By Iddi Muhayu-Deen .
Regrettably, the nation’s premier University of Science and Technology, KNUST, has recently, been in the news for rather bad reasons, ranging from the autocratic disposition of the university management to student unrest and the latest, being government’s intervention. I have, with considerable interest as a stakeholder and former student leader, followed these unfolding developments, and wish to express this take. One may argue that, being a student activist, I may have some personal biases against management and in favour of students. Whether or not this suspicion is true, I would rather the issues I am raising be looked at devoid of such prejudices.
It is instructive; first of all, to make the point that there has been an overwhelming condemnation of last Monday’s violent demonstration staged by the students. Whiles admitting that there were indeed some excesses on the part of the students, I am nonetheless of the firm conviction that the rioting students were under extreme provocation and had no option than to vent their spleen in the way they did in order to catch the needed attention. Kindly indulge me to pose the following questions especially to those going very hard on the students. Where were they when these students were subjected to 21st century penal servitude by the authorities of KNUST under the pretext of instilling discipline?
Where were the men and women of good conscience when the students were being subjected to a regime of oppression by the school authorities? Where were the men and women of good conscience when the fundamental human rights and civil liberties of the students as enshrined in Chapter 5 of the Constitution of the Republic were wantonly contravened by the authorities of KNUST? Where were they when the students of KNUST were subjected to officially-sanctioned brutalities? What were they expecting the students who were otherwise embarking on a peaceful demonstration to do when the police were firing unprovoked warning shots at them?
Where were the men and women of good conscience when student activism was under siege by the school authorities? Where were they when student leaders were made powerless and inefficacious by the school authorities? Where were they when the duly elected Hall Executives were stripped off their positions and residential status by the school authorities for exercising their constitutional right of going to Court to challenge some of their unpopular decisions? Where were the men and women of good conscience when the Annual Hall Week Celebrations for all the Halls on campus were consolidated into a week-long activity, denying students the opportunity of celebrating at their own pace and will?
Where were they when all student accounts including the accounts of the SRC were consolidated into one and superintended over by the Dean of Students rather than the students themselves? Where were the men and women of peace and good conscience when the KNUST Vice Chancellor was bent on banning a Hall Tradition (MORALE) which had existed since the establishment of the University for no legitimate reason? Where were the men and women of good conscience when the students were subjected to 24/7 molestation and brutalities by the campus security under the authority of the VC?
Where were the bastions of law and constitutionality when the VC of KNUST caused a prison cell to be constructed on campus where “law-breaking students” and others were locked up by the campus security, virtually turning the school into a whole Republic with him, the VC, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of KNUST? Where were they when students of KNUST were compelled to necessarily go to bed not later than 10pm? Ultimately, where were the men and women of good conscience when University life in KNUST was turned into a Secondary School with so many restrictions as if the students were kids?
The most annoying thing was that even in the face of all these injustices occasioned largely by the acts of maladministration particularly on the part of the embattled VC, nobody was ready to listen to the plight of these students who had virtually become academic slaves. The VC and his colleagues in management would just not grant them audience. The media would also not tell their story the way it should be told to reflect what was really happening on campus. Under these circumstances, you would agree with me that the only option available to the students was to stage a massive demonstration to shake the very foundation of KNUST in order to catch the attention of the whole nation, which they succeeded.
We should remember that silence CANNOT be an option when things are ill done. Also, throughout history, evil triumphs in society only because of the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most as well as the inactions of those who should have acted. Where there is no room for a jaw-jaw in order to arrest a particular evil, certainly ‘war-war’ becomes the only option because under no circumstance should evil be made to fester in society. Our national anthem enjoins us to resist oppressors’ rule remember? It is for these and other reasons that I am hesitant in going hard on the students for the excesses. In any case, it thus appears that the only language our authorities understand is “aluta” rather than constructive engagement.
And this sub-culture of notorious intransigence on the part of officialdom is not peculiar to KNUST but cuts across all the institutions of higher learning in the country and other government ministries, departments and agencies. I remember vividly, during my days as the General Secretary of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) sometime in the year 2014/15, it always took a threat of demonstration from NUGS to compel authorities and indeed the government at the time to grant us the needed audience. One of such many occasions was when the then government was hell bent on compelling students in all public tertiary institutions to pay utility bills; but for our threat to stage a mammoth demo, which compelled also the Presidency, to grant us audience leading to the resolution of the matter.
Tell me, if the KNUST students had not staged that demonstration, would the whole nation get to hear of their plight? Would their issues make headlines in our national dailies including the Graphic? Would the TV stations in Accra fly some of the student leaders to their studios for them to tell their stories? Would their ordeal be discussed on all “Morning Shows” on TV and radio including my favourite “kokorokoo” hosted by the legendary Kwame Sefa Kayi, on peace fm for a whole week and counting? Would the Abdul Malik Kweku Baakos be speaking to their issues? Would we see an intervention from government?
And talking about government’s intervention, it is rather unfortunate that government, through the Ministry of Education, appears to be getting it all wrong and that saddens me. As much as I want the embattled KNUST VC to go, my fidelity to the law enjoins me to always stand on the side of the law. Else, I will not only be betraying my law lecturers but also my good conscience. I am, under the circumstances, unable to support government’s purported dissolution of the KNUST Governing Council and the purported formation of an Interim Management Council (IMC) to run the University, which move, clearly flies in the face of the law. You don’t use a faulty process and for that matter a palpable illegality to achieve a legitimate end. In law, the process is as crucial as the end.
If you don’t have the power to appoint or create, you certainly CANNOT have the power to disappoint or destroy. This is a fundamental principle of statutory interpretation. As we speak, per the Statute establishing the University, the appointing authority of the KNUST VC is the University Governing Council, properly so constituted, and NOT government. Government only appoints less than 30% of other members of the Council and this, of course, does not include the VC. Membership to the Council is largely by institutional representation. Respectfully, Article 297(a) of the 1992 Constitution on implied powers cannot be cited as justification for government’s move, to the extent that government is not the appointing authority of the Council, let alone the VC.
In view of the foregoing, I join the seasoned lawyers who have spoken on the matter, the KNUST SRC, UTAG, VC-Ghana, Abdul Malik Kweku Baako, Yaw Buaben Asamoah [the NPP Communications Director who conceded to this illegality on Newsfile], and indeed all well-meaning law abiding Ghanaians to call on government to do the needful and restore the status quo. Certainly, I expect the KNUST VC, for demonstrating such legendary incompetence and superintending over complete lawlessness on campus, to be REMOVED from office BUT only through DUE PROCESS. Long live KNUST!! Long live Student Activism!! Aluta Continua … Victoria Ascerta….
Former NUGS General Secretary