The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Prof Lilian Salami, on Wednesday, says the school management is ready to resume academic activities in a safe and secure manner.
She said the university management will enforce strict compliance to COVID-19 protocols to protect students and members of staff from being exposed to coronavirus infections.
Salami said some students have started issuing threats to beat up lecturers should the closure of public universities persist.
Students of public universities have been at home since March 2020 when the Academic Staff Union of Universities began a nine-month-long strike over certain demands. The union, however, conditionally suspended the industrial action on December 24, 2020, after a lot of foot-dragging by lecturers and the federal government.
Yet, when students were hopeful of returning to classrooms, the country entered the second wave of the pandemic while the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 subsequently ordered schools to remain closed till January 18, 2021 to contain the spike in COVID-19 infections in Nigeria.
But ASUU has insisted that it is not safe for lecturers and students to return to classrooms as it cannot guarantee social distancing in crowded classes and congested hostels.
Reacting to this on Wednesday, the Vice-chancellor said that Uniben authority will do all in its powers to enforce COVID-19 protocols in the university community.
Salami said, “I want to say categorically that Vice-Chancellors are responsible persons having gone through the furnace. We will not in any way want to expose our staff and students to any danger.
“Having said that, public-funded universities are far from what they ought to be. We have said this over and over that there is poor funding, infrastructures are down and decayed. The ratio of staff to students is so large that for proper learning to take place, we have to address these issues.
“We know that these issues exist but how long are we going to wait until these issues are taken care of? These should not continue to be used as reasons why schools should not reopen. We will make do with what we have now available. For instance, we know that residential students are about 10 to 15 per cent of total students’ population. We will as much as possible enforce compliance and that is all we can do.
“Yes, they (students) are very restless; yes, they will want to go and visit friends but we will try as much as possible – and I think all Vice-Chancellors will do that – to protect our students and our staff so that we don’t unduly expose them to COVID-19. But to think that if all of these are not taken care of, we will not reopen, I can assure you that in the next ten years, the kids will all be home.
“We know all these deficiencies and we will continue to adjust and renovate the structures on campus. It is a gradual thing, there is no magic about it.
“On a lighter note, I have heard some students say, look, if you don’t open, we will beat up the Vice-Chancellors and start beating up the lecturers. Maybe other Vice-Chancellors can take up the beatings but I can assure you that Professor Salami is too fragile to be beaten.”
The Vice-chancellor further said that UNIBEN has started the production of automated handwashing equipment, hand sanitisers and other materials crucial in dealing with the pandemic.