It is 1.00 am in the University of Buea, UB, Tuesday, October 23. Gendarmes and policemen, combat-ready, are walking the street into the campus, amid a may-rain may-shine atmospheric condition. Some others of the government security forces are cooling their heels in front of the lobby of the Faculty of Arts.
Others of the mixed contingent of gendarmes and police are either lounging on the couches in the lobby of the Administrative Block or sitting on or walking around the three tractors in the parking lot outside under the shade of trees. Meanwhile, students, especially the freshmen and women, are going about their registration processes, relatively normally.
Notwithstanding, tension is simmering among the lecturers and old students. For the lecturers, it is either the non-payment of the research allowances or the anger they bear over attacks or threats from students. The students on their part begrudge what they term the attempt by the University Administration to frustrate the collection of the Students’ Union dues. A lecturer has described the handling of the situation by UB Administration as “playing with a stick of match in a gun powder factory.”
Unrest Resting On Campus
Two weeks ago, a student, Robertson Suh, stormed the administrative block, stating that he would not graduate without his classmates. He had scored 3.28 GPA and is to graduate come December. He accused one lecturer, Dr. Njimante of corruption and prostrated in front of the Administrative Block, as a sign of protest, having allegedly texted messages to his classmates to join him.
The attention of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Cooperation and Relations with the Business World, DVC-CRB, Prof. Victor Julius Ngoh, was drawn. Ngoh reportedly pleaded with Suh telling him that his complaint has been registered and would be looked into, but he wouldn’t budge. The Chaplain of the University, Father Diang, tried to intercede to no avail. Two of the protester’s mates to whom he had texted the message arrived and questioned, they said they were simply told, through the message, to come, without knowing what they were coming to do. They, however, pleaded with Suh to return home.
On their way, just after the first gate from the campus, Dr. Njimante was driving in. Suh allegedly jumped into Njimante’s way and the latter swerved and the car screeched to a halt, brushing Suh in the process. Suh, raining insults, reportedly charged at Njimante but was stopped by UB security guards who had rushed to the scene. A cutlass surfaced on the scene and was seized and, today, is a matter of controversy. While the student claims that the lecturer pulled out the machete from his car, the lecturer claims the student was carrying the machete and pulled it out from underneath his clothes.
What ensued was described by a critic as the administrative dissonance characteristic of UB. Prof. Ngoh is said to have been called to the scene, and he ordered that the student be kept in the security post while he called in the police. Dr. Ludwig Metuge is said to have ordered that Suh be released. Suh was then taken to the campus dispensary upon complaints that he was hit by Dr. Njimanteh’s car.
When Prof. Ngoh returned to the campus security post, Suh was not there. He reportedly went to the dispensary and the attendant said Suh was asleep. He again ordered that he should be kept when he gets awake. Upon return, Prof. Ngoh was told that Prof. Joyce Endeley had ordered that Suh be discharged. Meantime, some of Suh’s friends went and attacked two other lecturers; Dr. Sama Molem and one other. SYNES boiled, spoiling for a strike action to decry what they termed insecurity of lecturers.
UBSU Dues Palaver
Then came the disruption of registration of returning students by UBSU, in their attempt to collect union dues. The Vice Chancellor, VC, Dr. Nalova Lyonga banned the collection. The dues-collecting students reacted by chasing agents of a mobile telephony company who were assisting students to register online, away from the campus.
A communiqué, Ref No. 2012/037/UB/REG/HOS/PAR, dated October 10, 2012, signed by Dr. Nalova, states: “The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buea wishes to inform that a group of unruly students is forcing potential and returning students to pay student dues to them. Parents, teachers, traditional leaders and friends of UB should instruct their children not to pay a franc to anybody except authorised by the school authorities.
“The student leaders have been given the authorisation to educate their peers on the socio-cultural and educational activities of the Union during a week-long orientation. In this way, students will voluntarily pay their dues.” Nalova warned students who have graduated to “desist from fostering disorder.”
Students, parents and students heeded the order. UBSU went amok, and mobilised for a strike.
The students’ union leaders argue that it is their right to collect union dues, citing Article 23 (4) of the ‘Common Statute Of Students Of State Institutions Of Higher Learning In Cameroon’ which states, inter alia, that: “The student shall equally have the obligation to pay registration or membership dues to institutional students’ associations: the dues shall be instituted in accordance with the rules and regulations in force.”
But critics within the administration argue that the UBSU leaders are only quoting the article of the statute that suits their will. The critics point to Article 10 (2) which holds that: “The student may belong [emphasis on ‘may’] to a students’ association that is recognised by the Head of the State Institution of Higher Learning concerned, to ensure representation and defence of his/her rights. In addition, he/she shall have the right to elect students representatives in institutional associations for dialogue and concertation with the authorities of the University Institution.”
Another university official questioned the essence of the dues: “What does the students’ union leaders do with the money? Do they use it to provide what is lacking in their learning process or to improve on their lot? Since the collection of the dues every year, can you show me one thing they have acquired with the money? Rather, they use it to buy “pointinini”, drink beer and frolic with girls around,” he asserted.
