Elizabeth Ohene writes… Not one of us
Who owns the public universities? I know this seems like a strange question to ask. But I have been grappling with this question since last week’s outburst by Mr Henry Ametefe, the Volta Regional Chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Among the declaration of war and all the other complaints Mr Ametefe made in his encounter with the media in Ho last Thursday, I was interested in his assertion that the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) belonged to them and the current Vice-Chancellor was not one of them.
I couldn’t quite work out if Mr Ametefe was claiming the university for the NDC or for the Volta Region, or some creature called Voltarian, or some other entity that he didn’t have the time or the inclination to define on the day.
I don’t know the politics, if any, of Professor John Gyapong, the Vice-Chancellor of UHAS, but Mr Ametefee’s difficulty appeared to be that the Vice-Chancellor wasn’t “a son of the soil”, in other words, he did not come from the Volta Region.
Mr Ametefe cited the ongoing battles at the University of Education, Winneba and the removal from office of Professor Mawutor Avoke as Vice-Chancellor. He offered the view that Prof. Avoke was removed from office because he wasn’t ‘a Fante’, and wasn’t a son of the Winneba and Efutu soil.
I got the impression Mr Ametefe thought that was sufficient reason to remove Professor Avoke or at least if he was indeed removed because he was not a son of the soil, it would provide the precedent he needed to make his point about the presence of Professor Gyapong on the UHAS campus.
So, I return to my original question, who owns a public university in our country?
A public university must surely be owned by the public? And who would be the public? The people of Ghana, or the people of wherever the university happens to be cited. Or maybe, the way to the answer lies in asking who pays the bills, who pays the salaries and wages of those who run the university.
Mr. Ametefe claimed that UHAS was a university “built by them from the ground, up” and therefore they owned the university, and therefore, according to this logic, only one of them should be Vice-Chancellor.
I am not quite sure if this theory is applicable only to the position of Vice-Chancellor; can people who are not sons and daughters of the soil be lecturers, registrars, cleaners, finance officers, and other office holders in a public university?
And while we are about it, what about the student body? Can and should young people who are not sons and daughters of the soil, attend the university?
I am not sure where and how this concept of a public university belonging to the people in the region it is sited started, but I discover it is an idea that is gaining ground.
Once upon a time, a public university was just that and there was no suggestion that only “a child of the soil” could be a Vice-Chancellor or Registrar or finance officer or any of the officials of the institution.
I am not quite sure what Mr Ametefe meant by they built UHAS; would it be the masons, the carpenters, the architect, the engineers, the electricians who worked at the site? Or would it be the decision to build the university? And does that make it theirs, whoever “they” might be?
Or might the ownership be claimed by the Chinese government which gave Ghana the grant that funded the building? Would the children of the soil who would work at UHAS be paid with money collected from the taxes of only people from the Volta Region?
Befuddled as I am by these claims for UHAS, I need to state that this is not a phenomenon that is occurring in the Volta Region alone. I understand that at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, in Sunyani, there is a strong claim being made that only someone who is a “native” of the area should be a Vice-Chancellor.
There are some who believe that unless you are a Dagomba, you cannot and should not be a Vice-Chancellor in Tamale. And yet I remember it wasn’t that long ago when with Prof. Songsore, himself coming from the area, as chairman of council, “a child of the Volta soil” Professor Agodzo, was appointed the foundation Principal of Wa Polytechnic and it worked wonderfully.
I am old enough to remember that not long after the establishment of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), an attempt was made to assert that it should be headed only by Fantes. It got no traction and like the two elder universities before it, Legon and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), it was accepted that the search party looking for Vice-Chancellors and other positions could look across the whole of Ghana and find the most qualified person.
That is the principle that has guided the public universities thus far and it has served us well.
It is probably worth pointing out that the KNUST, in Kumasi, has not had an Ashanti Vice-Chancellor to date.
Just for the sheer heck of it, let me list the Ghanaians that have headed KNUST so far: R.P. Baffour (Central Region), E. Evans-Anfom (Greater Accra), E. Bamfo-Kwakye (Eastern Region), F.O. Kwami (Volta Region), E. H. Amonoo-Neizer (Central Region), A. K. Tuah (Bono Region), J. S. K. Ayim (Eastern Region), K. A. Andam (Central Region), K. K. Adarkwa (Eastern Region), W. O. Ellis (Central Region), Obiri-Danso (Eastern Region).
There hasn’t been an Ashanti Vice-Chancellor at KNUST thus far. F. O. Kwami (from the Volta Region), who was a great family friend, was Vice-Chancellor of KNUST for 10 years and nobody saw anything strange about it. Mind you, there is no law against Ashantis being Vice-Chancellor, indeed, Kwadwo Assenso-Okyere was Vice-Chancellor of the UG, Legon.
As far as I know, Ashantis have competed most times when the position becomes vacant at KNUST, but were not recommended by the search party. Nobody thinks it is a big deal.
The University of Mines and Technology (UMAT), where I am a proud recipient of an honorary doctorate, has so far not showed any sign that the Vice-Chancellor must come from the soil around Tarkwa. Indeed, the current Vice-Chancellor comes from the Volta Region.
I might add that someone who I became related to through marriage, Dr C.A. Botchway, left to UHAS in his Will, a magnificent property in Teshie Nungua. Dr Botchway was not a son of the Volta soil.