Everyone saw it as educative and lively, except those for whom it was chiefly organised. A public lecture by a former lecturer at Africa’s oldest institution of higher learning attracted non-students more than it did the students themselves at Fourah Bay College.
Lecturers and alumni streamed into the Mary Kingsley auditorium last Thursday to listen to Dr Patrick Barnard give a scintillating talk on the state of and problems facing literature in the country. No better manifestation of how pertinent the topic was than what came out at the auditorium.
The so-called consciences of the nation FBC students it would seem are interested in anything but learning. It is apparent that the rudiments of education are withering away. But not just at the level of the students I dare say. With the lecturers and the administration, it would seem, the ingredients are becoming tasteless.
Shock, indignation and consternation beclouded the awe that the lecture represented. I could literally count all of us in the auditorium in just a few minutes. And the lecturers and alumni that I personally knew in the hall outnumbered those people I did not know. Meaning: even if everybody else was a student, they were less than two dozen.
What’s more, many of them were there because they had apparently been coerced. I saw a list doing the rounds for students of a particular department to sign in. So their minds were completely absent. After the lecture, not a single student asked a question or made any contribution whatsoever.
The excuse was that they were on exams so needed time to study. Balderdash! It was the then principal of the college Professor Cyril Patrick Foray who, while bidding farewell to us to take up an appointment as high commissioner to the UK, said this to us at the Adjai Crowther amphitheatre: “Never let your studies interfere with your education”.
Besides the fact that the two hours to spare for the Bernard lecture would not make them pass or fail anyway, the number that had turned out at another venue on the night before to watch European Champions League football, would make China review its birth control policy. Why didn’t the exams fever affect that turnout?
One student who was in the auditorium, assured me that exams or not, the attitude of students to things academic outside their classrooms, was almost non-existent. The males he said were mostly interested in football, violence between clubs and womanising. In just the same week, police had to be deployed to curb campus riot between two social clubs.
The females on the other hand, he went on, were keen on going to the beach, fashion and dating. He swore by everything he holds sacred that if the lecture was a fashion show or a music album launch, the female students would have streamed in. This was corroborated by dozens of others I have spoken with since.
This is affecting standards considerably. Some lecturers told me that all the majority of students were keen on was to cram their notes, hardly bothering to read anything outside those notes, some of which some lecturers have not updated in many, many years.
Talking about lecturers, in the last several months I have been investigating allegations of some male lecturers compromising their female students in exchange for marks leading to the acquisition of what is known as Sexually Transmitted Degrees. One Gambian female student had to report the matter to her government back home. And the others are either timid because of their poor performance in class or are easily cowed into compromising.
But the apparent decadence is made grimmer by the lack of facilities for students. They are charged for everything, even for accepting their acceptance letters. They submit SAEs when they apply for admission, but most often the applicant has to go to campus to collect their letter.
Back to the public lecture, I was shocked that despite the poor turnout, I had to struggle to find somewhere to sit. Reason: many of the seats in the auditorium are broken, and I could tell they’d been so for a long, long time. There are even bricks in the auditorium used as seats. This is unacceptable!!!
Where does the maintenance fee paid by all students go? Where goes the caution fee which every student, almost since Lati Hyde and Ajai Crowther, has had to pay? That is not all. Some students pay for a course in software computer, and graduate without ever touching a computer or at best having done so only a couple of times.
No students’ union:
And there is no-one to speak for the students. They have no union. Even though this is largely their fault, in that their politics has become warfare, it is a violation of the rights of the students to deprive them of their right to association. It leaves them at the peril of an administration which is not known for its interest in students’ welfare. I know this at first hand as a former students’ union president there.
For a whole semester they did not stay on campus because the administration said they were rehabilitating the hostels. Go the hostel rooms today and see the crap of a room. Toilets without running water, leaving them decked with human excreta. Others go to use them and can’t help but add onto the deck. Health hazard galore! Cleaners are grossly underpaid hence filth and rubbish colonise parts of the campus. That notwithstanding the administration keeps skyrocketing fees and other charges, in a typical chicken-and-egg situation. Pay more and we provide you the facilities. Common sense requires provide the facilities and I will pay more.
Professor Kwame Inquiry Report
The Professor Kwame Commission report, which seems to have been wiped off the face of the country and all copies apparently systematically removed from libraries, was not implemented. Among other things, it talks about the lack of rights for students and the very poor relationship between the administration and those they are, or should be, there for the students.
How much have we learned from our recent past that the trigger for the RUF was largely pulled from student disgruntlement at FBC?
In all this, successive central governments have been ambivalent, at best. To make it worse, I am told that the government has now stopped paying for accommodation for those students they provide grants-in-aid. This is like killing a dead man. The government must investigate Fourah Bay College before disgruntlement reaches boiling point and spills.
When the then President of Guinea Bissau, Kumbi Yallah visited here, one of President Tejan Kabbah’s bizarre friends, he went to FBC because he said he had heard so much about it. He was not alone. Many people who visit this country want to visit the college. Those who have not, see it as a Mecca they would one day love to visit. But here we are, allowing it to rot.
FBC should be made part of the routine of every visiting dignitary to this country, to visit and deliver a lecture. But will that not impact negatively on our image? The poor startling condition on campus and the fact that the students cannot care less will leave us with a PR disaster too monumental to salvage. The FBC alumni association should join hands with the university to salvage our flagging reputation; otherwise it will go with the Athens of West Africa appendage which now seems to be Ghana’s. By Umaru Fofana