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WANTED: A Solution To UB Crisis 

By Bouddih Adams — The strikes in the University of Buea have not only been one to many, but have, on many occasions, escalated into violence, sometimes resulting in loss of lives and property. But each time there is a strike, local and university authorities blame it on “some misguided students/lecturers being manipulated by some people for their selfish interests.”

This blame shifting has more than often diverted attention or search for the root causes of what can now be termed the UB Crisis, hence a true solution has been farfetched. Consequently, the crisis has deepened until, for want of reason, the university community has, on the one hand, been torn along tribal, ethnic or Regional lines; or on the other hand, between the administration and the University Lecturers’ Trade Union (SYNES) Buea.

The struggle for power and quest for appointments; the covetousness of some lecturers, laziness on the part of others; the search for money and avarice of students and their pursuit for certificates than knowledge, most often leading to marks-buying and or what we coin as sexually transmittable marks, STMs, among others, have been identified as the root causes of the UB Crisis.

There have been accusations and counteraccusations from both sides of the several divides: administration and lecturers, lecturers loyal to SYNES and the ones trusty to the administration, lecturers who hail from the Northwest and those from Southwest Region, Bakwerians and people from other ethnic groups, each time instigating the students to go on strike for a fee.  
The students also seem to bank on the fact that strikes have cost some persons who headed the university as VC their job and hence that for a strike or threat of, the authorities can always heed their deed – buy them off.

At every opportunity, over real or imagined grievances, they provoke unrest on campus. The most recurrent being issues surrounding the University of Buea Students Union, UBSU dues, which the leaders grab and use but do not account for. And when there is a strike and the authorities request for police and gendarmes on campus, students and lecturers complain of the insecurity posed by the presence of the security operatives.

Following the most recent violent strikes of February 6 and May 15, in which the VC, Dr. Nalova Lyonga was taken hostage and the car of the Deputy VC, Prof. Victor Julius Ngoh was razed, offices of lecturers ransacked, the university kitchen looted and some students arrested and are facing trial, the Pro-Chancellor of the University, Prof Maurice Tchuente, came on a trouble-shooting mission, during which he set up a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The mission of the Commission was to get to the roots of the problem at UB, the management of the students’ problems and see how the issue of violence can be stopped. It also has as mission to look into the problems of lecturers. Three sub-commissions were put in place; one to examine the problems of academic staff, the other was to look at the problems of non-teaching staff and a third was to scrutinise students’ issues. The major reason of all this is to start a new spirit of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Causes of Crisis

The Post talked to some of the stakeholders across the board, to sample their opinions on how the solution to the UB Crisis could be attained. An observer and a parent who insisted to speak on anonymity maintained that the VC, Dr. Nalova Lyonga, must be given a chance to instil peace on campus. He, however, stated that “the militarisation of the campus each other time inadvertently gives the impression that UB is unable to solve its own problems.”

Another observer stated that the unrest in UB can be put to rest if the Government respects the statutes creating the institution. According to her, if the VC, Deans, HODs are elected by their peers and then appointed by the Head of State, a peer review system will set in and checks and balances will be instilled.

“This spirit must also be absorbed by the students who will elect their own leaders and there will be no need to foment trouble since the lecturers who elected their VC will not use the students again, as the students would know that fomenting trouble will yield nothing.”

Reacting to this, a lecturer and member of the UB administration who refused to be named retorted: “Those who lay claim to election of VC as in the statutes should also respect the other law which provides that someone cannot be Assistant Lecturer for more than six years.
“There are people who have been Assistant Lecturers for more than 10 years. They have not published, but they have the protection of SYNES because, if the university drops them, SYNES will agitate,” he regretted.

Another lecturer quibbled: “Why is it that only UB is always boiling? Don’t the other eight State universities have SYNES? The issue is always research modernisation grants and the SYNES officials in the other universities usually ask the Buea branch to agitate so that they are paid the allowances. Can’t SYNES Buea have their independent minds and action?” he asked.

Search for Peace

One of the lecturers who was reportedly attacked by some students, Dr. Ernest Molua, Head of Department, Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, holds that: “Respecting the Rules and Regulations of both the Laws establishing the UB and the Laws of the Republic of Cameroon” will largely solve the problems of the institution.

“There is disorder and lawlessness in the calling of strikes by SYNES, corruption in all forms and poor quality rendering of services in relation to teaching and research,” laments Dr. Molua.
“Lecturers and administrators must be made to respect the rule of law and the terms of the contracts they signed on being recruited in the Ministry of Higher Education,” Molua states.

