Tuesday, June 4, 2013

University of Buea:Lecturers' Union Speaks Out

In the few months of Prof Nalova Lyonga’s tenure as Vice Chancellor, the University of Buea has witnessed some of the most violent protests in its history with prolonged militarisation of the campus. Why these protests have continued, in spite of the change everyone thought was the panacea, leaves everyone guessing. SYNES, the Lecturers Union, of the University of Buea cannot, as a major stakeholder, continue to be silent about the unending quagmire rooted in extremisms and antagonism on campus.
When UB was created by Presidential decree in 1993, all Cameroonians saw it as a beacon of the English tradition – transparency, probity and integrity. Every child yearned to have a UB degree, and, in the first decade of its existence, it established an unprecedented reputation – centre of excellence, the place to be etc.

But, beneath this seeming plush and debonair, brewed dissent and frustration. Indeed, unknown to the wider public, many Lecturers who could no longer cope with the iron fist leadership style of the pioneer Vice-Chancellor were leaving the citadel. Like in the days of the one-party-state, the VC was worshipped and many did not imagine UB without her.

Although committed to building a sound prestige for UB, her long stay inevitably repressed alternative thinking that would later erupt into the multiple strikes that have become commonplace today. Since the current VC and DVCs Profs Ngoh and Endeley were committed adherents to this style of leadership, is there any wonder that we are seeing a re-emergence of this authoritarian style? 

Student protests in the mid 1990s for better conditions weren’t seen as an opportunity to give the University Students’ Union a better orientation by the above team. Rather, they were repressed, its leaders vilified and banished. Unlike in other English speaking Universities where University Student Unions are a crucial part of the social and cultural life, ours was pushed to the fringes, bereft of any sense of responsibility.

SYNES sees parallels between the present VC’s determined commitment to ban UBSU one moment and suspend it at another with what happened in the dark days of the 90s. The only difference now being UB’s passion to consign all students who disagree with the banning of their Union, including innocent ones picked up in the Molyko vicinity during strikes, to prison.

From the outset, the guiding principles of Anglo-Saxon culture were not followed; not even in a non-doctrinal manner. Meritocracy, which is central to this tradition, was not encouraged and ethnic rivalry was often nudged when there was dissent. The text creating the University’s provisions on the election of the VC, Deans and Heads of Departments and its prescription on the tenure of office of these principal officers has never been respected.
Since appointments to otherwise elective positions in UB has consistently become politicised (reward for friendship or loyalty), cronyism emerged with people occupying positions for up to ten years (uninterrupted) in the University. This built a personality cult around several people and reinforced the belief that some people were alpha and omega who could make and unmake such that their ban of UBSU and contempt for SYNES must be accepted with no one daring to think differently!

The dangerous culture of appointments bred boot-lickers and all forms of treachery. Survivalism, sycophancy and deliberate falsehood became the order of the day and have refused to die. No one dares to disagree with the ‘great VC’. And, so, successive administrations have been cheered to precipice by appointment chasers some of whom prescribe the use of orthodox and unorthodox means to eliminate those who say students put in our care be treated as our own children even when they err.

SYNES believes and boldly declares to the Cameroonian public, particularly parents, that our responsibility is not to cooperate with those who want to convert a wing of the Buea central prison into a hostel for our erring young students. We do not believe that there is wisdom in UB administration’s fixation on the fact that students must not vote their executive by universal suffrage either. While the students’ extreme stance on this issue of their election could be understandably seen as a function of the idealism inherent in their youth, this is not so for UB administration.

We, as a Lecturers’ Union, know, as a fact, that the current strikes in UB, particularly the targeted destruction, are not unconnected with the struggle for power between some Deputies and the VC and disagreement between the leaders of the students and the present UB hierarchy over benefits from the spoils of previous strikes.

Student leaders have, openly, declared to anyone who cares to know that they played a key role in the strikes fomented by Prof Titanji’s Deputies to accelerate his departure after his retirement. They are bitter that, on Aunty becoming VC, she refused to allow them collect dues and is trying to ban their Union. With Titanji out of the way, and their main sponsors suddenly supporting the dismantling of UBSU, is there any wonder that the students seem to be seeking their pound of flesh? They are using the same tactics their principal mentor in the Head Office has taught them over the years.

Reference is here made to a meeting on campus between UB administration and students on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in which the UB student body unanimously supported UBSU’s position that elections into the Student Union should be by universal suffrage. This meeting ended in disarray because of the students’ stance. The question every well meaning person should ask is: what is the administration or the Faculty’s interest in insisting that this election be organised the way the VC wants?

SYNES urges UB administration not to exploit the coming visit of the President by using its influence in the security services to crush those who hold contrary opinions. Now is the time to ensure a peaceful atmosphere in Buea as the Region awaits the visit of the President of the Republic by taking steps to resolve this avoidable crisis with the students through dialogue as the Minister of Higher Education, Prof Jacques Fame Ndongo, has always prescribed.
In dialoguing, one does not remain in the same position such as the eternal refusal to allow students vote their executive by universal suffrage. The fixation on force on campus rather than genuine dialogue which has driven some students underground and caused others to resort to threats to attack Lecturers in class etc cannot resolve anything.

As a Union, we must caution some misguided Lecturers who see in this crisis the opportunity to make childish inflammatory statements about how they will attack our leaders, members, etc in or out of campus. While it is natural for academics to disagree, it is scandalous for this to result in a call to arms! The way out of this problem, in the long term, is simple and straightforward:

1.    The statutes of the University should be respected. The appointment of the Vice-Chancellor, Deans and Heads of Departments should emanate from the procedure specified in the UB decree of 1993. As such, people will not seek to unseat others by forging the kinds of alliances we have seen on campus.

2.    The Students’ Union should be given proper guidance and allowed to elect its leadership by universal suffrage.

3.    There should be genuine engagements with all the stakeholders in the University on the way to secure peace and mutual respect on campus.

Prof Michael A Yanou (President)
Dr. James Abangma (Vice President)
Dr. Fontem Neba (Secretary General)


No comments: