Education Minister, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh

Dear Member of the University Teachers’ Association (UTAG),

I must commend you on your sustained fight against the Public Universities Bill. The Bill, as you and other experts have explained, will further destroy our universities, some of which are already threatened by various interference.

I have lived long enough in this republic to know that there are those in every society or institution who are willing to betray the collective interest for their selfish gain. Some of such people are in your fold – lecturers and vice-chancellors. They are prepared to sell their dignity to politicians, some of whom were your students and may have not contributed anything to national development apart apart from the toxic products of their razor-sharp tongues.

A sheep will not change the way it bleats just because it’s been taken from Fankyeneko to New York. You will by all means have some of your members who will not see the right cause and fight it no matter how highly educated they are. Such people–lecturers, vice-chancellors and student leaders –may be obstacles that would work to sabotage your collective interests, but you must not allow this bill to be passed. The freedom and dignity of academia is being robbed in broad daylight and must fight for it.

I am very familiar with how politicians can manipulate and undermine the leadership of universities in this country.

Political Interference in Universities

I attended the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) for my first degree. Before the shameful compromise and greed that allowed politicians to reduce the University of Education, Winneba (UEW), into a pile of mess, I witnessed how political control and interference of a university could undermine its structures and tame the freedom of thought, opinion, and expression necessary for intellectual discourse to thrive.

The Rector of GIJ was a man called David Newton when President John Agyekum Kufuor came into office in 2001. David Newton had been appointed by the National Democratic Congress (NDC)  government led by Jerry John Rawlings. In the era of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), David Newton was removed and replaced by a senior lecturer called Kweku Rockson. It was rumoured that Mr Rockson had links with the NPP and Mr Newton had links with the NDC.

So?

The chess game was politically motivated.

If the political interference was any reason for the changes at the top, then it would not remain a rumour forever. It became a reality.

When Professor John Evans Atta Mills was sworn in as President in January 2009, the attention was on GIJ. The government removed Kweku Rockson and brought back David Newton as a rector. They executed this as though it were one of their most pressing manifesto promises in the education sector.

When David Newton retired, the NDC was still in government so they appointed Dr Wilberforce Dzisah, whose links to the NDC was no secret.

When the NPP won the 2016 election, Dr Dzisah was removed from office as quickly as they could. He’s contesting his “unlawful” removal in court.

I have no idea how it will end in court. And I have no idea what the NDC would do to the current rector even though my sources in GIJ say he is a professional and does not openly display partisanship in the running of the institute.

The NDC and NPP do not forget to interfere and change the leadership of GIJ, but both parties have neglected their promises to fund the institute’s project at its new site.

With this experience, I was not surprised at the allegations of political interference in the UEW impasse, which resulted in removal and dismissal of lecturers and management members, including the vice-chancellor. The NPP brought in a Vice-Chancellor who was familiar with the content of the current government’s hymn book.

The violence and the closure of the university and the open media war that raged for more than a year have irredeemably damaged the reputation of that school, at least, in this generation.

While the flames of interference and its devastating effects were still raging at the UEW, the government announced the dissolution of the governing board of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). This followed disturbances that occurred when students violently demonstrated against the policy of the university to convert single-sex halls of residence to mixed ones.

The government-backed off shamefully with a bloodied nose when it was pointed to it that the statutes of the university did not allow it to do what it wanted to do. But it would not give up.

Not long afterwards, the bill currently before parliament was drafted. If it is passed, it will allow the politicians to take control and do what it pleases in the universities.

A lot has been written about the bill and your good selves have explained and know the consequences better than I could imagine. You have stated how the bill will, among others, destroy academic freedom, stifle innovation and hamper initiatives by the management of the public universities.

If that bill had been in place, we could not have witnessed the transformative and developmental  leadership of Professor Ernest Aryeetey at the University of Ghana. His policies, such as tolling the roads on campus, were staunchly opposed by the politicians who wanted to please the students and the motorists for political capital.

