The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, has said Nigerians should not see the ravaging novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, as a disease affecting only the rich in the country and therefore gloat over the plight of the people that have contracted it.
He also warned against having a false sense of immunity against the disease.
He stated this on Tuesday at the University of Ibadan, UI, during the formal launch and the presentation of COVID-19 Intervention Materials and Sensitisation Programme by the union.
Ogunyemi noted that since Nigerians live in shared community with many points of intersection, whatever affects an individual could also become the lot of others around him.
"The new pandemic, the coronavirus, has awakened our common humanity nationally and internationally. It has suddenly dawned on us all - the rich and the poor, the highly and the lowly - that we are interconnected, and we either face our challenge in togetherness or we sink together.
"Contrary to the misconception out there that COVID-19 is "a disease of the big people", we live in shared community with many points of intersection - drivers and car owners, housekeepers and masters/mistresses, school teachers and parents, university students and professors, etc. Pretending to be safe when the lives of others with whom we come into regular contacts are endangered is just playing the ostrich.
"The truth is: we are not safe, physically, socially or epidemiologically, until others around us are free from the decapitating effects of COVID-19 and other afflictions. Rising to prevent and control the spread is, therefore, not just a matter of duty but the logical demand of our desire to live!", he said.
He expressed sadness that the pandemic had exposed the deterioration in the nation's tertiary health institutions, adding that the union's call for better funding of the education sector should now be better understood by the authorities.
"For us in ASUU, this is not an occasion for blame game or buck passing. However, it calls for sober reflection on what we need to do differently with our health and education. We talk of our health because that holds the key to our wealth, and our education because, without it, we are going nowhere in the advancement ladder among comity of civilized nations. With qualitative and accessible university education, we can guarantee a storehouse of knowledge in scientists, doctors, nurses, laboratory technologists and other medical and paramedical personnel for coping with a global pandemic of the magnitude of the COVID-19.
"But it appears our universities have no place in the current efforts of government. Even with all the support, a functional healthcare system is only an evidence of a delectable educational menu serviced by contented academics and scholars at its zenith. See, for instance, how naked and empty our teaching hospitals turned out to be when threatened by the early wave of COVID-19.
"Yet, these are laboratories established to produce medical and paramedical personnel for our dear nation! Our aspiration for improved quality of life for Nigeria's teeming population will remain a mirage for as long as the ruling class cannot see the ineluctable consequences of the neglect of university education for qualitative health services," he stated.
He, however, stressed that collective effort was needed to contain the disease and that borrowing a leave from China would be desirable.
On the appropriateness or otherwise of the ongoing indefinite strike by ASUU, he said it was not correct to tag the union as being insensitive for embarking on strike at a time like this.
"In the recent past, some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of the ongoing strike action by our Union: ASUU, why strike now? Are you not selfish and insensitive to go on strike at a time the whole world is confront with the COVID-19 pandemic? As we have said on several occasions, however, there will never be a time when ASUU strike would be approved by all the diverse interests connected with university education.
"The current action commenced way back on 9th March 2020 with the warning strike declared at the Enugu State University. We had thought the two-week window would be used by Government to respond satisfactorily to our demands on the non-implementation of some key aspects of the 7th February 2019 FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA) and imposition of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS) on Nigerian academics. Instead, Government stuck to its gun on IPPIS, withheld payment of salaries and allowances of ASUU members and seized the check-off dues, cooperative society contributions and other third-party deductions made on behalf of the union and its members.
"With the benefit of hindsight, ASUU has no regrets for rejecting IPPIS. Apart from its erosion of University Autonomy, our worst fears about the platform have been confirmed. The technical issues we raised about possible distortion, manipulation and amputation of salaries and allowances fully came to light with the forceful application of IPPIS to the payroll system in the universities in February 2020. If anyone is still in doubt, a chat with the victims, many of who have regrettably confessed to being deceived into enrolling in IPPIS, would certainly convince you. Therefore, ASUU feels very disappointed in some highly placed individuals and social commentators who still insist that "IPPIS is good for ASUU. They should come forward with the evidence of scientific proof of claims that IPPIS is the best instrument for fighting corruption in the universities or cite a university system in the world that applies the IPPIS which the World Bank designed for the mainstream civil service," he explained.
He said branches of the union would commence their intervention efforts across the country and hoped that the scourge would soon be contained.