By Sydney Pratt -Publisher of THE TRUMPET Newspaper of Freetown :
We are saddened over the fact that the first institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa, established in 18th February, 1827, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is fast reducing itself to obscurity after being responsible for giving the honorable title: ‘Athens of West Africa’ to the country then, by virtue of its enviable academic prowess and significance among its neighbors as the place to go in search of higher education.
In those formative years and for decades to follow, people came from as far as Britain, South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and Ghana to name a few countries to enroll at the FBC as students. The college has and still continues to benefit from the experiences and knowledge of foreign lecturers as well.
Despite these fine overtures, Fourah Bay College (FBC), we dare say, has had its toll of violent activities, riots, protests and what-have-you in the years under review. However, instead of things getting better, they seem to be getting worse. Things are indeed getting worse in all aspects of the FBC University of Sierra Leone.
Apart from the meteoritic rise in University fees which affected almost all the students negatively, there is also the issue of declining standards in both academic performance and college infrastructure namely students’ hostels which have reportedly been neglected and in dire need of repairs if they are to be habitable in the near future.
It is said and verily believed by many people and governments, that universities the world over are supposed to be the beacon and/or soul of a country, because it is the university which should set the pace for a nation’s greatness in the area of academia and research.
However, it is like the FBC University of Sierra Leone, instead of learning from its mistakes and using these mistakes to plan ahead for its development and that of the country, the college administration and the students do not seem to know where they are heading, or what they want!
It has become normal for college elections to be disrupted and marred by violence for reasons which can be avoided; if only the students stick to running their own affairs and frown on any party or individual that attempts to influence the conduct of student elections in any way.
It is no longer a secret that student elections in this country are no longer purely a matter for students alone. Politicians have been known to influence student elections for their own personal gain or whim. Prominent politicians are known to have influenced student elections in the past, in ways that can only be described as creating confusion, division and animosity between and among students over student politics, which would forever remain in the colleges, whilst the students move out to face real world politics.
The students on the other hand, are allowing themselves to be used by politicians, forgetting the salient fact that they are in college to be themselves academically, physically and in other ways and not to be spoon-fed by failed adult politicians. Failed because it is only a failure that is afraid of his shadow and wants to keep that shadow in sight by inciting people whose mental capabilities can be swayed in any direction as long as the motive or inducement is right!
The latest incident of interference in student politics by people who otherwise should have no business in student politics resulted in the postponement of the elections which was supposed to have been conducted on Friday 14th June, 2013.
For ease of reference, we reproduce sections of the press release that was issued on 12th June, 2013, by the management of the university:
“The management of the University of Sierra Leone, which is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that a conducive environment is maintained for the operations of the University, whose core functions are teaching and research, would like to inform its students in particular, and the wider community in general, that the elections for various students’ union positions, including that of president of the students’ union of each of the three constituent campuses, scheduled for Friday 14th June, 2013, have been postponed indefinitely.”
The release goes on to remind all concerned that past years students politics, especially the electioneering process, had been marred by violence whi
ch led not only to the disruption of the operations of the University but also to the damage of both college and individual properties.
It was because this situation continued unabated that the University Court of Sierra Leone, following a report from the administration, intervened, and after careful deliberation, decided to ban the students’ union of each campus and at its meeting of September 15th 2011, set up a 5-person committee, chaired by the University Registrar, to serve as a liaison between the campus administration and students with a view to addressing students’ welfare and related concerns.
The release further states that in the meantime, the college administration including principal and other senior authorities plan on meeting with representatives and the aspirants on diverse dates to settle the impasse.
It is lamentable that students in a university still cannot settle their own problems, without interference from the college administration, which actually has no business in ‘helping’ students, make up their minds on political issues affecting them.
It is also lamentable that student politics in Sierra Leone is taking the ugly trend of national party politics. This is a pointer to the fact that the students are no different from their political godfathers, gurus or benefactors. In other words, those outsiders influencing students on what to think, who to vote and other matters regarding students’ elections are what could be described as surrogate political godfathers.
We wish to state here that it is high time students in our various colleges begin to assume their independence in the way they think, act and take decisions affecting their lives as students. We expect our students to be leaders; not followers. We expect our students to be initiators; not imitators.
Therefore, to end this piece, we call on all students in tertiary institutions across Sierra Leone to retrace their steps, think long and hard about whether they want the political future of this country to remain where failed politicians have left it; or whether they hope to reform political thinking in the country so as to raise our status once more to the Athens of West Africa. Students, be wise and act wise; do not allow old politicians imbibe old tricks in you. Always seek newer, and better ways of doing things and then perhaps, we would no longer see college strikes over salary, elections and what-have-you!