The University Of Buea Crisis: The Unspoken Truth And The Way Forward I & II

15 May

By Prof. Michael A Yanou

originally published on Monday, February 18, 2013

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!

The University of Buea Crisis: The Unspoken Truth and the way forward (II)

The crisis in the University of Buea (UB) in particular and the Cameroonian university system in general has lasted for too long. At UB, apart from claiming the lives of two students there is the strong suspicion that the series of deaths of top officials at the helm of the institution in quick succession that happened in the not too distant past was also attributed to the crisis. This, surely, compels a further look at the problem from the spiritual dimension as well regardless of the threats by some officials to eliminate me. Before delving into the spiritual, let me for and on behalf of the silent majority of staff and students who are too scared to speak exhaust the practical aspects of the UB crisis in the hope that some well meaning person in authority will step in and deal with the problem of university governance in UB in particular and in all other state universities in general from the roots!

Article 54(a) of Law No 93/034/1993 which sets up UB states that “The faculty board shall in a prescribed manner, from time to time, elect one of the professors to be dean. In the absence of a professor, an associate professor shall be elected in like manner. The person so elected shall upon approval by senate and confirmation by decree hold office for three years renewable once…..” Article 26 and 76(c) of this decree which is perfectly consistent with our constitution makes the “appointment” of the VC and head of department subject to the recommendation of lecturers as well. This law which was well thought out has never been implemented. The problems in UB including violent strikes, hostage takings and kidnappings all have their roots in its non-implementation, simple. Top university officials who use students or the ethnic card to foment trouble to unseat a sitting dean, VC or head of department will certainly stop this practice if they know that the only way of grabbing the position is by election or the recommendation of their colleagues in the respective boards and senate!

I make bold to say that its implementation which the UB lecturers union (SYNES) that I head has repeatedly called for will also improve governance as well as increase accountability in the university. Talking about the sordid things happening in UB lets note that the vice president of UBSU who had been kidnapped for four days one Minang was found (as I was writing this article) left to die bound hands, leg and mouth deep in a banana plantation in the outskirts of Buea. Who is responsible for this evil act to this young Cameroonian? The youngman will speak for himself when he leaves hospital but is holding to a post or fighting to be appointed into one so priced as to justify the killing of children left in our care at UB? May I also humbly ask you my fellow country men this question: would an academic staff known by his colleagues to be engaged in sexual harassments of female students (Married women inclusive) or the selling of marks be elected or recommended by his colleagues lecturers to a post of responsibility under the governance system set up by the law creating UB? Would such lecturers dare to present themselves for such positions?

The next university reforms should begin with not just the implementation of this beautiful law but also include its extension to all state universities in the country. UB officials claim that the current crisis is the result of opposition by a few students sponsored by the lecturers union SYNES and or some lecturers from an identified region whatever this means. Yet in another breadth they argue that those who have lost businesses on campus are manipulating the students behind the scene. Could this be an honest and rational explanation? In a wider Cameroonian context where ELECAM is being reformed to ensure that the vote of every single Cameroonian counts UB is “restructuring” the student union government to ensure that only a hundred students out of about 16 thousand students in UB vote for the student union executive UBSU….what an irony! A strong UBSU deriving its mandate from the entire students can only be a danger to a governance system that lacks negotiation and dialogue as an element of management. Admittedly, there is no way students can become the administrators of the university but is there anyway UBSU can be wished away?

What about the spiritual angle? The University of Buea at some point in time built a shrine on campus. This shrine is strategically located at the main approach to the school and can be seen by anyone who cares to visit the school even today! The question we must ask as Africans who are familiar with the dynamics at play in the spirit realm of our space are: how were the god(s) of this shrine to be maintained….by human or animal sacrifices? What are the consequences of any failure to maintain the spirits in this shrine? Is it not possible that the upheavals in UB that always take these violent turns and claiming lives at time have their root in issues relating to this shrine? Is this not time for the official priest/priestess of the shrine to clear the air? Lets be frank; spiritual protection cannot come from a shrine in a 21st century. Since we all claim to be believers in Jesus Christ, the answer is to turn to the God of heaven and earth and find genuine men of God in Cameroon to neutralize the forces at play emanating from this shrine.

A former VC had placed a ban on prayer meetings on campus by staff and students who adhere to the Pentecostal (born-again) form of Christian worship. The ban is still in place till date while student cultural and dance groups freely dance sometime half naked in the amphi-theatres most evenings on campus! Why should this be so in our Cameroon with clear constitutional provisions allowing for freedom of religion for all? Who is afraid of prayers that plead the blood of Jesus for peace and justice to reign in UB and why? I can understand the concern of a thieving UB official who uses his/her pseudo company to supply a memory flash stick worth 5000 frs to the university for 50,000frs about prayers on campus…but can we not all see the havoc caused by our collective silence? The way forward is to immediately lift this ban and see the peace and justice that the students themselves will use the power in the blood of Jesus to achieve at UB. For those who are planning my elimination as the solution, I fear not because the blood of Jesus is my protection!

Prof. Michael A Yanou 

LLB (Cal. Nigeria), LLM (Cal. Nigeria), PhD (Rhodes, SA)
Associate Professor of Law
University of Buea, Cameroon

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