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UB Should Run As Anglo-Saxon University – Alumnus — Monitoring the strike at the University of Buea, UB, we found one person fuming. But when we approached him, we found out that he was not fuming against the UB administration for the same reason as the lecturers or students. The former UB student, a PhD in Chromatography, from the University College of Cork, Ireland, was about donating books to UB. But he was convinced to, besides that, hold a conference with students or lecturers in Chemistry. But a few hours to when the event was slated, Dr. Benjamin Ashu Ashu-Arrah was informed that the conference, which he spent time and money preparing for, would not hold. In this interview, Dr Ashu Ashu-Arrah vents his venom against the UB administration and regrets that students missed to learn about Chromatography. Excerpts:

The Post: You were to hold a conference at UB, but now, you seem edgy. What is biting you?

Dr. Ashu Ashu-Arrah: Actually, it is nothing much. My only grievance is that I was coming for holidays and I had something in mind for the University of Buea, UB. On June 4, I came to see the Vice Chancellor and her Secretary gave me a form to fill my name on, my initials, my functions and what I wanted.

I wrote that I have books that I wanted to donate to UB and I wanted to discuss with the VC on what other areas I could be of help to the university. The Secretary came back and told me the VC was so busy and would only be free at 3:00 and that even then, she will not have time to receive me. So I became a little angry and I told the Secretary that I was going to divert the books to another university.

She pleaded with me not to, and took me to a Professor in charge of the Library and two other female lecturers. One of them was Dr. Forba who taught me Chemistry in my first year in UB. The librarian explained to them what my intentions were, and I showed photographs of my lab.

They asked me what they could do and I replied that I had books that I bought and shipped with the help of a friend. That all I wanted was that when the books arrive, they should go down to Douala, collect them and place in their Library. Asked what I was doing, I told them that I took a PhD in Chemistry specialising in Chromatography and that my works have been published in international journals.

They observed that my level was “above theirs” and that they would want me to please, provide the students with a conference. I wanted it to be paid for, because in academia, conferences are not for free. To which they replied: “do it for your alma mater”. I asked them who will pick my hotel bills, but when they kept on pleading finally I conceded. I called my uncle, Dr.  George Assam and he advised that I go ahead and do it at no charge, since I could subsequently include it in my CV.

As matter of fact, the conference would have had little or nothing to improve in my CV as concerns Europe; however, I opted to provide the charity. The idea was to motivate the students because I know what they are facing and that if some could one day come out like me, then, it would be a good thing. I said I would present a topic to them. I then went out to prepare for the lesson as I did not bring my laptop and my i-phone has been blocked.

Luckily for me, I had my memory case, so I simplified the material so that the students could understand, because, they do not know what Chromatography is all about. Two days later, I was informed that there was a strike on campus; so I went to the university myself to inquire if the talk would still go ahead. Lo and behold, I saw the notice announcing the conference and said to myself; surely students must have read it, even a student defending his PhD on that same day told me they were informed about it.

Everything was accepted and I came on June 7 and gave them the topic and they actually prepared a handout and pasted it on their notice board. I was told that the Director of the Seminar was not around. However, someone recognised me and took my telephone number, promising to call me.

On my way out, I met Dr. Forba, who told me the seminar would go ahead. I said o.k. but that if they have any change of heart, they should call me and let me know. At almost 17 minutes past the hour of 5.00pm, I got a call from the Director of the Seminar, telling me that, due to the instability in the school, the conference couldn’t go ahead again, adding that I should hand over my document.

I told the caller, “sorry, Sir, in the field of academia things do not work that way. When I asked you people to pay for the conference you said you didn’t have money. Now, see what you have caused me; who picks up my hotel bills? I have had sleepless nights preparing for this seminar; who is to pay for it. I can’t give you my files – they are my results”.

Why didn’t you do it with another university if UB was unwilling?

Well, I studied in UB. I know what I went through, though I don’t know what is happening now. But I know students can’t afford books. In my own days, there were no books – not to talk of computers, and I know students cannot only depend on what they are given in class. You must do research. I am in the field of research and academia, so I felt if I could do something to my university… Some of the books, I bought with my money; some of them came to us from the publisher for us to recommend to our students and on some was written ‘not to be sold’.

I told some colleagues of mine my intention, I wrote an email address and circulated it to all those in the ex-students union, some responded, some did not. Presently, I have started a second face of collecting books; I have already bought six Chemistry books – one of them could cost over a $100; it is my money that I could use for my family, but there are some things one has to do for charity and not think of the cost.

