Interviewed By Walter Wilson Nana & Hanson Nfor Nchanji (Originally published in the Post)
CameroonPostline.com -- The peace that has been reigning on the campus of the University of Buea, UB, for a while now has suddenly been replaced by a strike action. Wednesday, February 6, Executive members of the University of Buea Students’ Union, UBSU, called for a strike action.
In an eight-point memorandum addressed to the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Nalova Lyonga, UBSU is demanding amongst others; that online registration problems in the university should be given prompt attention, that on-campus businesses, especially photocopiers, should be reinstated to facilitate the teaching and learning process, that students should be allowed to seat for examination upon part payment of their registration fees of FCFA 25,000, that the various modes of transcripts should be respected and made available on time to stop exploitation of students.
In the heart of the strike action, the Acting President of UBSU, Ronald Minang, told The Post that students are angry. He gives reasons in this interview. Read On!
The appointment of Dr. Nalova Lyonga, as the VC of UB, was warmly welcomed by all and we expected that she was going to work for the good of all in the UB community.
But things are not going as expected. Before the current memo in circulation, UBSU has written to the VC five times, calling for negotiation meetings on the problems faced by students on campus. She granted us two audiences but they ended in a fiasco. When we get to the meetings, what we got was intimidation of students’ leaders.
She will end the meetings at their convenience and nothing concrete is done. You will see that there is no dialogue. So, today, Wednesday, February 6, the UBSU executive decided to call for a general assembly of all the students. We did not stop classes; we went around informing the students about the general assembly that had to hold.
What do you mean by ‘intimidation of students’ leaders at your meetings with the UB administration?
They tell us we’re instigating strike actions on campus and if we do, we will be severely sanctioned. For instance, during the collection of students’ dues, the UB campus was militarised and students harassed. The presence of police on campus was not accepted by the student body.
Before this strike action, has your executive met with the UB administration to discuss some of the issues you have raised?
On Monday, February 4, I went to see the VC and she asked me to wait for her at the Board Room of the Central Administration Building. I called for some of the executive members of UBSU and the Faculties to join me, but she came and insisted that she will have an audience with me alone. I insisted that I will stay with the rest of the executive members, she will not accept.
However, I went in and with only three minutes of discussions, I told
her that the UBSU executive’s primary concern is the organisation of
the UBSU central and Council elections as per the constitution and rules
and regulation governing UB. The UB administration has refused to
organise the elections and strategising on squashing UBSU. UBSU is the
only voice that liaises the students and the administration. You can’t
run the university without collaboration from the students.
Why do you think the UB administration is interested in killing UBSU?
We’ve been writing to the VC and she’s not interested in listening to us. We were supposed to have a meeting today, February 6. She called for all the Presidents of the establishment but sidelined UBSU. The executive members of UBSU who have graduated are no longer on campus like the former President of UBSU, Hailshamy Ashu.
So who is she looking for? We have the impression she wants to maintain the old administration of UBSU, who to my judgment were pro-administration and not highlighting the concerns of UB students. If the Ministry of Higher Education can’t squash UBSU, it is not the VC that will do it.
Amongst your grievances, you stated that students be allowed to seat for examination upon part payment of their registration fee of FCFA 25,000. Will that not give students the opportunity to go away without paying their money after doing the exams?
It’s not a situation that started today. For six years, students have been doing the part payment and moving on with their exams. Where the UB administration comes in and timely is for the Level 400 students, who can’t get anything from the UB administration if they have not completed their registration.
You cannot do your clearance in UB if you have not complied with your registration fee of FCFA 50,000. So, if you allow students to pay the registration fee at once, it is difficult for some students and parents. UB is subsidised by the State, so there is room for the administration to be flexible. Students will never get their complete results if they don’t finish their registration fee.
When the online registration started, a lot of students praised it; what has suddenly gone wrong now?
The problems are coming from the UB administration. We can’t come in a day and want to change to a computerised system. We are in an African setting with all the difficulties we know. The progress made by the US was not a day’s effort. We believe that if something has to start, it must go through a process.
