Dr. Denis M Sandy
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 December 2015
“The great Fourah Bay College, citadel of learning, Athens of West Africa and centre of academic excellence, beacon of light of education in Africa, pride of Sierra Leone , etc, …” This was how Fourah Bay College (FBC) was referred to in the greater part of the 20th Century.
Yes, we were very proud of our FBC, so much so that the mere mentioning of its name and its students was enough to instil fear in others and make them bow.
Unfortunately, today’s FBC is totally different, and the tears flowing from her eyes are asking just one single question – why?
FBC has not been given the attention it deserves in recent times, and of the three constituent colleges of the University of Sierra Leone, FBC – including its environs, is on a life support machine. It has been in such critical condition for almost six years.
The entire infrastructure is completely decrepit. You name them – the buildings are completely dilapidated, with no renovation for a long time now; and the library is a mini pool during the raining season.
The tiles in the EJ Hall that was recently constructed, and the Chemistry Building – with another floor recently added to the original building, have been resurrected. But the Physics Theatre and the Engineering Department are in a state of decay.
To compound these ugly scenes, FBC is the only college in the world where a college is not a college, for there have been no accommodation facilities for students over the past five years.
The ‘Great’ Blocks of A, C, G, E, M, H and J and the beautiful Lati Hyde and Beethoven have completely deteriorated.
Students scrambling for chairs and tables; lecturers clamouring for lecture halls have now become the norm at FBC. This is partly due to the increase in student population over time, which has not been matched equally by available resources and space. These have almost remained constant.
This mismatch has created tension between students and lecturers on one hand, and friction between lecturers and the Administration on the other.
Added to these problems is the deplorable state of the road from Lower Faculty on campus, stretching to as far as the Great Kennedy Building, leading towards Kortrght and as far as the deep curve, immediately past the Principal’s residence at Kortright, on to where Professor Joe AD Alie is now residing.
Talk to the students, lecturers and the Administration about this sad state of affairs, and you will hear a compendium of excuses or reasons.
Without prejudice to any of the players and stakeholders, some of what you will hear includes: Lack of vision from the Administration; neglect by the government as current and past budgets over the years have not captured any rehabilitation component for FBC; no established research fund to promote Research and Innovation; inadequate materials for lecturing and gaining understanding; investment by the Administration is not in tandem with the priorities of the college; incompetent lecturers; ASA not getting the required support from colleague lecturers; lack of coordination between the Administration and the government; lack of trust between the lecturers and the Administration; lazy and dishonest students who want to have good degrees without working hard for them, as well as making exam malpractice their specialty; and the list goes on.
What has however seriously exacerbated the situation at FBC is this over reliance on the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) to give a facelift to the entire college. In simple terms, BADEA is supposed to be the principal financier to transform the entire FBC – from hostels to lecture halls. But the construction project is yet to commence.
The BADEA project is a classic example of how donor dependency has hindered the implementation of projects in most developing countries, and by extension, contributing to the suffering of a whole generation.
Many students starting their studies at FBC without hostel facility, have eventually graduated without experiencing any. For those students coming from the rural areas, you can just about imagine the difficulties they are going through.
It’s really a shame that too much expectation has been built around the BADEA funding, despite the government having the resources to transform FBC. After all, education is one of the pillars of the Post Ebola Recovery Strategy.
The writer strongly believes that FBC’s rehabilitation can be undertaken without BADEA funding. Exploring Private Public Partnership is one option. The role of the Alumni Associations all over the world could be another.
Donation from philanthropists in and out of the country is another option. For example, Hedge Fund Mogul – Paulson, donated US$ 400 Million to Harvard University in America few months ago, and this is why such universities are flourishing. There are people here who can also make similar charitable gestures, though not on the same scale.
Many local philanthropists, government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) made significant donations to His Excellency the President at State House during the Ebola crisis, why can’t they also do the same for FBC?
What is more, even the lecturers are willing to contribute Le 200,000 of their salaries every month towards the rehabilitation of one of the buildings – preferable the Arts Building. But they should be given the authority to control the management of the funds and the eventual awarding of the contract.
The government can demonstrate its commitment towards FBC’s rehabilitation by firstly, redeveloping the deplorable road leading to the college and within the campus, which is less than a mile long. As a Development Economist and a Project Planner, I believe US $ 300,000 can do the trick – I bet my last dollar.
This request for government funding is well justified, as the FBC campus has become a thoroughfare for government and private vehicles that are plying this route heading towards Gloucester, Leicester, Hill Station, Southridge, Regent and even Lumley, destroying the once peaceful and tranquil FBC campus, especially on a Sunday.
The deplorable condition of the college road, with many potholes, has further dented the image of this once “adored” college. His Excellency, the President is the “Champion of Infrastructural Development” in the country and so, FBC should not be left out in this drive.
An Executive Directive to the Deputy Minister of Works is all that is required for the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA), through the Roads Maintenance Fund to turn FBC into a works yard. When that happens, FBC will start the next academic year with a bang. So if BADEA cannot start now, let the road reconstruction at least commence now.
As for the encroachment on FBC land, that is going to be an interesting piece soon. To summarize the discussion, the current priorities and demands of FBC are as follows:
1) Let the government rehabilitate the college road immediately after the bridge, through Lower Faculty, on campus and as far as Kennedy Building; and through campus as far as Professor Alie’s residence.
2) Let adequate “lecturing and understanding” materials and equipment be procured/provided before the commencement of the 2015/2016 academic year.
3) Let other avenues be explored for the transformation of FBC, and government can take the lead in this by allocating 0.6% of the country’s GDP. We should not wait for BADEA any longer.
Until these are met, pray that the obituary of FBC is not announced, because the tears flowing down her cheeks, reminds of an old lady lying on her death bed – saying her last wishes.
About the author:
Dr. Denis M Sandy is a Lecturer at the Department of Economics and Commerce at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.