The fact that the university is going through a very difficult moment; they might think you have come to incite the students into more action.

I haven’t seen the students since I came. No.

But you where going to use the seminar or conference to address them…?

My seminar had nothing to do with such. It was for me to show them my results, my research, where I work and what I have been doing and to tell them that they are good. I left this university not with a first class, but it is said in economics that production is finished only when the goods reach the final consumer. I am now in the field of academia with a proper PHD. I am also working in a company as a Chromatographer. They need my services.

What is chromatography?

In simple language, it is the separation of sounds. Take for example; water in some countries or towns is not good. You have to filter it at home. It is in layers, it simply means separation. It is quality control. It is used in chemical industries, pharmaceutical industries, and it can be used in purifying petroleum products.

But this is too high-sounding and might not be useful to them?

My area of Chemistry is green Chemistry. When we talk of green Chemistry we mean chemical reaction in which you try to reduce the amount of waste and making it easier for students to work with environmentally-friendly chemicals that are not toxic, both to themselves and to the environment.

One of the reactions I am using is carbon-dioxide; so, they would learn that I am using carbon-dioxide as a reaction solvent rather than solvents that are dangerous to themselves and to the environment. That is green Chemistry; turning Chemistry from organic solvent to supercritical carbon-dioxide.

What do you intend to do with the books? How many are there?

I have already spoken with them. The books are still going to them. I am lucky, I have a friend who helped me in shipping the books and the container has already arrived. So, I have to hand the books to them. There are over 250 text books.

What would the value be in Francs CFA?

I can’t put the value in terms of CFA because one Euro is over FCFA 650. So, I can’t actually quantify the price.

Let us talk about you, your life. You said when you were in UB, you faced a lot of difficulty. How difficult was it?

I had difficulties in that it was just a new university that they were trying to build. I came to the university with no parents and I knew that the only way I could succeed in life was to get educated. As a Bayangi man, education is our own weapon that we can use to survive. I lived in Mamfe, the capital is in Yaounde. For me to get a job, I was compelled to go to school and be educated; that was my motivation.

You have visited the university. What is the difference between when you were there and now?

There could be improvement in terms of academics, but in terms of infrastructure, I am still seeing the same buildings, except in the Chemistry Faculty that they have moved to somewhere else. I went to the former Faculty, the notice I saw there was Medicine and Agriculture. I told myself, this is great, if they have started specialising, for that is where students can actually do well.

They are now professionalising education in the university…?

Which is great, but, much more is to be done. However, the university has to evaluate, get in contact with her former students and know how many of them have got jobs. They should also be looking for ways to call companies to get into research, because, the companies would also pay. Companies like SONARA could come in and open a Chemical Engineering section.

Which could use your Chromatography expertise?

That is, if they need my services. Other people could be employed. I am not looking for employment. I have a job. I am happy where I am.

But you could just be coming to look for a market?

Who pays for the cost? Travelling within Europe is cheaper. But travelling in Africa is expensive. My flight to Cameroon cost me €1500.

Looking at the situation at the university; what do you advise should be done?

I am coming from a developed world and I have seen how administration is done. We do our things in an African perspective; Europeans do theirs in a European perspective by the EU regulations. It is sad to see that an institution which started with a strike in 1993, up till date is still striking. In an advance university like UB, it is frightening to get into the campus and see security operatives everywhere.

What is your advice? What solution can you propose?

A student is very much part of any Anglo-Saxon institution, and in various institutions I have been to, when a student is being voted Student Union President, he or she forfeits one year of education in order to learn administration and serve the school properly.

In that situation, the student is very willing to learn and serve, but, in the case of UB, students are only interested in money, not service.

In that situation, it means things have to change. The Vice Chancellor has to overhaul the students’ union.

What advice do you have for the lecturers who themselves are always involved in strike actions?

Strikes occur everywhere in the world. But this does not mean that it should disrupt studies.

What would you tell the UB administration in relation to this dicey situation?

I am not here to advise the school administration. They have been appointed and they should do their work. If they can solve their problems amicably, then, it would be beneficial to everyone. It is said when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. In this situation, when the lecturers are fighting with the school administration, the students suffer.

Are you taking back with you to your base the grievance that you were shabbily treated?

I am not going back with grievances. But I am going back with a very bad impression because, if it was a European, they wouldn’t have treated him or her like that. I am sure they knew they were going to strike. They would have informed me. What about the inconveniences, my bills? I am supposed to be in Mamfe. It is quite unfortunate because I know one or two students would have learnt what Chromatography is all about.

First published in The Post print edition no 01439

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