopening of schools so that we can know who is sabotaging us between government and them.”
NANs Joint Campus Committee chairman in the FCT, comrade Johnson Kolawole Micheal said coronavirus had become something that all will have to learn on how to live with, stating students are tired of staying home and would keep all the necessary guidelines when they are allowed to go back to campus.
He also chides ASUU for always embarking on strike without considering the interest of students, saying that students are totally behind the government on the issue of IPPIS.
“I want to elaborate more on the issue of ASUU before I will come down to the pandemic. To my own view, I think ASUU don’t have the students at heart because if they do they will not be saying things like that, they are fighting for their own selfish interest.
“We are clamoring for government to reopen schools and ASUU does not want to call off the strike so I think ASUU as a body is selfish and I want the federal government to know that IPPIS is very important and we the students support the IPPIS, it will enable lecturers to focus on their students.
“On the issue of pandemic I want to say coronavirus has become something that we are not scared of it anymore. It has become something that we need to learn how to live with it so I am using this medium to appeal to the federal government to look into it and reopen schools but we the students can follow those enacted rules and regulations of NCDC.
“We can follow the rules and guidelines of the Ministry of Education because we are learning to live with it. If they keep us at home everyday thinking the pandemic will be over what if it did not come to an end? So they should put that into consideration because we are all tired at home, most of us have started doing all sorts of rubbish at home because an idle man they said is a devil’s workshop. Most don’t have anything to do, we sleep at home, we have become lazy some of us cannot even remember the last time we open our books. So we are begging the federal government to look into the issue and let us back to school because we have learned to live with the pandemic,” he stressed.
To Mojeed Kolawole Omolaja, former FCT-NANS chairman, there should be a bilateral meeting between ASUU and the federal government to resolve the lingering issue and stop using that as an avenue to jeopardize the future of students.
He said, “COVID-19 truly is real but if they don’t want schools to resume there shouldn’t be political elections, which method of voting are they going to use in the elections? It is going to be physical so why are you not trying to strengthen institutions involved in this? They can divide lectures space students into two classes at the same time provide the necessary equipment to schools.