By Desmond Jones
Protesting students of Fourah Bay College (FBC) have continued their strike action at the precincts of State House, the office of the President of Sierra Leone, chanting in different forms and displaying placards some of which called for the country’s Minister of Education to resign or be sacked immediately.
Speaking to AYV, the Student Union (SU) Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Alpha Lavallie, said he was disappointed at the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Minkailu Bah, who he said has failed in his duty as an Education Minister.
He said a diligent minister responsible for education in the country would have intervened long ago to address the situation before it got out of hands.
Lavallie described students as the custodian of Sierra Leone’s future, and said the Education Minister was expected to play the role of a patriotic father and consider the pleas of students.
He alleged that they were reliably informed that it was the Minister of Education who pressed for their colleague students to be rusticated.
“The Minister of Education must resign with immediate effect!” he said, “He is definitely not working in the interest of the country’s progress.”
Meanwhile, Lavallie said they decided to peacefully march to State House in order to get the President come in and rescue the situation, stating that the President’s Education minister was not up to the job.
Emilson Kanu, the SU’s Press Secretary, claimed that they were peacefully protesting at their college’s campus when the Police appeared and violently intimidated them by firing tear-gas and arresting some of his colleagues.
Deputy Minister of Education of the SU Government, Sidi Mamadu Bah, told AYV their action was the last resort, after exhausting all other peaceful means, to communicate to the college administration and national stakeholders that they were not pleased with the decision to rusticate 31 of their colleagues.
He said the punishment levied against their colleagues was disproportionate to the crime they were charged with.
He said they have held several press conferences and have issued a number of press statements wherein, as a responsible SU Government, they appealed to the authorities to reconsider their decision.
Furthermore, Bah said the rusticated students also appealed but the administration plaid deaf ears to all pleas and stopped the students from taking the second semester examination.
Expressing her feelings about the incident, a female student who prefers anonymity said she was displeased with the cancellation of the exams she had prepared so well to take. However, she said she would not feel comfortable writing an examination when 31 of those she would work with in the future to build Sierra Leone into a better place were being rusticated and deprived of their right to university education.
Meanwhile, she called on the administration to temper justice with mercy by reviewing their decision and allow her colleagues get through their exams.
The President of the college’s Student Union Government, Seaman Alie Mans-Conteh described the administration’s decision as crazy and outrageous.
“How can you rusticate students for staying in the college’s hostels? A fine would have been more appropriate; but to stop them from taking their examination and drive them away, that’s way too heavy-handed,” said Mans-Conteh.
He says their position as a student body is for the administration to vindicate all the 31 students and allow them to continue their exams.
However, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone (USL), Professor Jonas A. S. Redwood-Sawyer, has in a press statement condemned the violent protest by the students.
He said the USL was committed to train future leaders for Sierra Leone, and not rebels.
Professor Redwood-Sawyer maintained that the USL did not only provide opportunity for students to obtain advanced learning in all aspects of Science, Art ant Technology, but also prepare them in the moral areas of obtaining good character, demonstrating integrity and respecting the laws and order.
He said it was against this backdrop that the USL decided to update the public on the reasons why it chose to take disciplinary action against students who acted against the laws of the university.
He said students should vacate the student’s hostels which were in dire need of repair, and were originally vandalized by the students themselves.
He said their decision was communicated to the students, who responded with resistance and threats.
He said, as a final move, the USL issued a press release that gave a deadline of 27th April 2012 for the students to leave the hostels, failing which students would be expelled.
He said the university authorities identified 31 students who were charged with various offences of indiscipline, including assaults on the Warden of students, and disciplinary penalties were levied.
He added that the Senate of the University considered the report of the special disciplinary committee at its meeting on the 14th May 2012, and took disciplinary action in accordance with the University Act of 2005.
He said the students appealed to His Excellency the President and Chancellor of the University against the disciplinary procedures and consequently the President met with the Minister of Education, Science and Technology and various stakeholders of the University administration.
He further said that due to their promise made to the President, the students were asked to appeal in accordance with the University Act. However, he said only 10 out of 31 students submitted their letters of appeal to the university.
He said as a result a legal and disciplinary committee was set up that looked into the appeals tendered by the students, and released its final report on the 1st of August, 2012 which took account of the need for compassion, discipline, justice and mercy.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the USL said the 10 students that appealed had their penalties mitigated.
He said as a result, the students reportedly engaged themselves in the destruction of college property on 3rd August 2012. He said in response he called the Student Union President, The President of NUSS and other Student Union officials, and admonished them to desist from such acts and tender their complain through peaceful means.
But the students claimed they have exhausted all peaceful means.
Meanwhile, the college’s second semester exams have been suspended till further notice.