The University of Buea has had a turbulent history which has claimed student lives in the past and only recently resulted in the dishonourable act of taking the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Nalova Lyonga, hostage for about five hours.
The events in UB have unfortunately continued to evolve negatively with the recent incident being the teleguided declaration by Fako Chiefs that threatened to use unorthodox methods to eliminate students and lecturers from other regions whom they suspect are forming the crisis to remove the current VC, a daughter of the soil.
The Region may not have been mentioned, nor those who teleguided them disclosed, but everyone knows what is actually happening! It is perhaps necessary as someone who has been teaching at UB since 1996 and spent the last five years as the President of the lecturers’ union (SYNES) to use this opportunity to disclose certain hidden truths to the Cameroonian public about the root causes of the crisis in UB.
I do this because of the fear of God and the need to ensure that for once we chart a new path towards sustainable peace at the University. At the root of the student crisis is the structure the student union government, otherwise called UBSU, should take. For students, it should ideally have a strong executive and a council (legislature). Their mantra is that the executive be elected in a popular vote by all students.
They argue that this is what the students who were killed during one of the strikes fought for and to abandon that will be the ultimate betrayal. Successive UB administrations and VCs alternatively believe in a weak student union government constituted by an executive which is voted by faculty presidents and not the student body. Between these two positions, both parties have never been able to find a middle ground.
To resolve this tension, UB administration has used two methods; they divide students and bribe some of them to support their preferred model and at other times try to force down the new model using selected students without involving the entire student body. The misfortune of this approach lies in the fact that these students who are selected and bribed are sometimes given the mandate by top UB officials to violently undermine their opponents leading to pitch battles on campus.
The various camps have regrettably been also used by certain top management to cause strikes and disturbances on campus using money as the major incentive. Closely connected to this dichotomy is the very sinister reality that students in these camps have been recruited and paid to cause violent strikes (including the hostage incident) to create a situation where a sitting VC is dropped to make room for a rival deputy.
Prof. Njeuma fell from power because students supported by some of her close collaborators made the university ungovernable. The last but one VC had his ultimate demise because one camp of students were actively involved in making the campus ungovernable with the view that he be dropped for those controlling these students to step into power.
When the current VC was taken hostage, I was solicited and succeeded to talk the students into releasing her not however without strong resistance from one of the camps of the students. Their resistance was partly because they did not want me to take credit for causing her release because it will undermine the agenda of their master who organised the hostage taking.
The idea is to once more demonize an existing VC as a failure who should give room to a rival deputy this all the more so since according to them is an aberration for an Associate Professor to be appointed in preference to them. In always trying to accede to power through using students to disrupt normal university life, top management feed their friends in the security with misinformation. Such misinformation will always include pointing fingers at the lecturers union, tribalisation of the events at UB, etc.
To understand the student crisis is to ask and answer the question who is the obvious beneficiary in the situation where a sitting VC is dropped? Only the blind and the hypocritical will identify SYNES and/or its President or UBSU and/its leadership as the beneficiary.
There is a lecturers’ angle to this crisis as well.
The vaulting ambition to be appointed to positions of responsibility (Heads of Department and Deans) is a major weakness in the UB system. Some lecturers will even sell their mothers if that is what it will take to be appointed. Such lecturers are vulnerable potential recruits for ambitious deputies in top management who use them to coordinate camps of students in the hope of achieving their ultimate prize.
Some of them are members of SYNES and are prepared to destroy the union for its insistence on respect for Articles 26, 54 and 74(c) of Decree No 93/034 of 1993, the law creating UB. This law states categorically that the VC, Deans and Heads of Department should be elected by academic staff before the Minister of Higher Education and President of the Republic signs the decree appointing them to their positions.
Although the demand for such elections is a legitimate aspiration, the union has never used underhand methods to achieve this goal. No SYNES official, past or present, has ever benefited directly from the dropping of a VC or Dean due to a strike. To point a finger at SYNES as the author of strikes on campus is to say the least the height of hypocrisy.
The Way Forward
UB administration should engage with the student body to determine by consensus in a give and take manner the method and extent of reforming the union if that is the true objective. Banning UBSU, starving them of funds or using one group of students to hoist a “reformed” student union on campus is an unattainable objective.
Recruiting and cultivating student groups through financial inducements by top UB administrators should be discouraged. One way of doing so is to ensure that academic staff be involved in the selection process of officials to post of responsibility in the university. Government policy of picking a Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) to replace a dropped VC is the bane of the crisis in UB.
As President of SYNES UB, let it be known that some DVCs have made subtle offers to me to use the union to foment trouble in the past without success. Guess their objective! Consider the issue of allowing students form prayer groups that pray regularly on campus in the same way as music and cultural groups operate freely. The blood of Jesus can bring permanent peace at UB!
Prof. Michael A Yanou
*BL (Nig), PhD (Rhodes), Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge