Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Pressure Mounts for the Reopening of Universities

Lans Joe Sesay

LANS JOE SESAY reports on the increasing internal and international pressure on the Sierra Leonean government to re-open the universities closed down on January 12th after student protests.
Sierra Leone's President Siaka Stevens is facing increasing pressure to reopen Fourah Bay College, which together with Njala college, constitute the University of Sierra Leone. Mr Stevens closed down the college indefinitely on Thursday 12th January after another students protest the fifth since 1979 against soaring food prices and gov- ernment's economic mismanagement.

Three students were killed and scores injured or arrested as the government cracked down heavily on the protesters. According to the 'New Shaft' newspaper, one of the students died minutes after being shot in the shoulder by a Lebanese trader, Ibrahim Basma along Kissy Road in the capital, Freetown.

Two limousines - that of second vice-president Mr C. A. Kamara- Taylor and northern province resident minister Mr Abdul Karim Koroma were slightly damaged and two food shops looted by mobs (not students) apparently taking advantage of the protest.

Stevens ordered the closure of the college and set up a commission of inquiry into the causes of recurrent disturbances at Fourah Bay College. Since then, pressure has been mounting on him to reopen the college.

On the home front, a number of pressure groups led by the highly influential president of the United Christian Council, Bishop T. S. Bangura have formally called on President Stevens to reopen the college. The UCC, it will be recalled, was instrumental in getting Siaka Stevens to change his mind in 1979 following a similar decision to close the same college. In a separate appeal, the pro-government 'Progress' newspaper called for a "clean and healthy page of relations" between government and students.

"We are sure the government will take a second look at things and give the students a second chance. This is the appeal we are making to government to reopen the FBC."

On the international front, students' organisations as well as exiled political parties in Europe and north America have all sent despatches to the state houses in Freetown urging the Presi- dent to reopen the college. In a joint statement, the Popular Union of Sierra Leone Students Union (PUSS), the National Alliance Movement both in the United States - and the London-based Sierra Leone Alliance Movement have all expressed solidarity with the home students.

In the United States, Sierra Leoneans have protested outside the Sierra Leone embassy in Washington demanding the immediate reopening of FBC. They condemned what they referred to as the 16-year 'one-party dictatorship of Siaka Stevens".


Latest reports from Freetown say that Stevens may soon reopen the college. According to state house sources, the pending decision of the Head of State will be based on the quest to facilitate the work of the commission of inquiry rather than the mounting domestic and international pressure.

Although the commission has started sitting in Freetown, witnesses so far have been government agents or party stalwarts. Among those who have testified before the commission by the end of the first week were the education minister Ernest Ndomahina and the principal of the college, professor Eldred Jones.

The chairman of the commission, Mr Justice Kutubu has said that after the second week, students would be invited to testify before him. Justice Kutubu's statement is again seen by observers as another indication that President Stevens may soon reopen the college.

Meanwhile, President Siaka Stevens who has been ruling Sierra Leone since 1969, has said that he will not step down from the presidency until he gets the country's deteriorating economy back on a sound footing; despite earlier statements that he wanted a 'young and dynamic' successor. Competent sources said that Stevenschanged his mind because the two leading contenders for the presidency, first vice-president S. I. Koroma and finance minister Salia Jusu-Sheriff have agreed on a 'compromise' candidate to succeed the ageing President. Stevens, who will be 79 in August, apparently saw the compromise as a discreet and genuine decision on his most likely successor without his consent.


His latest 'no retire' statement also seems to confirm the students' fear that he may have made himself life President. On the day of the students unrest, a release by the FBC students union stated that the purpose of the All Peoples Congress party convention was to elect a life leader: "To call a convention (the students protested on the day of the convention) for such a reason, under our present economic hardship would be regarded by the FBC students union as an insult to the people of Sierra Leone. We demand a retirement (of Stevens). There are more pressing issues other than the life leadership of individuals."

If anything, the latest developments seem to be uniting Sierra Leone's exiled opposition parties. In Britain, the chairman of SLAM, Mr Ambrose Ganda has embarked on a recruitment drive while at the same time marketing the policies of a future SLAM government. Last week, he told Radio London listeners that a future SLAM government would return Sierra Leone to democracy.

Back in Freetown, the eighth convention of the APC party ended up re-electing President Siaka Stevens secretary-general and leader of the party. The convention also called for the establishment of party branches in all government and parastatal institutions, at private enterprises, schools and colleges.

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