We were made to believe that Prof. Ernest Aryeetey was the worst Vice Chancellor ever to head the University of Ghana, Legon. We were told (and some of us believed) that he was a heartless man. He was anti-poor.
When he took over as VC, he said his vision was to make Legon a world-class university. But that was not all. He had also declared that the University was not for the poor.
Did he really say that? I wondered and asked those who were in a position to know. The answer was almost always the same: He has said it. Everyone knows this. Unfortunately, I never met “everyone.”
I gained admission to read my master’s programme in August 2011 at a time there was so much turmoil in the University. The Students Representative Council (SRC) and the University of Ghana branch of the Graduate Students Association of Ghana (GRASAG) as well as the almighty Commonwealth Hall, had embarked on and still planned a number of demonstrations against the rise in academic facility user fees and other charges.
But beyond the concerns (some of which were genuine) were strong “anti-Aryeetey” sentiments.
“Even if he had come from a rich home and now hates poor people, I wouldn’t have faulted him,” a fellow graduate student told me one afternoon at the 24-hour reading section of the Balme Library. “This is the son of a common fisherman who has risen by the grace of God but will not be humble,” he added.
I was a member of GRASAG and a friend of the GRASAG President, Rester Torgormey. I had the opportunity to edit some of GRASAG’s letters and petitions on the matter to the academic board.
I didn’t get the opportunity to hear the side of the much vilified Vice Chancellor so I still wondered if he was as monstrous as the picture some of my fellow students painted. But that opportunity would come before I left Legon.
Legon GRASAG was coming out with a magazine and I was appointed its Editor-in-Chief. There was a column for the Vice Chancellor and we were supposed to interview him for a story. I was given that responsibility.
On the day of the interview, I went with the General Secretary of GRASAG, Ms Maliha Abubakari and another young man who was our photographer.
We promised not to take more than 30 minutes of Prof. Aryeetey’s time, but we ended up taking up to an hour. I asked all the questions I had on my mind. And he took his time to explain his vision for the university, how and when he intended to achieve them, the benchmarks for success and the challenges.
I could not have left without asking him about the anti-poor statement attributed to him.
He explained that management had held a series of meetings with student leaders to agree on the rent for the new halls. But anytime the rent came up, the student leaders would say students were poor and could not pay the proposed amount, he told us. So at one meeting, he told them to get real and stop talking about poverty because the university had taken a loan to build the four new halls and needed to pay. He said it was necessary the university took the loan to end accommodation crises and the exploitation of students by private hostels. The students had their own coinage.
When we finished the interview and stepped out, Maliha’s phone rang. It was a call from the GRASAG President.
“How did the interview go?” he asked.
“It went well,” Maliha said. “But Rester, seriously, the man is not who we think he is,” the GRASAG General Secretary told her President.
The photographer and I exchanged that’s-what-I’ve-also-realised glances. And when Maliha ended the call, the rest of the talk from the VC’s office to the GRASAG office was how we had misunderstood and vilified someone who had some much good intentions for the university.
Unfortunately, not all those who saw Prof. Ernest Aryeetey as a demon had the opportunity to listen to him.
The Legon Toll Controversy
Today, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, together with his university, is being vilified again. This time, it’s beyond the campus of the University of Ghana. The reason is that the university has built and repaired existing roads and decided to charge users in order to pay the loan it contracted to maintain the roads.
Sources in the university have told me that one of the reasons for introducing the tolls was to reduce the unbridled use of the university as a thoroughfare.
After so much controversy and government intervention, the tolling has been suspended. But the university has decided to close two of the three entrances to the general public. You can only use the restricted ones if you have the GHc400 worth of sticker of the university. This has raised tension and generated needless controversy.
Ignorance, malicious lies and vilification against the University of Ghana have conspired with inaccurate media reportage to rob many commentators, including parliamentarian, of logical and rational thinking as far as the current controversy is concerned.
The first point we must all know is that the roads of the University of Ghana were extremely bad. I resided in the TF Hostel and coming to campus on my motor bike as a problem. When it rained, the road was too muddy and slippery for a motor bike. It was worse for students who walked. If there was no rain, the road became very dusty. I sometimes had to use the main road, from Atomic Junction through Presec before going to campus.
Even the short stretch of tarred road from the main campus to Pentagon Hostel was ridden with potholes. It was that kind of potholes-infested road which someone described on Peace FM as “oware.” I once almost had a head-on collision with a car which was dodging the potholes.
The only time something was done about this road was when former President Kufuor was launching his foundation and had to cut a sod at that area. And it took one rain to wash away the gravels used to fill the potholes.
The university is a public institution and under normal circumstances, government was supposed to repair these roads. But things are not normal in our republic. Apart from those who landed from Jupiter last night, those of us who live here know that our republic is broke. The only sector government seems to have enough funds to fuel is the corruption industry.
The University of Ghana had the blessing of the government, through the sector minister to charge the tolls. And if government wanted to respond to public outcry over the tolls, the way it went about it was bad.
The National Security Coordinator, Col. Larry Gbevlo Lartey, who ordered the demolition of the tollbooth, said it slowed traffic flow and had become a public nuisance. Public nuisance?
Then why did he not destroy the Kasoa tollbooth as well? Or the ECG?
The current condemnation against the University for closing some of its main entrance to the public is unnecessary and if critics of the University, including parliamentarians, will begin to reason with their heads instead of their hearts, they will realize it’s not a big deal.
Yesterday I heard the MP for Asawase and Majority Chief Whip, Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka, and other MPs on Joy FM and I wondered why MPs would decide to misinform the public.
