Stones, rocks and bottles were strewn all over the place. Some glass windows smashed. Rooms broken into, looted and ransacked. Hundreds, with some tying bandanas on their head, camped in the open air. Others sat on the floor chanting songs of triumph.
This is what Fourah Bay College campus looked like on Friday some fifteen hours after a students’ union election whose result no-one I spoke with contested. But an election whose fallout every sensible person hated. Like a war zone or an aftermath of a military takeover.
No-one that I have spoken with since Friday’s disturbances at FBC, and those in the run-up to the contest, had seen or heard of anything like this before. This is plummeting to the lowest, and it bears all the hallmarks of national political involvement. As I write this piece I hear that some members of the Auradicals club, a registered club close to the Black camp, one of two of the main political camps at FBC, have been arrested by the police. The question is, why? Why should they be arrested when I am told they were meeting AWAY from college campus? They must be set free otherwise it will all bode badly both for the students and country. And here is why.
I was invited to Fourah Bay College by the Accounting Students’ Association to chair a programme last week on the need for a change of attitude among students in post-war Sierra Leone. How apt! Half way through the discussion, which had as panellists the candidates for the students’ union elections holding just three days later, I saw in stark obviousness how bad things might look for Sierra Leone unless serious and genuine attempts are made to address the shrinking and sinking levels of reasonability and nationalism. Actually if I had been informed of the composition of the panel beforehand, I probably would have graciously turned down the invite.
After the panellists had spoken, the audience, an appreciable one, made their contributions. A couple of them touched me. Giving the names of immediate past students’ union presidents, one student remarked that they’d all been northerners. Some applauded him. Others murmured in apparent disagreement. He went on that as a Mende, he would not be voted for because of “the north-western” alliance against the southeast. A similar sentiment expressed to me by a student who said he was Limba, who said that south-easterners would vote against him if he contested.
There are two political camps, the Blacks and the Whites. The former is a southern clique and the former a north-western one. How sad! That tribalism and nepotism have apparently taken over the thinking of students at sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest institution of higher learning, is galling. That the citadel of learning can stoop this low is shocking. It sends into comatose any hopes for a revived country. And the Monday encounter was the tip of the iceberg.
Then came last Thursday and with it what has generally been described as a quiet and fair election. But I dare say the quietness of a graveyard. Otherwise how could the police have had to deploy on campus for an election which would usually pass off without even Mount Everest guards let alone armed police personnel. The police, I am told, would disperse students who pocketed in groups. This, coming just two years after the banning of the students’ union, was most short-sighted of the students.
Then came the results which showed the two main candidates separated by less than 50 votes. Yes! Just 48 votes decided victory! Such a margin should make the winner and his supporters think soberly and spare the students, the college and the country the attendant show of a situation with which we are all familiar and fed up – violence.
Then the orgy was unleashed. Hundreds of students streamed down town, with some using the unconventional canal route, escaping seeing the colour and makeup of harm and the path of harm’s way. I saw at least one student stabbed, another who had his teeth extracted without a dentist’s prescription or expertise. Others were severely beaten up and their valuables carted away.
The gut, they say, is never strong if there is nothing inside it. The students would not have been emboldened to act in such cowardly manner had they not been bolstered by some politicians who want to score political points or settle old scores.
Not that the political divide at FBC is something new. Not at all! It has been there for decades. But the shape and form it has taken is shocking. I remember writing sometime ago in my “MOBA MOBS OBBA” piece and I mentioned the fraternity that existed among alumni of Bo School regardless of which part of the country they came from. Tribe was never considered as far as I knew. Now it is the determining factor. You can choose your father-in-law but can you choose your father or mother? Certainly not! So how can anyone hate someone else because of their tribe or region!
We all know what Fourah Bay College represents in the genesis of our civil war. Should we sit by and allow that or something even worse, to happen? Lecturers who get themselves overtly involved in students’ union politics should be named and shamed or even sent out packing. Government ministers who do same should also be embarrassed. The APC and SLPP can operate on campus and separate the thinking of the students. But that which used to happen in the 1990s when supporters of the two parties would come together at SU level must be allowed to reign.
With the college administration having sent all students out of campus, the White camp that won the election must be made to know that all students stand to lose, especially them, should they be kicked out of campus. They will basically have no much reason to be in government. The two camps must allow calm to return to campus. After all, to quote the vice chancellor, it is just for one year. Why jump over the sky thinking you have won for ever? The birds and the extraterrestrials will bring you back down. To quote Augustine Marrah, the campaign manager of the losing candidate whose room was looted, you are all fighting for a union and not a division. And to quote Unisa Tarawallie, a supporter of the winning candidate who was stabbed in the thigh, there is no crime supporting either candidate.
I can only appeal to the students not to allow national politicians to mess them up for their (politicians’) selfish interest. Otherwise they will blur whatever hope there is to bridge the north-south divide in the country’s body politic. That can only spell doom. I repeat here what I have said before. We must encourage more north-south student and teacher exchange programmes. If I was a rich man, I would offer scholarship with mouth-watering stipend to any south-easterner who wants to pursue their education in the north and vice versa. I would also increase by half the salary of any teacher who makes the geographical switch. We need national cohesion and NOW! And it all starts from school, meanders through college and comes back to make or break the country.
<email@example.com> should you wish to contact me. By Umaru Fofana