Is the Fourah Bay College saga another own goal for the APC government?

Alhaji Abu Komeh

7 August 2012

It is often said that the foundation of every state lies in the education of its youths. John F. Kenedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, once said that: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education; the human mind is our fundamental resource.”

It is fair to say that Fourah Bay College (FBC), which was established in 1827 as the first university in West Africa to generate knowledge and contribute to the building of human capacity, has over the years lost its pedigree.

It is true that the University authorities have been inept, insincere and lethargic in addressing the genuine predicaments of students, who have been treated like mere ants and with so much antipathy.

There is no denying the fact that FBC is endowed with committed lecturers and administrative staff, who have toiled so hard in developing students to becoming quality graduates and masters of their disciplines.

In fact, some lecturers have shown dedication to their profession, by personally mentoring and motivating students in achieving their academic pursuits. The expectation is that a good student becomes a reflection of his lecturers and an epitome of his university.

But drawing from the recent decision by the University Court to rusticate students from the hostels for alleged illegal occupation, and judging from previous analogical events and from my personal experience as Student Union President in 2008/09, I must vehemently say that the administration is deriving much pleasure in unleashing hate and wrath on the students they are meant to care for.

Much as I strongly disapprove of student indiscipline and lawlessness, I also feel self-fulfilled to unequivocally mention that in the recent past, the authorities have used their deceit and incompetence in the handling of student affairs to generate discontent and inconvenience among students.

At the start of the 2011/12 academic year, it could be recalled that the administration, as always, took a fictitious decision to repair the long dilapidated facilities and by implication no accommodation was available for the students during that time.

According to the Students’ Union representatives speaking on David Tam Bayoh’s Monologue radio programme on the 4th of August, 2012, it was evident that after a lengthy and unsuccessful wait for the repairs to be done, they were left with no option but to make a genuine plea for some of the habitable facilities to be occupied before the start of the 1st semester examinations.

In fact, what flummoxes me most is why has the FBC administration inculcated a habit of making bogus promises about repairs, only to deprive students of their right to use the hostels?

After the initial agreement for students to occupy the hostels, as always, the authorities unfairly and controversially reneged on their very decision. They asked the students to vacate the premises in May, just as the rains began to fall, and when hundreds of students from the provinces were barely trying to settle in the hostels.

This decision from all consideration is unscrupulous, and does not create an enabling learning environment for students, who have paid their tuition, development, caution, and other fees.

Despite using their tact and usual strategy in engaging the administration in a discourse, the administration rashly took a decision to rusticate and expel the students, whom they alleged to have flouted the rules.

To me, this is definitely more than just an issue of students illegally occupying the hostels.

It is about an administration that lacks a coordinated management approach and the ability to manage. Few years ago, the authorities decided to scrap an effective warden’s system, only to bring in an inept and corrupt warden who begged students for bribes in 2008/09.

For several decades, the administrators have not judiciously utilised the development fees paid by students to carry out repairs during the long holidays – between July and October.

It is unlikely that the administration will ever come clean, be honest and pay back the caution fees paid by students.

Very few in Sierra Leone would accept that implementing an anti-student policy is the best way to make a university effective. The authorities are becoming a national embarrassment, after deciding that exams are halted because they ran out of stationery.

Recalling the post-student union election violence, which took place in May 2008, the University Court had rusticated and expelled students based on trivial charges. They should never have incurred the punishments levied by the authorities.

There is no denying the fact that a minority of students, in the course of their academic sojourn, have lost some sense of direction and resorted to violent or other immoral actions, which do not befit them as students of a university.

In that regard, I do agree entirely that a university must maintain its standards and must eradicate all forms of lawlessness and uphold strong ethics. However, I must categorically state that the university authorities have been heavy-handed.

The university authorities took the decision last week to indefinitely cancel student examinations, because of a protest led by the student union executives who are in solidarity with their unfairly punished colleagues.

The student protest was designed to send a message to the administration and the rest of the world that the authorities’ decision is harsh, inconsistent and packed with animosity.

Much as it sounds unpleasant to hear that students carried out a protest during examinations, it is equally worthy to note that those students would have definitely used and exhausted all means available to make their case known.

I strongly believe that the policy of rustication and expulsion jubilantly used by the administration as a means of punishing students, voluminously contravenes Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which makes provision for the right to education for all and the full development of human capacity.

Furthermore, millions of Leones have been spent on each of those students, only to have their future to be played with, and their hopes of completing university education derailed as a result of the actions of an inept administration.

In fact, it is highly probable that out of the 31 students rusticated and expelled, a good number may have been beneficiaries of the government Grant-in-Aid scheme.

It is my view that the FBC authorities over the years have failed to live up to the task of addressing the plights of students, and the government should know that this is seriously impacting on students’ welfare.

Noting the good number of students who were rusticated and expelled in 2008 and with the current decision, it is highly likely that this APC government would go down in history, as one which complacently allowed an inhumane and insincere university administration to destroy the future of the brilliant youths of this country.

I do hope that the Chancellor of the University – the President of Sierra Leone, given his passionate desire to see the development of youths in this country, would never want to see a situation where students are deprived of their right to education.

I believe that an expedient intervention in this matter is very necessary in order for equity to be exercised and a lasting solution to the accommodation problem at FBC is found. My firm belief is that the best way to predict a country’s future is to create it.

About the author:

Alhaji Abu Komeh is a former FBC Students Union President – 2008/09, and is now an MSc Economics Student at the University of Birmingham, UK.






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