The founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, SAN on Wednesday said the continuous closure of universities in the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was unconstitutional and would be counter-productive.
He was reacting to the statement credited to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, that the January 18 earlier set by the federal government for school resumption would be reviewed.
The frontline lawyer said such action would be so disastrous to the education sector and the future of many students in the country.
Babalola who spoke while addressing journalists in ABUAD frowned at the attempt by the federal government to defer the resumption of universities earlier slated for January 18, describing it as a decision targeted mainly at the private institutions.
Expressing opposition to mass closure of universities, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria noted that the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 must refrain from giving blanket order, saying there was no due consultation with the proprietors of private universities.
“I am of the firm view that mass closure of schools is unconstitutional, disastrous and counterproductive.
“It is certainly unjust to the parents, teachers, students and Proprietors of schools and also violates the rule of natural justice.
“Today, there are many private universities that have these facilities and therefore safer than most offices and even personal homes,” he said.
Babalola disclosed that the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had put all these into consideration when it officially recommended that universities should be accorded preferential treatment under Covid-19 in terms of operations.
According to him, “The USCDC said universities are different in terms of size, geographical location, structure and in their abilities to put in place measures that will guarantee minimum risk to students and teachers in their schools, which in turn will ensure undisrupted and on-campus learning for students.
“On the contrary, universities which do not possess these facilities are within the high-risk category.
“I hereby strongly advise that the federal government should stop mass closure of schools. All schools, particularly the private universities that have the required world class health facilities and have complied with Presidential Task Force regulations which will enable them to implement low medium risk measures ought not and should not be shut down.
“To shut them down with those which don’t have such facilities is unjust and violates the times of natural justice and therefore unconstitutional.”
He said his eleven years old university had been having a smooth and uninterrupted academic calendar before abrupt disruption by Covid-19, thereby stalling operations and closure of the university in spite of the world-class facilities it parades to prevent the spread of the lethal disease.
Babalola reminded the FG that should the low-risk private universities remain shut down to wait for high-risk institutions, it will make the ivory towers remain in comatose for long.
He added, “The FG should know that schools in Ekiti are safer than that located in the heart of Lagos or Abuja. We must consider the geographical location. Any worker here who goes to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt goes for a special test and seven days isolation. This underscored the level of our preparedness.
“If the private universities which fall within the category of minimum risk have to wait for their public counterparts to resume, then no university will resume until the virus is completely eliminated which is not feasible in the next one year.”
He urged the federal government to emulate foreign countries by paying the salaries of lecturers in the private universities, which were shut down because of COVID-19.
On whether he will approach the court to challenge the closure of private universities, Babalola said, “I am not going to court, because we have not exhausted the option of negotiation and local remedy. I am a friend of the FG and I know that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami and the Vice President, Yemi Osibajo who are senior lawyers, will look into it.”
On how his university has been affected adversely, the elder statesman revealed that “We can’t even quantify our losses. We have been following international standards, which was September to July academic session before this global problem.
“We have done seven convocations in ten years. We pay salaries on the 25th of every month and nobody has been sacked despite this suspension of work. But this has affected our purse. How can we be paying for services not rendered? This is unfair.
“That is why we are calling on the federal government to pay the salaries of workers in private universities which were shut down because of COVID-19. That was the method adopted in foreign countries.”
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