By Our Correspondents |
In anticipation of a resolution of the protracted feud between the federal government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), university administrators have stepped up preparations for the re-opening of their schools.
Their actions followed the federal government’s compliance with some of ASUU’s demands and the inauguration of a new committee on Wednesday headed by the minister of education, Adamu Adamu, to renegotiate the 2009 agreement with the union.
Some university top officials in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP Friday said they initiated preparations for the re-opening of the institutions so as not to keep students at home any longer once ASUU calls off its strike.
While some universities expressed their readiness to re-open as soon as the strike ends, others are still struggling to fix COVID-19 guidelines.
Most of the universities however lamented that both the federal and state governments who are the owners of the schools had not supported them with funds and equipment to ease their enforcement of COVID-19 protocols on their campuses.
As part of the measures to contain and prevent the spread of coronavirus, the federal government ordered the closure of all schools, including universities on March 23, 2020 but recently, schools were re-opened following the easing of the restrictions.
But as learning continues, youths who attend public universities continue to stay at home due to the ASUU strike. LEADERSHIP observed that most public universities are still struggling to meet up with the physical facilities such as infrastructure for digital delivery, lecture theatres, halls and classrooms, laboratories and students’ accommodation while universities battle with limited funds to install necessary COVID-19 protocols with no financial support from the government.
A tour of some public universities showed that much is still needed to be done to meet the National universities Commission (NUC) template on the preparedness of universities for re-opening, but contrary to the observations, some university authorities who spoke to this newspaper expressed confidence to handle the situation if students return to campus while many others said they were not ready.
At the University of Abuja, towards the gate of the permanent site, one could see hand hygiene facilities installed among other protocols. However, the biggest challenge is how to control the number of students in hostels and classes when they return to campus, given the large population in most of the universities.
Authorities at the university told our reporter that it is working out modalities to accommodate students when they return. When contacted, Dr Habib Yakoob, the head, Information and University Relations, said they were very prepared, adding that the University of Abuja was among the first universities that quickly put up strategies to address the pandemic as soon as it became obvious that it was going to affect the country, including public universities.
“The management of the university quickly set up the COVID 19 pandemic committee. Through this committee the university began the process of risk communications and community engagement to sensitize the people on the existence of the disease, the symptoms, effects, and how they should protect themselves against falling victims to it.
“Information, education and communications materials including pamphlets, posters and banners were rolled out. As I speak with you, we have concluded a strategy for phased resumptions to keep social distancing, we have several hand washing points and sanitiser dispensers are installed in several parts of the campuses. This is a continuous process, but we are operating at optimum level, and so very prepared to resume anytime the school is asked to re-open.
He said there is a subcommittee on enforcement in the university which is made up of well trained staff who know what it means and how to enforce the protocols.
“So, you don’t come into the campus if you don’t have your mask correctly on your face, if you do not wash your hands thoroughly or keep to the protocols.
“And we have made enforcement easy by making some provisions. For instance, several hundreds of facemasks and hand sanitisers and pamphlets were given out freely to the staff. We see COVID-19 not only as posing a health risk to individuals but to the entire country and institutions.”
Yakoob stressed that the administration of Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah has big plans for the university but the speed, tenacity and awesomeness with which he wanted to execute them had been affected by the challenges imposed by COVID-19, even though a lot is still going on here on campus
The Dean of Student Affairs (DSA) of the university, Dr Abubakar Umar Kari, said the NUC earlier sent all universities a memo on the level of preparedness so each university was asked some questions and then given options.
He said, “The options are whether they are completely ready to open all the programmes or they should partially open, that is to call some of their students back or they are not ready at all so there was something like around September so of course in our university we also sat down and deliberated and came up with the position.
“But even before that, our vice chancellor set up a high powered committee it is called Tax Force on COVID-19 and its membership was carefully selected, all the relevant unions were represented and it is headed by the deputy provost of the College of Health Science, I am representing student affairs, the security unit is also represented by the chief security officer, the director, medical center is also a member.
In Benue, our correspondent who visited the two public universities in the state observed that nothing was on ground in the form of preparation to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the event of resumption of students.
The spokesperson of the Federal University of Agriculture, Màkurdi, Mrs Rosemary Waku, said if ASUU calls off the strike, the university senate would convene immediately to decide on anything that needs to be done to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Institution.
“After the meeting of the senate, we will assess how prepared we are, after which the date of resumption for students will be announced, we are yet to prepare because schools are yet to resume,” she said.
Mrs Waku said she was not in a position to answer whether the institution had got any money to check spread of COVID-19, adding that only the vice chancellor can answer that. When contacted, the vice chancellor, Professor Richard Kimbir, referred our correspondent back to the PRO.
Similarly, at the Benue State University, Màkurdi, our correspondent put several calls to the vice chancellor for his views on how the institution is preparing for COVID-19 if it re-opens, but was unable to get him.
