SIERRA LEONE: A DEVELOPMENTAL FACELIFT ON THE SHORES OF A RESUSCITATING CITADEL
_(An Essay on the revitalizing spree of Student Unionism in Fourah Bay College)_
* — Alpha Sanunu Bah — *
*(LAW, LLB3, FINAL HONs. 1)*
_Friday, 25thMarch, 2022._
On Monday, the 18th of February, 1827; the first institution of higher learning in modern sub-Saharan Africa was opened as the only alternative to the West for British Colony West Africans who wanted to acquire university degrees. Fourah Bay College, as it became known, was Africa’s successor to the Old University of Timbuktu in what is, in modern day, called Mali. People from all over the continent came here to acquire formal Western education and to learn professional skills in academia. The institution served its purpose by producing a wide array of academics and scholars who aided in restructuring the narrative of the continent itself and, as well, pioneering the emergence of the earliest generations of West Africa’s educated elites. By the long run of this, Sierra Leone became known as the “Athens of West Africa” with people referring to the College as the Sub-Continent’s “Citadel of learning” — in the effect of its popular influence on multilateral developments, the college was able to also serve as a training ground for a generation of political titans who reshaped the structure and dynamics of the political landscape in the Sub-Continent.
Through the years, Fourah Bay college, despite its historic genesis, has been plagued with a colossal amount of problems ranging from those relating to admission, infrastructure, ineffectiveness of lecturers and many other issues affecting students which they, individually, could not solve. These issues, aligning with the inconceivable gap between the college administration and its primary role on the interest base of students, jumpstarted the whittling drive of the college’s reputation. However, with the existence of Students’ Unionism, which is a strong collaborative force principally meant to project the interest of students at the heart of the functioning of the college and to serve as the primary nexus between the college administration and the students’ populace, there has been a check on the stretch of many of these issues. The Fourah Bay College Students’ Union has ever been a strong pressure group with considerable influence on the administration of the college in seeking the interest of students and, to a maximum extent, on the state’s national government with respect to policies and actions directly affecting students. The possibility of this is so because of pressuring methods such as protests and more diplomatic approaches such as constructive and effective dialogue, lobbying and liaisement with the targeted authorities. However, in unfortunate account, the years have seen students preferring the former approach to the latter and employing drastic and violent means in soliciting the appropriate or required attention. This, in effect, contradicted the well-being of students as the result of such approach was mostly of detrimental values to the students themselves, the prevalence of which led to the forestallment of Student Union activities for an unappreciatively long period of time.
The reinauguration of Student Unionism in the college came with an informed spirit as the immediate Government of Augustine Bona strived to consolidate its effort towards restructuring the dynamics of student politics on campus. A new and improved method which included inclusiveness and diplomacy rather than daft drasticity was used as an effective governing tool which, in my opinion, aided his Government in creating a remarkable difference. A significant feature of his Government’s developmental construct was the ‘Illuminate Fourah Bay College’ project which facilitated the installation of multiple solar street lights around the campus, the “Reduction in Tuition Fee Campaign” and the reopening of the Fourah Bay College Hostels, which had been a major concern within the college and amongst students. The industrious and calculative ‘Rebuilding’ lead of the Bona Regime, despite a few of its shortcomings, created the apparent space for a more diversified and developmentally oriented Students’ Union. This, in essence, constructed a progressive pathway for the succeeding Government of President Adama Sillah. The new and contemporary regime, just like its predecessor, has engaged in series of developmental projects since its ascension to Government. In complementing the effort of the previous government in ensuring the renovation and opening of the hostels, the new government has been seen facilitating the sustainable supply of water to Hostel Residents. As well, a recent development featured the donation of multiple 8,000 liters Milla water tanks which was a project advanced by the President through the Ministry of Housing and Environment and the Ministry of Water Resources in a bid to accelerate the conduciveness of the Hostels. In a similar vein, the SU is currently in talks with the Electricity Distribution & Supply Agency for the provision of meters that would be affixed to each of the rooms in the various hostel blocks.
The current Students’ Union Government, through its Ministry of Education, facilitated the setting up of a Student Concern Center as one its very first actions towards responding to the concerns of students on campus. The center serves as an interface platform between students and the SU as it provides services such as free registration for students, listen to complaints brought forward by them whilst channeling such complaints to the appropriate authorities, and, as well, mediate between students and students, and students and lecturers in situations where there is a conflict between any of the two set of parties. After several negotiations and lobbying, the Union’s government was also able to push for the policy enacted by the University (which disallowed Diploma Students from transitioning to degree program unless they have the appropriate WASSCE result for such intending program) to have a circumvented effect that excluded students that were already in Diploma 2 at the time. In furtherance of their commitment, the proceeds from the Mr. & Miss FBC is currently being used to construct a student café owned and managed by Students which would create employment opportunities for them and, as well, a space to confidently do extra-course work and to work on course assignments. There has been numerous symposiums and conferences organized by the SU in recent months which have facilitated the exposure of students to numerous opportunities, including the opportunity to interact with Dignitaries from the UN and experts from institutions such the NRA and other NGOs. The SU has also managed to facilitate projects that fall outside their mandate including that which concerned the agreement between their Government and Sierra Stars company to provide four busses, as an interim measure, to be running on the road leading to campus — which, in itself, had been a major concern. In their most recent activity, they have also been seen renovating the old and constructing new notice boards all around the campus which is a strategy by the President of the SU, through the Ministry of Information, to ensure the easy transmission of notice and information from the college administration to the student populace. This also helps reduce the issue of miscommunication between the administration and the studentship on campus.
Notwithstanding all these achievements, it is important to bear in mind that the college still has multiple areas of concern that need remedying such as the concern of late release of grades and inadequate furniture, classrooms and lecture halls. However, the indicators of a promising future at the Fourah Bay College are evident in the consistent strings of effective students’ leadership in recent times within the college which positions it at the brink of reclaiming its former glory. The mutual understanding and productive relationship that exists between the college administration and the students’ union has proven to be rather dynamically and concertedly grounded in attending to the concerns of students. A unique and admirable thing about the refined student unionism on campus is the fact that it has truly been able to galvanize enough support and confidence from many individuals and institutions both on Fourah Bay College and beyond, and this has accelerated their chances of success in whatever project they choose to embark on. The days where people would glamourize the mere thought of being students of FBC is strategically reverberating through the corridors of Aureol as the college, itself, re-ascends to the peak of the echelons of Academia in the mainstream of the sub-continent. The influence and role that the students themselves have in this regard cannot, in the very least, be overemphasized as, at the end of the day, it is these students, in their union, that make things happen at any point in time. But the concept of union, in itself, still rests on a controversial ground within the fabrics of student politics on campus.
*Written by:* Alpha Sanunu Bah
*LL. B Hons. 1 (FBC, USL)*