The management of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), has defended its call for staff resumption in the face of a protest against the move by the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU).
Reacting to a circular by the Registrar of the university calling on all staff to resume work rotationally as part of efforts to open up for essential services, the FUNAAB branch of NASU, in position circular made available to The Guardian, signed by the chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Mr Samson Idowu Edivri and the Secretary, Dagunduro O.P., said, “The union wishes to submit that the said circular negates the directive and instruction of the Federal Government via a letter from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation titled: “Implementation Guidelines for Containment of COVID-19” dated April 30, 2020.”
It also stated that the resumption plan negates the circular released by the Federal Government on “Partial Resumption of Duties by Officers on Grade Level 14 and Above and Those on Essential Duties” dated April 30, 2020.
Hence, the union submitted that the management appeared to be placing more value on the university activities over and above the lives of staff and that the peculiarities of FUNAAB emphasised in the “explanation” cannot make FUNAAB be above the directive and authority of the Federal Government.
The union added that it found the peculiarity of FUNAAB as one of the excuses that led to the call for resumption of duties of staff as absurd.
“The issue of coronavirus is a matter of life and death that cannot be taken with levity. Thus, the union wishes to inform the university community that in view of the above, God forbid, if anything untold happens to any of our members during this period in question, the management would be held responsible,” the union threatened.
However, the university said adequate preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19 have been emplaced and would continuously be reviewed.
The Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Felix Kolawole Salako, argued that “As part of measures to ensure the maintenance of reasonable social distancing on campus after the resumption, all Heads of respective Departments and Units have been directed to make flexible work arrangements for their staff to come to offices on a rotational basis but must ensure regular flow of official activities during the week in all offices.”
Prof Salako said: “If Heads of Units have been asked to minimise number of staff, is the management really expecting all staff every day? For instance, what will a technologist that has no practical to supervise in the laboratory come to do every day during this period? What is “all staff” in a Department with “holidaying” students come to do every day? Can “all staff” include those on strike? Why the agitation?”
Again, FUNAAB is part of the essential sectors in terms of food supply chains, being part of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Nigeria relies on rain-fed agriculture, and now is the period for land preparation and planting, apart from harvesting and processing of its ready-for-harvest crops like cashew, cassava and palm fruits.
Also, the poultry, livestock and apiary units are functional, requiring cross-sections of staff to play their roles while being conscious of the pandemic and the need to stay safe.
The resumption of all categories of staff does not mean all will come to work at daily, Prof Salako explained, saying NASU was deliberately distorting information and misinterpreting the clarion call.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Development, Prof. Olabinjo Adeofun, further clarified that students are not to resume now, but staff are directed to resume as part of the strategy of gradual reopening of economy, and the university plays a role in the agro-economy of the country.
The university produces hand sanitisers, he disclosed, and a student was empowered to produce over 4000 face masks as part of safety measures mandated by the Presidential Taskforce of COVID-19.
In the Presidential Task Force (PTF) guidelines for reopening of offices and businesses for economic recovery, and particularly under the Agricultural and Rural Development section, “trucks bearing agricultural and animal products are to be allowed easy passage,” and “Companies involved in food processing can commence operation.”
In Government Offices/other Corporate Offices and Entities section, the PTF guidelines speculate that the “Government staff limited to essential workers and those from GL 14- 17 on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays” are to resume work.
Prof. Salako and Adeofun said with the rotational work arrangements for every staff, provisions of hand sanitisers and face masks for staff free of charge, the university has met the conditions to run, having fallen into the food production/essential section of the economy.
The Registrar of FUNAAB, Dr Bola Adekola, had earlier issued that the university management at its meeting of Monday, May 4, 2020, chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Salako, reviewed the above in line with the one-week extension of the lockdown period by the Ogun State government which still restricted movement till Sunday, May 10, as it affects the resumption of work in the university.
The management, therefore, directed the resumption of administrative activities and re-opening of offices of the university with effect from Monday, 11 May, having emplaced safety measures, fumigated the premises and offices and designed social distancing workability.
“In addition, the university shall only be opened for work between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. of every working day of the week until further notice,” Dr Adekola had said.
Clearing the air on the call for resumption of work in an essential sector of the economy, a member of the PTF on COVID-19 and Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said, “The university system is a unique system. It is almost a microcosm of a country on its own. It has everything. People live in them. People reside there.”
He further clarified that “We only asked they be shut because, in the university, people (students) come from every part of Nigeria. If you the University of Abuja today and ask students to return, people will be coming from Jos, Maiduguri and everywhere. And then, they will be bringing in whatever they have.”
But, he pointed, there are units within the university that must function the way ministries function regularly, saying, “Those may be the one you were referring to when you alluded to an announcement by the Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, not in term of reopening the school, but in term of getting some work done,” the minister explained during an interactive session with journalists.
“And in case of the (Federal) University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, it is a little bit more unique because, while the Ministry of Education governs the entire education ecosystem, we regard them as a specialised university in the sense that they are more or fewer arms of the Ministry of Agriculture.
“So, when you reopen an economy like this and ask that agricultural researchers and people return to work, they might be your first call to actually come back to school,” the Minister Nwajiuba clarified.