In Jos, the deputy registrar, information and public affairs, Abdulahi Abdulahi, said the university was fully prepared to re-open.
According to him, despite the closure of the university’s academic activities, the COVID-19 committee of the institution is working round the clock to ensure that every protocol on COVID-19 is put in place.
He said the COVID-19 committee was headed by the deputy vice chancellor and the director of health in the university and other principal staff of the university, adding that adequate measures were put in place to ensure that staff, students and members of the university community comply with COVID-19 protocols. Abdulahi also said the committee had procured disinfectants for chambers, offices and classrooms and hand sanitizers and face masks for members of the university community, noting that the management of the university was using the Ace FM radio, bill boards at strategic locations in Bauchi Road, the permanent site campus and all other platforms to sensitize the university community on the need to observe COVID-19 protocols.
On whether the university received funds from the federal government to tackle COVID-19, Abdulahi said he was not aware.
The chairman University of Lagos chapter of ASUU, Dele Ashiru, said; “There is really nothing on ground to suggest that the university is prepared to comply fully with the COVID-19 protocols. And to the best of my knowledge, no fund has been allocated to the university to control COVID-19 as the community has not been informed of the receipt of such funds, and that has been part of ASUU’s agitations too.”
In Osun, our correspondent gathered that academic work is in progress at UNIOSUN as lecturers of the institution are not part of the ongoing strike by ASUU. A visit to the institution showed adherence to COVID-19 protocols by students and workers.
Speaking with our correspondent in Ile-ife, the Public Relations Officer, Obafemi Awolowo University, Mr. Abiodun Olarewaju, said the institution was fully prepared for resumption. Olarewaju said as a medical practitioner, the vice chancellor, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, would never compromise excellence, adding that despite the fact that there is no case of COVID-19 in OAU, all the necessary facilities that will prevent the manifestation not to talk of spread of the virus were in place.
In Rivers State, only the University of Port Harcourt shut down its academic activities due to the nationwide strike embarked upon by ASUU.
Others, including the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rumuolumeni, Madonna University, Elele and Pamo University of Medical Sciences, Port Harcourt, resumed academic activities immediately after the federal government directed the re-opening of tertiary institutions in the country.
A visit to the University of Port Harcourt showed that the institution, which is the only federal university in the state, seems to be prepared for eventual resumption of academic activities in line with Covid-19 protocols whenever ASUU calls off the strike.
The institution recently inaugurated a COVID-19 treatment center with state-of-the-art equipments donated by the Group of 80’s graduates of the school. However, when contacted, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the university, Samuel Kpenu, refused to respond to questions sent to him by our correspondent.
The chairman of ASUU in the university, Dr. Austen Sado, said he was not aware of sources of funding to fight COVID-19 in the school.
The management of the University of Ilorin said it had also put in place some COVID-19 safety protocols ahead of resumption.
The director, Corporate Affairs of the University, Mr Kunle Akogun, said the management was not leaving any stone unturned regarding COVID-19 safety measures.
“At the outset of the pandemic, the university management set up the coronavirus disease prevention committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Idayat Durotoye. The committee has constructed 60 hand washing points across the campus.
“The committee also produced face masks for distribution to staff, it also produced hand sanitisers for distribution to staff, it organised several workshops and health talks on COVID-19 for enlightenment on preventive measures,” he said.
Similarly, authorities at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State said they had put adequate measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 when academic activities commence. The Director of Information, Mrs. Blossom Okorie, said the institution had met all the federal government’s conditions as outlined by the National Universities Commission’s preventive measures against COVID-19 in the event of re-opening.
She said most of the equipment needed to prevent the spread of the virus such as face masks, hand gloves and sanitizers, an automatic hand washing machine fabricated by the works department of the institution and others were produced in the university.
Mrs Okorie who could not confirm whether a special fund was provided for the measures said the university had fumigated all facilities including classrooms, lecture theatres, hostels in both the permanent site, town campus and the satellite campus at Abak.
At the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), measures are being put in place to be observed as soon ASUU calls off the strike, according to the authorities.
The spokesman of the institution, Uche Nwelue, while interacting with LEADERSHIP FRIDAY, said the university being a science based institution had taken all necessary measures in line with NCDC directives to protect students and lecturers.
A visit to the institution showed that all necessary COVID-19 protocols have been put in place by the authorities as the school is prepared to work with the state and federal governments to eliminate COVID-19.
The vice chancellor of the Nasarawa State University (NSUK) Keffi, Prof. Suleiman Bala Mohammed, said the institution was set to resume normal academic activities if ASUU calls off the strike.
Prof Mohammed said they had discussed with the government on the need to assist the institution to get the health facilities required.
“We are prepared, we have been working with the state government first as a team, with all the tertiary institutions in the state, we are working together. We are also working together with the ministry to ensure that there is safe resumption.
“Government has also taken up the responsibility of fumigation or disinfection of the environment. They have also taken the responsibility of training our health staff and other staff on the health protocols,” he said.