The university has not closed access to the general public as they claimed. You can enter through the main entrance, the Okponglo side, and come out without paying a pesewa or facing any restriction. The university has not restricted entry. What it has restricted is the use of the campus as a thoroughfare. Maybe anyone who still has issues with the University of Ghana should request an interview Dr. Margaret Amoakohene, Acting Director the School of Communication Studies had with Roland Walker on the AM Show on MultiTV Tuesday morning.
GIMPA, for instance, has many entrances. But it is only one entrance that is open to the general public. Who has questioned them? Which university in this era of civilization will allow its campus to be used as a thoroughfare?
And for those who care to know, this is not new. I know the Atomic Junction entry point at the TF Hostel, where I resided for one semester, was not opened to the public. As far back as 2011, entry was restricted to only motorists with UG stickers.
Those who were able to bribe the security had their way, and the if you asked any taxi driver who has ever entered Legon he would tell you that if you entered through one side, you were forced to come out through that same side. To check this your driving license was taken at the entrance. Those of them who wanted to have a thoroughfare had to part ways with a cedi as bribe.
So the university is not doing anything new. The GH¢400 sticker is expensive. But how could it be a deterrent if it was cheap enough for everyone to afford.
Restriction of entry through one gate is good for the security of students. Some drivers speed through campus as if they were driving on the motor way. Do we have to wait until vehicles run over students before we start the usual knee-jerk reactions and fruitless talks? And the way things were, criminals could enter from Okponglo, commit crime and move out either through the GIMPA side or the Atomic Junction side. Is that what we want?
Kuagbenu, Oko Vanderpuije and Prof. Aryeetey
It is sad that a section of Ghanaians are calling for the removal of the “stubborn” Prof. Ernest Aryeetey. “Legon is not an island,” they chant. “The Vice-Chancellor is not above the law,” they chorus.
Are we not hypocrites? We all see problems. We want the problems fixed. But if fixing it will not be convenient to us, we raise red flags. That’s the hypocrite in the Ghanaian.
I have stated in a previous article that contrary to President Obama’s widely acclaimed view, Ghana does not need strong institutions now. We already have strong institutions and strong laws. We need strong men and women to lead our institutions. We need leaders with the balls (and of course the breast) to deal with our problems even if such decisions will not appeal to the hypocritical masses in the short run.
Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, in my view, “was” the best man to have been appointed as Mayor of Accra in recent times. Apart from the normal duties of a mayor we have come to accept, he decided to end the shift system and introduce the Millennium School concept. At least I have seen modern infrastructure at Mamprobi and Dansoman cluster of schools. He could have done more and better.
He was determined to deal with the filth, street hawking and decongest the central business district and areas such as the Kwame Nkrumah Circle. And the only way he could have achieved that was to be merciless towards indiscipline and the animalistic behavior in some of us.
But what did Ghanaians say? He was not considerate. He should do it but with a human face! Does he think he is still in America? What will the poor women do to cater for their children if they are driven away? Even some ministers and deputy ministers openly criticized him. Human rights activists descended on him. The media provided the platforms. And soon the man became more impotent than a castrated pig.
Anytime it drizzles and Accra floods, we call for his removal. Is he the one who threw the rubbish in our gutters? We cannot defend the actions of change makers so let’s learn to live with our woes.
Another great government appointee in recent times is the immediate past Executive Director of the National Service Scheme, Vincent Kuagbenu. Mr Kuagbenu, in my view, was President John Evans Atta Mills’ best appointment. And there is no doubt that he is President John Mahama’s worst appointment.
Mr Kuagbenu was once hooted and driven out of an NDC youth congress in Winneba. The reason why he was disgraced at that important congress was not because he was non-performing. He simply would not allow politicians and party foot soldiers to hijack the scheme. He would not accept tall lists from politicians and party people to give them preferential treatment.
That aside, he brought a revolution into the scheme, especially the agric programme. The model was so successful that Senior High schools across the country were able to buy “National Service Maize” at subsidized prices. The youth in communities where these farms existed were also motivated to go into farming. If university graduates are farming, why should a JHS leaver think farming is not good enough for him? Vice President John Mahama who would later become President and Mr Kuagbenu visted the National Service Farms and praised Mr Kuagbenu highly for the initiatives.
Mr Vincent Kuagbenu was not in the good books of party people. But he stood his grounds. He was fired without a reason. And let no one say he was fired because of non-performance or corruption. President Mahama is yet to fire anybody for those reasons.
So what am I trying to achieve with this long talk?
Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije started well. There was public outcry. Party people said his actions would affect the fortunes of the party in elections. He should have stood by his principles and resigned or got fired. But he decided to compromise. His reward? He retained his job.
Vincent Senam Kuagbenu was doing a good job at the National Service Scheme. He irritated party supporters because he would not allow them to have their way. He abolished the voluntary teaching system, which foot soldiers hijacked, drained national resources but did not go to teach. He took other tough decisions that saved the nation huge sums of money.
His reward? He was fired and later appointed by President Mahama to oversee the registration of government vehicles, a job I consider very demeaning for such a fine brain and principled person. Did Ghanaians support him?
No. We ridiculed him on social media. He should now go and direct the traffic he wanted graduates to do, we said. That’s all some people knew about him.
Prof. Ernest Aryeetey may have his faults but he means well for the nation’s premier university. Despite the vilification, he is not prepared to do what will please the politicians.
The boy from Bongo does not know the fate of the Professor of Economics. But what I know is that Ghana will not move an inch away from our current quagmire of hopelessness until the hypocrite in us realizes and accepts the fact that development comes at someone’s expense.
And until we rise in support of leaders with balls and breasts to face the opportunistic politicians squarely, the story of our glorious days as a nation will always be told in the past tense when a certain “despot” called Kwame Nkrumah ruled.
The writer is the senior broadcast journalist with Joy FM. Email address:firstname.lastname@example.org