As another solution to the problems plaguing UB, Molua posited: “In order to curtail the idleness and laissez-faire in the rendering of teaching and research, Lecturers must be kept busy by ensuring good quality teaching and research. Poor quality teaching and plagiarism in research is largely condoned. Correcting this ill will go a long way to arrest idle minds, unused capacity and curtail perpetual plotting of evil,” Molua surmised.

Truth & Reconciliation

Some SYNES officials who elected to speak anonymously said their focus is now on the Truth and Reconciliation put in place by Prof Tchuente. “It is good to talk about peace, forgiveness and reconciliation because UB actually needs peace. Lecturers are being targeted, non-teaching staff are being targeted, tribalisation or ethnicisation of issues and bringing in traditional rulers into a matter that is not within their competence is unnecessary,” they argued, saying it is a matter to be solved by academics. “SYNES is fully on board and supporting the process. SYNES is also interested in knowing the truth – in knowing the person behind the name John Ako Enow who wrote the email accusing lecturers of terrorism.”

A parent whose child is facing trial pleaded: “Reconciliation should begin with the Vice Chancellor who is a mother and Christian who knows what forgiveness is all about. So should it be with the teachers who are fathers and mothers. We have given our children to the University to train them and to act in our position as parents; they should continue to act in that way even when they make mistakes.”

A lecturer who sympathises with the students being tried stated: “The foundation of peace must start with the children. If they are imprisoned, we would have killed peace, killed sleep. Think about the story of Christ who said he who has not sinned should cast the first stone.” The lecturer claims that when the police rounded up the students, they first asked for their names; if the names sounded Bakweri or Ndian, they let them go, but if the names sounded Northwest, West or Bayangi (Manyu), they were asked to enter the Black Maria.

He claims that the witnesses in the matter are Bakweri, from the State Counsel to the Judge. Thirdly, he claimed that reconciliation talks were going on and none of the students being tried or in prison has been heard. Accosted with the accusation that students are being used by SYNES in their selfish interest, SYNES Buea President, Dr. Michael Yanou retorted: “Why would we want to use students when we have demonstrated that we have what it takes to address our grievances?”

On how peace can reign on campus again, Yanou said: “As a father, all I think is that the peace process must go on, the students must be forgiven. I am not an angel. I have my own mistakes and I think when I do, I should be forgiven. It is necessary to forgive them. Even those who claim to be righteous in UB might one day get into error and might need forgiveness. Forgiveness is a key foundation for peace on campus.”

Asked why SYNES did not react when some lecturers, Dr. Ernest Molua and Dr. Kingsley Ngange were reportedly attacked, Yanou said: “The lecturers who claim that they were attacked should tell the world if they ever informed SYNES. I am the President of SYNES and I never received any representation whatsoever from them.

As lawyer by training, I do not speculate on issues that I know very little about. Besides, do not forget that we have put up press releases in The Post condemning violence by students. We continue to encourage students to express their grievances in a civilised and peaceful manner. Unfortunately, there are people who are bent to see that SYNES is given a bad name in preparation for it to be destroyed.

Remember that someone told The Post that I, a Professor of Law, who has experience and has published severally, was unintelligent and was not smart. As President of SYNES committed to civilised behaviour, we took the insults in our stride and moved on.”  Responding to his emphasis on students being forgiven, Yanou maintained: “We are saying that sustainable peace can only be attained at UB if the students are forgiven. The angels who are perfect in UB and insisting on destroying these students should continue casting their stones.

For me, it will be the height of hypocrisy if we adults forgive ourselves while our students between 17 and 23 years are crushed by the courts. I am not saying that the students have not erred; all I am saying is that the VC who is a mother and Christian should look deep into her own conscience and ignore the advice of stone-casting collaborators.” Dr. Fontem Neba, Secretary of SYNES UB and National Administrative Secretary of SYNES Cameroon posits: “What has happened in UB in the last few months is the tragic consequences of the lack of dialogue.

Levelling false accusations against innocent people is not a solution. The current inter-UB dialogue chaired by Professor Mukoko should be given a chance so that we can frankly sort out the issues that have landed UB in this kind of quagmire. Since most of this crises, over the years, have centred around the struggle for power, it will be a good thing for the Government to implement the law by which people accede to the position of Vice Chancellor, Dean, Head of Department and so on.

First published in The Post print edition no 01447

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