Salone News

Call for accounts: 1980 FBC Student Protests

15 June 2019 at 04:21 | 1976 views


The 1980 FBC Student Protests - The forgotten fight against APC dictatorship in Sierra Leone

By Kortor Kamara, USA

The period between the nationwide student demonstrations against the APC government of Siaka Stevens in 1977 and the 1983 demonstrations, witnessed the seminal but oft-overlooked 1980 FBC students protests in September and November, 1980.

These demonstrations and protests, especially the larger November protest, though largely confined on Mount Aureol and Freetown, unlike the much larger and well known 1977 nationwide student protests, however presaged the subsequent more militant 1983 demonstrations and was its precursor both in militancy, tactics and messaging.

Student militancy and advocacy, at its epitome in 1977 had by 1978 largely been contained on campus and largely consigned to bread and butter issues confronting survival on campus, such as housing, transportation, scholarships, adequate classes for the burgeoning student body and allowances.

During this period student protests were largely against the university authorities and not overtly directed at the central government. The brutality of APC thugs against the university students in 1977 was still very much fresh and thus had a deterrent effect.

By 1980 the congruence of the decision by president Siaka Stevens to host the 1980 OAU conference in Freetown, the precarious economic situation, the repressive one-party dictatorship of the APC party, youth unemployment, decaying infrastructure and rampant corruption, nepotism and overt tribalism engendered resentment among progressive students.

The hosting of the OAU conference was estimated by the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone and international financial lending institutions to cost in excess of 25 to 30 percent of the country’s budget. Such reckless wasteful spending of the nation’s meager resources, largely to stoke the megalomaniac ego of a dictator, engendered criticism among intellectuals and conscious FBC students that culminated in the 1980 protests and its resultant heavy handed repression by the SSDs and ultimate arrest and detention of seventeen of us students at the infamous Clarkson Hall, Pademba Road prisons.

Just like the subsequent October 1983 FBC student demonstrations, the 1980 demonstrations were the first protesters to march down the vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Arthur Potter to State House, as a shield against SSD brutality. However, the resultant brutality unleashed by the likes of Bambay Kamara and TK Manasaray, in front of our very eyes quickly disabused us of the folly that the eminent Professor’s presence would be a deterrent.

The twinning of both the 1980 FBC demonstrations and the 1983 student demonstrations is further cemented in the establishment of the 1984 Kutubu Commission of Inquiry, established by Siaka Stevens. The commission’s mandate was ‘to investigate the causes of frequent disturbances at FBC between September 1980 to January 1984’.

This period also witnessed the passage of draconian press laws by the APC one-party dictatorship and parliament as reflected in both The 1980 Newspaper Amendment Act No. 5 and as amended in 1983.

As we approach the 39- year anniversary of the November 1980 FBC student protests, our detention at the infamous Clarkson Hall and court appearances before the late Magistrate Daramy, this period in our struggle for a better Sierra Leone must not be allowed to be forgotten or wiped off in the annals of political and student resistance. Contemporary historians and commentators have largely overlooked our sacrifices and struggle due largely to the dearth of adequate historical accounts.

However, in an effort at reversing this historical anomaly and as we approach the 40th anniversary in the next 2 years, with most of us getting there in age, I am soliciting firsthand accounts from participants and especially the 17 detained and imprisoned student activists of this demonstration, so we can put together a collective historical account of the 1980 FBC student demonstrations for posterity.