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Professors Can Stop Campus Hooligans! 

By Azore Opio

Time and again nowadays, we read about aggressive student protesters, disgruntled lecturers and dithering administrators at universities across the country. Where I want to start telling is particularly at UB (University of Buea). But first, let me tell you something about power.

Power is a word many people have trouble with, and justifiably so and it seems to have become an object of trust, personified and worshipped in UB Students’ Union. The union seems to be caught up in the pursuit of affluence; embracing the persistent aspect of folly, the primacy of self-aggrandizement and the illusion of invulnerable status rather than in the pursuit of academic excellence.

Here is what is funny. Last month or so ago, a radical UB student hooligan group intimidated and even temporarily incarcerated fellow students and lecturers alike, bullying them out of their lecture theatres and banning others from entering the University through the main gate.

With all due respect to student unionism, during crusading moments, students tend to forget that campuses are primarily educational institutions; that they are also the homes of professors who need to take a stand when violence and hooliganism invade their academic sanctuary. You get my point? A campus that needs the khaki-boot-rifle thin line of law enforcement is a campus that has violated its fundamental obligation to host the free exchange of ideas so essential to good learning.

Question. What should a professor do when the core values of his university is threatened, by hooligans? Rely on the monochromatic uniforms of campus security or the khaki of trigger-happy police, or should the professor don his multi-coloured academic gown and promenade around in protest?

Recoiling at the violence that was liable to erupt had the other students answered to the call of "One for all, all for one!," I set out on a journey of inquiry. For those who don’t know what really happened prior to the feeble call for a strike, the Chairman of the Students’ Representative Council, Mr. Fred Nguve, had snubbed the Vice Chancellor, VC, Professor Vincent Titanji’s appeal for him [Nguve] to call off a meeting he had convened to try to whip up sentiment and drum up support for the lecturers who were on a one-week strike.

The first time the VC got wind of Nguve’s plan to call the meeting, he sent the Registrar, Prof. Chief Samson N. Abangma, together with the Deputy VC in charge of Internal Control and Evaluation, Prof. Nzumbe Mesape Ntoko and the Director of Students’ Affairs, Dr. Ludwig Metuge, with the advice that the Students’ Council should call off the meeting. Prof. Abangma said the information passed to Nguve, "but he bluffed off and went ahead planning to hold the meeting.

The VC wrote and dispatched a formal letter to Nguve to call off the planned meeting. Nguve gave no heed. Again, the VC instructed me to advise Nguve to call of the meeting, but he went ahead still planning to hold the meeting. The following day, Nguve convened the meeting at Amphi 250. I went there. Some students cut up rough with me and stopped me at the entrance; ‘you are not allowed in! Orders from above!’ Then one of the Council members spoke rudely to me, saying ‘who are you?’

I called the attention of Nguve several times, telling him the VC had asked him to call off the meeting, to no avail. In fact, one of them ran after me when I was retreating."The VC’s instructions seemed to cut no ice with Nguve. According to the Registrar, Nguve wrote back to the VC and his letter partly read something like "I acknowledge receipt of your letter…,however, I went ahead and held the meeting…"

Much earlier on, the VC and Nguve had been like chalk and cheese with the latter disregarding the VC’s decisions. At one moment, the VC wrote with regard to businesses taking over the campus. According to Prof. Titanji, Nguve went around issuing counter edicts allowing businesses on campus, sending unruly students disconnecting photocopiers.

"That was not his preserve. The Students’ Union wants to be a law unto itself," says Titanji.
It would also be recalled that last year before the so-called Yellow Party lost to the Red Party in the Students’ Union elections, eight students who did not fulfill the basic requirement of chalking an overall GPA pass of 2 or higher, and whom the Yellow Party fraudulently allowed to run for elections, were disqualified after a scrutiny by the UB authorities.

Nguve himself is in the affirmative about some of these observations. So, enough was enough. The VC pulled the rug out from under Nguve’s feet along with a dozen others. It turned out that the Gang of 13 returned from the University Games that held in Yaounde to beg for forgiveness.

"A committee met, listened and reinstated the students on condition of an undertaking," said the VC, "and you will remember that the decision I took was within my authority. In matters of discipline, the VC can take on-the-spot decisions bypassing the Disciplinary Panel. Remember too, the two previous strikes. UB was only trying to prevent any gruesome reoccurrence."

No one goes into academics because it is the easy path. Teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. Most people who go into teaching and research believe in the redemptive power of learning. Professors have a responsibility and a privilege to help solve the problem plaguing their universities. And from the look of thins, the VC was trying to do just that. To cope, come to grips with chaos; taking it as given and learning to thrive on it.

As I write this column, it is still difficult to believe that a close collaborator of the VC tried to proactively take advantage of the chaos caused by the group of rascally students; trying to express his dissatisfaction at the VC’s management style and shift circumstances to create a niche for himself. I do not mean to single out anyone in particular, you know; but private interviews with a number of students who confessed that they were being used as proxies; lecturers, UB staff and pressmen, affirmed that the quisling did not have to look far to find cause for alarm.

He even paid a local tabloid that attempted to fan anti-Titanji flames along the so-called Northwest-Southwest divide in less than approximate English. Few will take exception that he played a wild card and it is interesting to speculate upon what might have opened a vein of savage indignation from a students’ strike to breaking the VC’s stronghold at the Central Administration.

It has always been remarkable to me the extent to which some people can be obsessed with the greed for power. I see the current pattern of power struggle as a prime threat to the well being of the University; the danger of letting a group of woe-begotten crusty upstarts, some of whom still have elective courses to validate, others who cannot graduate since 2005, yet others who salivate at the Union’s coffers, with a constitution that is dangerously naïve, slip mindlessly into anarchy.

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