AS LASU REOPENS IN THE MIDST OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC
ONLY READINESS TO STRUGGLE CAN KEEP STUDENTS AND STAFF SAFE FROM CORONAVIRUS AND NEW ATTACKS ON THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION
* ERC LASU calls for a joint congress/public meeting of students and staff unions in LASU to begin to discuss and agree on urgent actions to ensure the protection of students and staff
Education Rights Campaign (ERC) Lagos State University (LASU) Chapter Public Statement
ERC LASU welcomes all final year LASUites back on campus after about six month break due to Coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the whole world. School reopening has been much anticipated by students across all divides, but gradual reopening as it is, the safety of staffs and students of LASU is fundamental to us. Despite their beautiful promises, safety cannot be guaranteed by a management and government that have a record of anti-worker and anti-student policies without the readiness of students and staff to struggle. Indeed unless students and workers are organized to take their destinies into their own hands, there is every reason to fear that reopening of schools can cause a spike in COVID-19 infection.
This is why we call on LASU students and staff unions, as an immediate step, to organize joint congresses and public meetings, with observance of COVID 19 safety protocols, where the question of urgent measures to ensure that students and staff are actually safe will be discussed. One of such urgent measure we would recommend is the setting up of an independent COVID19 taskforce democratically formed by students and staff to assess and certify that school is safe for reopening. This must be backed by a campaign, involving as necessary protest, demonstrations, boycott and strikes, to regularly make demands on management and government in order to continuously guarantee safety.
Such a taskforce is not a replacement for the unions but is essentially a committee democratically formed from a joint congress of unions of students and staff and with the mandate to report its findings to these congresses from where decisions on actions would be regularly taken. The need for this independent assessment by students and staff is because the state government and University management cannot be trusted. Even if they are able to make some provisions for safety now in order to score propaganda points, as the weeks progress into months, some of these provisions can be relaxed in order to cut expenses but to the detriment of students and staff.
Ultimately, it is only through readiness to struggle that students and staff can ensure they are not made guinea-pigs of corona virus and also it is through this means that students and staff can also resist any attempt to impose any anti-poor policies like increment of fees, arbitrary increase in staff workload and even cut in wages and allowances.
For us, the fact that, on the very first day of reopening, the staffs unions in LASU went on strike to press home their demands for the implementation of minimum wage and other demands shows how inept and anti-worker the management is and why they cannot be trusted to guarantee safety of students and staff. In addition, ASUU is on an indefinite nationwide strike while SSANU and NASU have now also joined. This means that there is no guarantee that any serious academic and non-academic activities will take place even though school is reopened. For Instance, there is no evidence of the provision of a well-equipped and properly staffed health centre with relevant drugs as a condition for safe school reopening. The classrooms and other teaching facilities remain more or less in the same situation they were before the pandemic. To make matters worse, the school management instead of making adequate provision of facemasks and hand sanitizers has asked each student to ensure they provide these two essential items by themselves failing which they will not be allowed to gain entry into the University.
The ERC urges the students and staff unions to reject this approach which can endanger all students and staff. Especially in a period of pandemic, issues of health and safety cannot be made the responsibility of individuals. Just one single asymptomatic individual failing to use facemask or hand sanitizer and successfully mingling with students and staff can set up a chain reaction of infection that can affect almost the entire campus. We call on students union and the staff unions to insist that free facemasks and hand sanitizers be regularly distributed to students and staff. Any students and staff found at the gate or anywhere on campus without any of the items be provided with one instead of turning them back or harassing them.
Also we urge the students and staff unions to demand immediate overhaul of infrastructural facilities in LASU so that they can accommodate all students without violation of physical distancing and by so doing prepare the ground for wholesale reopening of schools. By overhaul, we mean immediate construction of more and completion of abandoned classroom and building projects in LASU, recruitment of more lecturers to reduce class size to global acceptable standard, provision of modern facilities that supports learning, payment of hazard allowance, and provision of full health insurance for staff in LASU.
As LASU is not residential, any step to keep students safe that does not address the poor condition of accommodation in town will not succeed. The university management has to take steps to liaise with host communities and landlords to ensure improvement in accommodation conditions. But the most beneficial step would be for the state government and the school management to begin to build hostel accommodation on campus in order to ensure that LASU becomes a residential campus within a short period of time. This is the only way to ensure all students are able to return back to school without compromising their safety and health. Any other strategies aside this, cannot bring any fundamental change to LASU.
Also, we also urge students and staff to also use this period to demand resolution of all industrial conflicts on campus in order to guarantee a smooth academic calendar. The calendar has already been mutilated by the pandemic, any other disruption should not be tolerated. This is why it is essential that staff and students call on the LASU management to recall all victimized and staff activists, including the sacked leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), LASU chapter. We also should demand withdrawal of politically-motivated charges and witch-hunt against all staff and students activists and respect of democratic rights, including the rights to independent and mass-based unionism free from management interference.
We believe, when these are done students can resume for academic activities without fear of coronavirus, and it will make teaching-learning process conducive for all parties. Students and Staffs must therefore prevail on their union’s leadership to demand for the above in a bid to ensure safety of students and staffs and quality education delivery in an atmosphere devoid of fear and crisis.
JOIN THE ERC TODAY
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is a platform formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to campaign for better funding of education and provision of free and democratically-managed public education at all levels. We also campaign against attacks on the democratic rights of students and staff including rights to freedom of expression and independent unionism. If you also are concerned about the poor conditions of public education and want to do something about it, why not join ERC LASU today?
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Comrade Temiloluwa Ajetunmobi
For ERC LASU Branch