As the students were agitating, Dr. Nalova called for police and gendarme deployment on campus and had the student leader, alias Caesar, arrested and detained by the police.
He was later released on the orders of the VC. Nonetheless, on Monday, October 22, the numbers of the security forces swelled as there was apparent reinforcement by gendarmes.
The National Syndicate of Higher Education Teachers (SYNES), Buea Chapter, made of 90 percent of the over 250 lecturers of the university, at its own end wants the campus demilitarised. SYNES Buea President, Dr. Michael Yanou, fumes: “Using gendarmes and the police as the basis for securing peace, as the administration is arguing, is in conflict with the fundamental policy of university governance.”
Yanou told The Post, October 20 that: “The various laws on the running of the university indicate that the university should be a place for freedom as well as a place for the pursuit of truth and intellectual honesty. Even the Minister of Higher Education has consistently maintained that dialogue should be the key feature for university management.” Last week, the SYNES President and his executive, issued a press release, countering the decisions of the Vice Chancellor.
The press release states: “Whereas the University of Buea chapter of SYNES is conscious of its role as a civil society organisation in Cameroon, as well as its position as an important stakeholder in the university; “Whereas the chapter is committed to the Government policy of fostering a democratic, transparent and tolerant principle of university governance built on the values of consensus, dialogue and peace;
“Following the recent developments concerning the collection of dues by student union officials resulting in the stationing of uniformed and plain clothes police and gendarmes on campus, as well as the arrest and detention of a student leader who disagreed with UB administration on this issue, we resolve thus: (1) SYNES disagrees with a governance system where peace and stability is secured on campus through the use of police and gendarmes or the arrest and detention of student leaders who disagree with the university administration as is now the case;
(2) SYNES believes that the student union is entitled to collect union dues and that the university should support the process so as to encourage a strong, independent and responsible student union government capable of expressing contrary opinion where necessary;
(3) Calls for the withdrawal of the police/gendarmes from campus including those in plain clothes, to create an enabling environment for teaching and research to take place in serenity, rather than the prevalent spirit of forced peace now secured by security officials.” The release was signed by Dr. Yanou as President, Dr. James Abangma – 1st Vice President and Dr. Niba Fontem – Secretary.
Accosted on their double-minded position on acts committed by students, Yanou said: “SYNES is policy-driven. We are parents to our students and must, invariably look out for their best interest, even if a few of them may err from time to time. I had pointed out that the student who attacked Dr. Njimante has a particular weakness.
We are committed to the interest of the academic staff as our paramount objective. But this should not be interpreted to mean that we should fight against UB Administration or students. It is only unfortunate that some overzealous administrators sometimes present themselves as champions of an illusory battle to destroy SYNES.
From a philosophical point of view, SYNES understands some of these things since its role, as the conscience of the university, the voice of the voiceless that makes it express contrary opinion, is not appreciated by some administrators. As for the dues of UBSU, a mechanism should rather be put in place against mismanagement. Denying them the collection of dues is just to try to weaken them so that they can be dependent.
SYNES Forms Ethics Committee
Asked why SYNES has been turning a blind eye to unethical acts by lecturers, Yanou responded: “SYNES has been working silently on some of these issues, culminating in the forming of the Ethics Committee. It is true that some academic staff may be involved in unprofessional acts, which is unfortunate. But SYNES does not condone this. However, as a responsible trade union, we do not subscribe to the idea that when allegations have been made against an academic staff, such an academic staff is guilty of such a corrupt act, without further investigations.
We, therefore, condemn very strongly the tendency by top members of UB administration who are quick to describe university lecturers as corrupt only on the basis of unproven allegations that have been made against them. This, all the more so, as we know as a fact that some very top members of UB Administration have been, themselves, victims of serious allegations of corrupt practices and sexual harassment of both students and junior academic staff and others.
Let me say here that the allegation against Dr. Njimante has not been substantiated. This is in addition to the fact that it has now come to light that the student who attacked him appears to have a well documented psychiatric history. Our Ethics Committee is currently working on these allegations and will make it public when it is done.
On the question on all members of the Ethics Committee commissioned by him hailing from the Northwest, Yanou reacts: “Honestly, as you posed the question, then it occurred to me that they are from the Northwest. When SYNES was preparing that list, it did not occur to it that enemies of the union would put an ethnic and regional interpretation to it. It is profoundly sad that some people must see everything from an ethnic spectacle.
I would, however, have thought that people would look at the qualities of the members and express views about their fitness as members to perform the rules assigned to the Committee, rather than this unnecessary tribalisation. However, having raised it, I acknowledge that I was naive and would be prepared to look at the list, if only to address the sensitivities of enemies of SYNES”. At the end of a two-day meeting, October 22 – 23, Dr. Nalova warned that her administration will no tolerate disorder in the university.
Peace, she said, must reign at by all means. However, observers hold that peace is decreed but earned through dialogue and management of the ingredients that make war or peace. For, it said that the ingredients that make peace are same that make war. The difference is in how they are managed.
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