Salone News

A Plea for Student Leader Bonapha-A rejoinder

18 October 2007 at 19:56 | 862 views

By Abdulai Bayraytay, Toronto,Canada.

I read Teddy Foday Musa’s piece in this medium “A plea for student leader Bonapha”(See Opinion column) with great consternation not because I entirely disagreed with the rather lenient approach he took with the university administrators that slammed the rustication order, but by the mere implication that Bonapha and his colleagues might have been guilty for the acts of hooliganism they were accused of.

This is against the backdrop that Teddy Foday Musa pretty well knows the many times several of us(including himself) were roped to face the disciplinary committee at Fourah Bay College (FBC) to answer to mostly flimsy and trumped-up allegations ranging from “incitement” to belonging to “clandestine” organizations.

The university of Sierra Leone, especially Fourah Bay College has a notoriety of harassing students to the extent that a cross-section of lecturers sometimes behave as if they are doing students a noble favor by virtue of their privileged positions. This makes them oblivious of the hard fact that they are being paid from taxes collected from impoverished parents, however minimal they might be.

Students have always been victims of one form of injustice or the other. They are both victims of the high-handedness of the administration as well as the neglect by successive governments. Sierra Leonean students have suffered a lot over the years: If it’s not rustication of students from our higher institutions of learning, it’s an abysmal rape of vulnerable female students, or killing of students for demonstrating against military governments or the vandalization of hostels as a way of “curbing student radicalism.”

A historical example of nasty rustification was the 1985 Alie Kabba led demonstration against the university administration over excessive interference in student union politics and the authoritarian policies of the university authorities. During that period, students were not only expelled, but sober-minded lecturers like the late historian Cleo Hanciles (may his soul rest in perfect peace), veteran journalist/historian Olu Richie Gordon,Salieu Neh Kamara(Philosophy)and Jimmy Kandeh(Political Science) were also expelled.

This is where Teddy Foday-Musa made the nice inextricable link between the involvement of some of the rusticated students and their political sympathy for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which put its killing machine into operation from 1991 until 2002.

The moral authority for the university to expel students is worth examination. I could recall years back when some lecturers leaked Economics exam papers at FBC and the vehemence with which the accused twenty-three students were earmarked for hasty expulsion. Students mobilized and questioned the rationale of expelling students when the exam papers were in the first place sold to the accused students whether in kind or cash by some broke and immoral lecturers. It turned out that the university administrators only wanted to save their faces from the horrible scandal. Students won the day as the decision of expulsion was quietly reversed.

This did not however surprise many seasoned observers as the university phased out in decay and corruption. Indeed, was it not with the tacit support and complicity of the almighty powers that be at the university that lecturers with fake degrees were kept for decades so long as they maintain and protect the status quo while eloquent critics like Dr. Mohamed Kroma at the department of political science were falsely castigated of having fake PhDs just because they are perceived as “leftists?

In spite of repeated commissions of inquiry into the financial impropriety and administrative lapses at the university of Sierra Leone, the reports are usually stored into the archives for historic referencing. This clearly reminded me of the days when the accounts department would be more concerned about preventing nosy students from browsing through the list of payees because of fear of being busted of maintaining names of students who had graduated over ten years ago on the pay vouchers during payday of our tiny and pitiable $20 or so student-grant-in-aid (SLG) meant to last for a semester.

While it is an uncontested view that lecturers are poorly paid and incentives low amidst the high-profile corruption by the elitist political class, yet the selfish nature and double standards perpetuated by the university become suspect when it comes to muzzling students’ freedom on campus. In retrospect, had lecturers, especially the Academic Staff Association (ASA) not canvassed students’ support whenever they down their tools because of poor conditions, but would deny students the same right when their own rights are on the line?

The decision of the university to expel student union leaders was a wake up call for students at all levels to be united in a common front and negotiate with the powers that be to maximize their interests. It is not necessarily a bad idea for students to hold divergent political views or belong to caucuses of either the “Blackman” or “White man” camps. What is erratic though is when those diverse views tend to subsume the common interest as evident in the expulsion of no other than the president of National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS).

These expulsions seemed to be hastily, if not irrationally, arrived at since they are premised on the apparent false claim that they could curb student radicalism. This will not be the case, as expulsions of both students and lecturers in 1985 had not deterred students’ agitation for the common interest. While it is sensible for students to be law abiding in a bid to serve as role models, expulsions are an archaic and repressive form of punishment.

It is on this basis that one would call on all students, parents, progressive civil society groups, and particularly the nascent government of Ernest Bai Koroma, to come to the aid of helpless students for the university to rescind its erratic expulsion notice. What Sierra Leone should frown at, at this point, would be the inadvertent encouragement for underground student groups to emerge in the absence of student union governments in our higher institutions of learning. This will be way too dangerous for a country still negotiating peace building programs after a devastating ten-year-old war.

*Abdulai Bayraytay(pictured) is the Deputy Editor of the Patriotic Vanguard and he served as secretary-general of the Fourah Bay College Students’ Union and also the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) from 1996 to 1998.