In 2010, we started the online registration but it was going along side manual registration, to study how effective the system will be. This year, the system was hijacked, the UB website is too small to carry the number of users. Students have done their best to meet up with the registration process but the problem is with the UB administration.
Concretely, what do you need to get a transcript in UB? You raised it as one of your problems?
To apply for a transcript, you have three options; the normal mode, the fast mode and the super fast mode. For the normal mode, you pay FCFA 1,000; for the fast mode you pay FCFA 2,000 which you will receive after five days and for the super fast mode, you will pay FCFA 5,000 which you will receive in three hours.
Students have been paying in this money, even the super fast mode, since December 2012, transcripts have not been issued. Former students pay FCFA 5,000 to apply for transcripts, yet nothing comes out. We have made formal complaints to UB administration and nothing has been done as we speak. That’s exploitation to my reading. Those problems have to be redressed.
Now, classes are not holding, what do you expect from you Vice Chancellor?
It is simple. We’ve presented to the VC a number of problems. At the general assembly, a good chunk of UB students and the administrators were present. The students are asking for their problems to be solved and they will get back to their classes. Before we left the UB campus, the students’ body made it clear that if the VC does not seek a solution to their problems, there will be no classes till further notice.
Are you convinced the 8-point problems raised can be solved at a go?
Before Dr Nalova came to the show, these are some of the problems we had with the former VC. We thought that she already understood our problems and will solve them. So, it has come to our notice she is not interested in looking at our difficulties.
Since she took the helm of power in UB, UBSU has written to her and she has never replied our letters. UBSU is part and parcel of UB. We’ve to work in synergy but that’s not the case. We’re not informed of what is happening on campus. She has the powers to solve the problems as fast as possible.
How much collaboration do have with the Director of Students’ Affairs to ensure the flow of information across the students’ body?
We believe that the Director of Students’ Affairs has the prime
mission to work with students, but this is not the case. The Director of
Students’ Affairs has a cordial relationship with the VC, that’s
natural, but they go to their offices, take their decisions and
implement on the students without studying the effects.
As students’ representatives, what are your expectations?
As at now, the ball is in the court of the VC. If she can redress our problems, all will be fine. The students believe in us. The UBSU executive will never create problems. If the VC can immediately react and solve the problems raised, all will be fine soonest on the campus, especially the elections of the UBSU Central Executive and the Council. Secondly, businesses on campus are a major problem.
In the University of Yaoundé I, they have businesses on campus to ease the learning process for the students. In UB, recently, there was a communiqué banning all businesses on campus. It is bizarre, students are suffering. On campus, notes are photocopied, recto-verso for FCFA 25 but out of campus it is FCFA 50. If we’ve those machines on campus, it will facilitate the learning process.
Are you saying the problems are natural and nobody is instigating UBSU?
During the dues collection, the VC did not give us a voice. She told us dues collection is not compulsory, we accepted and moved on. She has gone ahead and done many things. The problems in UB are artificial. She should realise that UBSU can also play a part in the development of UB and bring us closer to the administration.
We are on the ground and ready to furnish her with information on
what is happening. She does not know the details within the students’
milieu. She shouldn’t get into signing communiqués without looking at
the repercussions on the students’ body. In the absence of UBSU, the VC
will not be there.
Some people have observed that businesses on UB campus is haphazard so there is a suggestion that there should be a business village, where you can get all what you want in a kind of one-stop-shop. Do you share that view?
What you’ve said is very important. That’s what we’ve been telling the VC. She replied; “How did we study during our days?” there are two things; the time she studied and ours are two different periods. She can’t make that comparison of her time and ours. The world is evolving and we need things to facilitate the learning process.
We proposed to her that she should create a village, where it is a
business centre and there you will find everything to buy. We told her
the businesses spread across the campus are not a good idea. She
promised to look into that. It is more than a month, nothing has been
done. The students of UB are angry and they need a solution from her.
First published in The Post print edition no 01407