After the UEW disruptions, the rational thing to do is to prise the control of universities from the government by amending the statutes of universities to further insulate them from the political chessboard. But the government wants to do the exact opposite.

UTAG has made your position convincingly clear. A number of civil society groups and the few men and women in our land who possess both good conscience and voices have spoken against the bill. This bill is not meant to cure any mischief. It’s not popular among academia and should have have been withdrawn by the government.

If we had a parliament that were independent of the executive and MPs independent in thought and action, this bill may not have sufficed. But in Ghana, we operate a dictatorship veiled as a democracy because of our periodic elections..

If the president wants something done, he will get it passed by parliament if his party has the majority as has been the case since the inception of the Fourth Republic.

For this reason, this bill is still being entertained by parliament despite the immense opposition and outright condemnation by academia, the opposition NDC and a section of the Ghanaian populace. The people will have their say but the politicians will, as usual, have their way.

However, UTAG and the Vice Chancellors have a say in whether this bill is passed into law and allowed to ruin our tertiary institutions or whether it is dumped where it truly belongs – the dustbin.

Here’s the easiest and best way to do that:

If the government become adamant and proceeds to pass this bill into law, declare a nationwide strike. Withdraw your services until it is revoked.

A handful of politicians should no be allowed to hold the fortunes of many generations to ransom for their selfish interests. Democracy is meaningless if it does not provide avenues for consensus building. It should not give a handful of people the unfettered power to undermine structures.

It is meaningless to have a say when the politicians will always have their way.

My GIJ Aluta Experience

When I was the Students Representative Council (SRC) President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, there was a problem the SRC discussed with management a number of times but didn’t find a solution. Classes closed at 8 pm, but the library closed at 4 pm.

One Friday, I went to the library alone and said nobody would go out until 8 p.m. By Monday the problem was resolved and the library closed at 8 p.m. A problem that took more than a year of failed negotiation took a weekend to be resolved.

Sometimes, the only language those who wield the power we give them to exercise on our behalf understand is protest. 

No government, whether military or civilian, can dismiss all university lecturers or endure a perpetual strike from university lecturers.

You have power. Don’t be the Essau of this generation. Don’t sell your birthrights for a morsel of bread that will leave you hungrier and deprive you of your dignity.

Compromise, Divide and Conquer 

I am aware some government officials have started contacting some vociferous individual members of UTAG and talking to them slow down. I have lived long enough in this land, where integrity and good conscience mean very little or nothing to insatiable stomachs of greed. I have come to know that there will be attempts to compromise some vice-chancellors and leaders of UTAG to back off and allow this bill to be passed into law the way it is.

There are also some UTAG members or Vice-Chancellors whose blood is of the same colour as the governing party and they reason like rented party serial callers when their political parties are involved. They have no minds of their own on such occasions.

But UTAG should not allow this to happen. Prove to the politicians that, for once, there is some value in your degrees and you deserve some respect.

Universities, by their establishment, are avenues where vestiges of freedom of thought should remain in this era when it is only the politicians who must be heard. The culture of silence, like a dark, sinister cloud has enveloped our republic and the few rays of light in our academic institutions should be be dimmed.

Some state-owned media houses have now become an extension of the communication wings of the government and governing parties with the help of their management. Private media have either aligned or are being coerced to fall in line. This is despite the fact that the constitution makes the media independent.

Civil servants, public servants and the security agencies cannot express their minds on issues that do not favour the government without being victimised. Nurses, medical doctors, teachers, would tell you their challenges, but warn you against publishing them with their names because of the consequences of being perceived as exposing the government.

If you the university lecturers allow this bill to take effect, you will soon lose your voices. If you make comments in a lecture room that do not favour the government, you may be dealt with. If they do not favour the opposition parties, your punishment may be deferred, but you’ll surely be served when they win.

This is the time for UTAG to stand up to the political forces threatening to ruin academia. They want to pump into its veins, the poisonous opium that would eventually carry it into its shallow and shameful grave.

Posterity will not forgive you if you let the nation down.

Yours faithfully,

Manasseh Azure Awuni.