opinionBy Alhaji Abu Komeh
It is often said that the foundation of every state lies in the education of its youths. According to John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America: "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education, the human mind is our fundamental resource". In more simplistic terms and putting the above opinions into perspective, it is most appropriate to mention that for any country to be successful, it must have amongst its policies one that has a comprehensive educational provision based on sound principles. All said it is fair to say that Fourah Bay College, 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 and defeated the sanctity and purpose of its very establishment and existence.
Holding constant FBC's positive role in the production of graduates for society and the wider world, it is equally true that the University authorities have been inept, insincere and very apprehensive 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 some virtuous 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 been very magnanimous enough in individually mentoring and motivating students in achieving their academic pursuits. For all you know, it must be so, since ultimately a good student becomes a reflection of his lecturers and an epitome of his university.
Drawing from the recent decision by the University Court to rusticate students from the University for alleged illegal occupation, judging from previous analogical events and from my personal experience as Student Union President in 2008/09, it propels me to vehemently state that the administration derives so much pleasure in unleashing hate and wrath on the students they are meant to care for. Much as I strongly disapprove 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 amongst students.
At the start of the 2011/12 academic year, it could be recalled that the administration, just as they always fictitiously do, took a decision to repair the long dilapidated facilities and by implication no accommodation for students. Quoting the Students' Union representatives on David Tam Baryoh's popular Monologue programme on the 4th of August, 2012, it was evident that after a lengthy wait for the said repairs to take effect the authorities could not commence the activity, which left them with no option but to make a genuine plea for some of the habitable facilities to be occupied by them 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 and prefers to deprive students of their right to occupy the hostels which are actually meant for the students? Consequently, the students occupied the hostels on what was an arrangement between them and the administration. Knowing rightfully the swelling number of students at FBC, one can only shrewdly think that at any one time students do not reside on campus, the issue of transportation becomes so severe at Model Junction where hundreds of students painstakingly wait in long queues for hours before they make their journey to campus. After they initially agreed that the students can occupy the hostels, as always, the authorities unfairly and controversially reneged on their very decision, asking the students to quit in May at a time when the rains had begun to fall, and when hundreds of students from the provinces were barely trying to settle in the hostels. This from all considerations is only unscrupulous and does not create an enabling learning environment for students, who pay their tuition, development, caution, and other fees every year.
Accordingly, the students who have used their tact and usual strategy in engaging the administration in a discourse were doing so when the administration rashly took a decision to rusticate and expel those students who according to them 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 operational system and management; authorities who over the years scrapped a better warden's system and brought in an inept and corrupt warden who begged students for bribes in 2008/09; administrators who have not judiciously utilised the development fees paid by students for decades to carry out repairs during long holidays between July and October; an administration that will never come clean and honest and pay back the refunds of students' caution fees; a small group of people who feel that implementing an anti-student policy is the best way to make a university effective; authorities that will create a national embarrassment and flimsily accept that exams are put to a halt because they ran out of stationeries; an administration who would either refuse or delay to give students their due funds to organise their sports; administrators who will dubiously underutilise already paid-for charges and print sub-standard yellow cards for students in place of ID Cards; the inadequacies are endless. Hence, a whole system that has left students frustrated with a spirit of dislike for the four or more years of stay in the university which they had so envied and hope to happily become part of.
Recalling from the post-election violence in the May 2008 SU elections, the University Court on a similar note rusticated and expelled students for trivial charges which should never have incurred the punishments that were so levied. A typical example of their wickedness was when they decided to rusticate for 3 years a lady who was a finalist and coincidentally a classmate of mine, on the grounds that she splashed droplets of yogurt on the face of another student. Who of a sane mind would assert that a punishment of that magnitude is commensurate to the said charge? For all you know, the pattern of judgement on their claimed illegal occupation is shamefully the same. The case I am making is not oblivious of the fact that some 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 equal measure, I do corroborate entirely that a university must maintain its standards and eradicate all forms of lawlessness and uphold strong ethics and give the students back to society. However, I must categorically state that the university authorities have been heavy-handed and cloaked their actions in negativity and hatred for students.
As a result of all this brouhaha, exams were compelled to be cancelled indefinitely last week as a result of a protest led by the student union executives who are in solidarity with their unfairly punished colleagues and as a message to the administration and the rest of the world that the 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 these students would have definitely used and exhausted all means available to make their case known. I strongly assert that these devices such as 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, I cannot emphasise more that millions of leones have been spent on each of these students, for their future to be played with and their hopes to complete university as planned delayed as a result of some inept administration. In fact, it is highly probabilistic that out of the 31 students rusticated and expelled, a good number may have been beneficiaries of the government Grant-in-Aid scheme. Reverting to rustication and expulsion is implicitly telling this government that has worked so hard in promoting education that their investment in this sector is all but worthy to be thwarted and made useless. Let alone to talk about the severe repercussions of adding to the existing number of drop-outs in a country that is well known to be still struggling in increasing the number of literates and building the capacity of its youths.
Conclusively, I must throw a word of caution that as a country, never in our wildest and bad dreams will we think of going back to the appalling point we came from. 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 has been justified by the persistent occurrence of problems relating to students' welfare issues. Noting the good number of students who were rusticated and expelled in 2008 and with the current decision, it is only plausible to say that the APC government would go down in the history books as one which complacently allowed an in humane and insincere administration to destroy the future of the brilliant youths of this country. To say the truth, the government will be graciously and blindly conceding an "off-side goal" or most likely an "own-goal" if they allow such a prejudicial decision to stand. I am sure though that the Chancellor of the University and President of Sierra Leone, knowing his intellect and 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. I rest my case.
Alhaji Abu Komeh is a former FBC SU President 2008/09. He is a MSc. Economics Student, University of Birmingham, UK