As an indigene of northern Ghana, my heart aches anytime I travel to the north. It looks as if the three northern regions of the country are not entitled to a fair share of the national cake, and it has been accepted as such. Apart from the Upper West Region, I have travelled extensively around the Northern Region and the Upper East Region and it is heart-rending to see the neglect these people suffer.
The Tamale Teaching Hospital and the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital only exist in name and dilapidated structures, but in the strictest sense of the word hospital, they are out of the category. A good number of basic schools in the three savanna regions learn under leafless trees while facilities in the senior high schools are nothing to write home about. The focus of this article is on tertiary institutions, especially, the University for Development Studies (UDS), which has campuses in Nyamkpala in the Northern Region, Navrongo in the Upper East Region, Wa in the Upper West Region, and the newly opened Tamale Campus for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).
I have visited the Nyamkpala Campus of UDS twice and often left there imploding with rage. Facilities at many senior high schools in the south are better than those at the UDS. Even though the university is relatively new, that is not an excuse to expose university students to ridicule and untold suffering. I used to blame the Students Representative Council of UDS for doing very little or nothing to highlight the plight of the students.
Is it because the UDS is in the north and for that matter doesn't deserve anything good? Where on earth in this 21st century can we have a public university without chairs in lecture halls (which are inadequate and lousy), no accommodation (for student and lecturers), inadequate lecturers and a whole lot of facilities to enhance teaching and learning?
It was therefore outrageous that the SRC President of UDS should be suspended by the university authorities for fighting the cause of students. I had the opportunity to read newspaper reports on the UDS saga and listen to the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kaku Sagare Nokoe and the SRC President, Mr. Naab Alphones live on the radio. I cannot bring myself to agree with the authorities on some of the charges leveled against the president of the students' body. The SRC president, like any ordinary Ghanaian, can speak to the media without having to be permitted. It is his right and he is entitled to it. He may, however, be held liable for defamation or libelous statements. The issue of speaking granting media interviews without permission from administration is therefore out of the question. SRC Presidents are elected by the students and what right do school authorities have to suspend them without the consent of the students?
As for the Vice-Chancellor, it is only natural to ensure that the hell in UDS is represented as paradise in order to keep his position. If students agitate, it makes the government of the day unpopular, and the next moment, the head of the educational institution is kicked out. But when his time comes to leave, he should ask himself what legacy he is leaving in terms of students' welfare.
Whatever the outcome of the committee set to look into the suspension of the Mr. Alphones may be, the UDS SRC must fight on and, even harder, for the rights of the students. I used to blame only governments for the lack of attention to issues of the north, but I have come to realise that there are some greedy forces of anti-development in the north that the current generation of northern Ghana must rise up and fight. Once they get what they want, they do not care about the poor masses. Members of Parliament from the three northern regions are very powerful in parliament on every single issue except lobbying for developmental projects to go there. We are watching them and taking note.
During the CAN 2008 Tournament, the hostels built in the north were said to be handed over to UDS and Tamale Polytechnic after the tournament. The School of Medicine and Health Science located on the Tamale-Kumasi road has no hostel facilities and the GETFund hostel has not been handed over to the school as promised before the CAN 2008. It has been sold to UDS and it is now called the GETFund Hotel and used for that purpose. My investigation has revealed that the facility was built as a hotel and not a hostel. So it was never intended to be of benefit to the students.
Tamale Polytechnic has no accommodation facilities and some students have to sleep in the round houses, roofed with aluminum roofing sheets on campus. Inside of them become as hot as heated ovens in the merciless sun of the north. It would have enhanced the image of T-Poly if the GETFund Hostel there had been handed over the school. GETFund has, however, refused to hand the facility over to T-Poly when it has built similar facilities in other polytechnics across the country. Because of the exorbitant fees charged by GETFund, notwithstanding the socio-economic status of the people of the north, the hostel is not well-patronised and I have learnt that part of it is to be used as a hotel while students have to commute to school from town. The authorities are unconcerned because their bellies are full.
The question I am tempted to ask is whether GETFund is a profit making private organization. Are there no concerned citizens in the north who will call GETFund to order? What the GETFund is implying by its actions is that the facilities at T-Poly and UDS are too good for institutions in the north. They would never have been there in the first place if Tamale had not hosted the tournament. And to end it all, the UDS and Tamale Poly students do not deserve what their counterparts in Ho, Accra, Kumasi and other well-established polytechnics enjoy from the tax payers' money used to establish the GETFund.
Now back to the UDS issue. What annoys me most when I tour these campuses is the fact that the plight of students is not the priority of the administration. The UDS is putting up an administration block at the Tamale campus which can be compared to those of well-established universities in America and the likes. As that is not enough, the Vice-Chancellor's lodge at the same venue can compete favourably with a presidential palace in elegance. The money (or even part of it) could have been used to get a moderate hostel for the students. Former President Kufuor could not help but bemoan the financial malfeasance at UDS. Internally generated funds cannot be misused while students suffer.
Medical and other health students of the university have to ride motor-bikes and bicycles from the campus to Tamale and those of them at Nyamkpala have to ride from Tamale to Nyamkpala. Those who know Tamale and Nyamkpala will appreciate the hell these students go through. Their offence is that they are attending a university which is in the north and where the authorities do not care about their welfare.
Gone are the days when Aluta and violent riots compelled authorities to act swiftly. It is senseless and Gandhi sees violence as a weapon of cowards. But the UDS SRC should not stop using legitimate ways to demand their rights.
And to those forces of anti-development in the three northern regions, (most of whom are themselves northerners), I say there is a new breed of young northerners, who think the north deserves better. Our politicians can no longer hide behind conflicts and neglect the north. I will never take up arms to fight for any reason because I have something to live for. If I was without any education and prospects for a better future, I could not resist joining trouble makers due to ignorance and the fact that I have nothing to live for. Poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and mass unemployment act as fertile grounds for conflict.
Kudos, UDS Students! Do not relent. You Deserve Better!
Northern Ghana Deserves Better.
Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni, [Email: [email protected]]
The writer is a Level 300 student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism