Seven (7) Days Ultimatum for Reopening of College & Universities

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By Foday Moriba Conteh

In a letter dated 28th January, 2021 directed to the Minister of Technical and Higher Education, New England Ville, Freetown, Professor Alpha Wurie, the Sierra Leone Student’s Representative Council (SLSRC) gave a Seven (7) Days Ultimatum for the reopening of all universities and Colleges in the country.

The Council noted that they are drawing the attention of Minister of Technical and Higher Education to the current industrial strike, which the Academic Staff Associations across the country have undertaken describing such as a heart-breaking and mind boggling underscoring how the strike action is posing adverse effects on the fabric and future of this country.

It furthered that the Students’ Union Presidents of the affected universities and polytechnics held a zoom meeting on the 26th January 2021 in order to device solution to the ongoing industrial strike action which has affected over 40,000 students nationwide.

According to them they have responsibly and constructively engaged radio stations, wrote press releases and relevant authorities across the country to look into the impasse but to no avail, noting that consequently, they are giving a 7 days ultimatum to the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education to engage ASA and device robust and long lasting solution to the problem so that they will call off the strike action, disclosing that failure to do so will be lead to a nationwide demonstration and protest by all students across the country.

The ultimatum given started on Thursday 28th of January 2021 and will end on Wednesday the 3rd of February 2021.

In addition, they also drew the attention of the Minister to the Limkokwing University issue which they said must be resolved with immediate effect and that this will give students the leverage to continue their courses and further help to place Sierra Leone on a befitting trajectory.

They also talked about the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS), which they say has not been active over the years.

“We look forward to having a positive response from you with respect to the issues mentioned herein,” the students notified the Minister.

In another development, Augustine Bona, President of Student Union Government of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, on 27th January, 2021 wrote a letter to Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and the Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone expressing students’ dissatisfaction and frustration in respect of the ongoing Academic Staff Association industrial Strike Action.

He maintained that despite the aforementioned constraints, the students have been impressively patient with the powers that be further stating how they have made innumerable appeals in the form of letters, press releases as well as radio and television programmes for the authorities to resolve the issue so that college would resume.

He also informed President Bio that his constituents have instructed him to inform the him that while they acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by relevant authorities to resolve the issue herein, they are disappointed and frustrated that those efforts have not yielded the ultimate dividend; the resumption of college, adding that they have further instructed him to inform the President that this letter is the last effort insofar as dialogue is concerned that if a date for the reopening of college is not announced by the University/College Administration on or before Wednesday 3rd February 2021they will strongly and collectively put feet behind these words meaning they will resort to peaceful protest(s).

On the part of Government, the Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, on Tuesday January 19, met with heads of departments and lecturers from the various higher and technical public education institutions across Sierra Leone.

Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh appealed for a ‘national shared solidarity’ while calling on lecturers to return to the lecture rooms and resume lectures as their welfare concerns are being addressed.

Following a day-long dialogue, the representative of the protesting lecturers agreed to summon a meeting of their general membership to discuss and consider the fruitful resolutions that emanated from the engagement.

Consequently, the lecturers are expected to soon return to the classrooms following the establishment of a 14-man committee comprising senior Government functionaries and representatives of the aggrieved striking lecturers.

The committee consisting Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, Ministries of Labour, Finance, Technical and Higher Education, Council of Vice Chancellors and Principals, Civil Society, Tertiary Education Commission, representatives from the various Academic Staff Associations (ASA) and Pro-Chancellors is scheduled to resume work next Tuesday.

The academic staff associations of the nation’s public universities were provided the platform to openly and frankly engage the Government of Sierra Leone through the Vice President in a bid to map out a sustainable and clearly defined roadmap to address the plethora of concerns from the lecturers that have been left unaddressed for at least a decade.

In his statement, the Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh pointed out that the Government prioritizes the welfare of the lecturers as evident in the inclusion of 25% salary increment in the 2021 budget. This, he said, is in addition to countless unprecedented interventions including pumping of billions of Leones over the years towards salaries, subventions and other supports.

On his part, the Minister of Labour, Alpha Timbo described the concerns of the lecturers as legitimate.

According to him, it is almost ten (10) years now since the conditions of service of lecturers were last reviewed in 2011.

The Minister also pointed out that the lecturers should have started this fight for their rights in 2013, 2016 ad 2019 when fresh reviews were due.

He, however, assured them that despite the advocacy delay, the brand New Direction Government is committed to fixing the problems.

The President of Academic Staff Association, Fourah Bay College (FBC), Dr. Williette James in that meeting also highlighted serious and critical welfare concerns that have been hampering the growth of the University for several decades.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper