What Asantehene said at swearing-in of 6 new members of KNUST Council

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong
 Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is the Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)
Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is the Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)

The Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu on Tuesday November 13, 2018 addressed the Governing Council of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), at a ceremony where six new members who were joining the council were sworn into office.

Government had withdrawn its four members on the council following a confusion over a mixed gender hall policy that resulted in a destructive student protest and a subsequent closure of the university.

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On Tuesday, the new members were sworn into office to join the other members of the council.

Below is a transcribed version of the Asantehene's address delivered at the swearing-in ceremony

Members of Council and Faculty, this is a day of mixed emotions.

On the one hand, we have to be thankful that it has been possible in such a short time to create the right conditions for us to begin the process of restoring our beloved university to its normal life, with the constitution of the university council today.

This is yet another magnificent tribute to the maturation of Ghana’s nascent democracy as we demonstrate today that from divergent positions we can find the appropriate synthesis through the force of reason.

So I have to begin by expressing my most sincere thanks to the President of the Republic and his administration first for the prompt action taken to secure and protect life and property following the calamitous incident of October 22.

I also need to thank all other stakeholders from the students leadership to the academic mentors, UTAG, TEWU, the administrative staff and all, for the good sense and overwhelming spirit of cooperation with which they responded to the mandate entrusted to me.

Shame

But even as we find encouragement in the good sense that has brought us here today, we cannot but be weighed down by the horrors of the past few days, for nothing we do can diminish the shame and the devastation all of us must feel about how we got here in the first place.

We live in the age of science and technology and this institution is the premier university of science and technology in our nation.

It is at the pinnacle of the nation’s educational system, the institution on which the nation depends for the engineers, architects, agriculturist, technologists, doctors and indeed and all the scientists, needed to develop the country.

It is if you like the engine that keeps the nation moving.

This is the university that gave the world the global icon Busumuru Kofi Annan whose alumni are shinning in many lands across the world.

The great majority of the students who passed through these walls are the children of poor Ghanaians who have had to endure tremendous sacrifices to provide the best education for their children.

Students protest

To think that this university had to be closed down, because protests by a section of students over a policy measure which they disagree, degenerates into a horrifying rampage is a matter which sticks in our throat.

It has been my honour to be Chancellor of this university for the past decade, in that time we have seen remarkable progress at all levels, like universities everywhere, it has not been without its tensions but at no time has life and property been in such grave danger as to necessitate the intervention of the state.

Two months ago, I received a petition from the alumni of Katanga and Unity Halls on the decision of the university to integrate what had been the single gender halls. 

However even before submitting the petition, the petitioners had filed a writ in the courts and as you very well know, it meant that the Chancellor or anyone else was estopped from intervening in that matter until the determination by the courts.

The tragedy is that, relations with the university authorities degenerated in the meantime with the consequences which necessitated the closure of the university.

Students apology

The petitioners, [my sons, the alumni of Katanga and Unity] have apologised to me for rushing to the courts before they availed themselves of the good offices of the Chancellor but the gravity of the consequences cannot be understated. 

The government has understandably felt so gravely it has demanded the ultimate accountability from the Governing Council for their collective failure and they have expressed this most forcibly by withdrawing and replacing their nominees on the university council.

It is my pleasure as Chancellor to welcome the new nominees of government and the council for tertiary education who have been sworn in today.

The constitution of the university council today marks the first step in what is going to be a challenging journey towards the restoration of normal academic life at the university. 

I should be presiding over the first meeting [which I am doing now] of the council immediately after this ceremony to deliberate on the reopening of the university [but I will leave that to you to take those decisions but I believe that I want us to, after we finish, we will continue to reopen by tomorrow so that academic work can start from there].

Reopen

Immediately after this, we will deliberate over the reopening of the university, the recall of students from the enforced absence and the immediate resumption of academic life.

The next stage of the journey must necessarily bring to the fore, all factors leading to the breakdown of order on campus, untangle all knots and establish responsibility of culpability so we can all draw the right lessons for the future administration of the university.

Next year will mark my 20 anniversary as the King of Ashanti.

It was my uncle Otumfuo Osei Agyeman Prempeh who donated this vast land which this university stands in all its splendour.

The university has been the beacon and pride of the Golden Stool through all its transformations from the Kumasi College of Accountancy to the University of Science and Technology and now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

I have served as your Chancellor for more than one decade, I have devoted more time, effort and resources to the university than any single entity since ascending the Golden Stool.

We have maintained incredibly close relations with all levels of personnel with the leadership and general body of students, with alumni as much as I have done with management and academic staff.

Channels for resolving issues

I am aware that all stakeholders are fully conversant with the channels established by statutes for the resolution of issues.

All of you are aware that when all efforts fail, there is always recourse to the good offices of the Chancellor. 

Indeed when I received the petition on the mixed gender policy, I went over the minutes of the university council and confirmed for myself that this was a matter on which the council had taken a decision at one of its meetings early in the year, with the full participation of representatives of the alumni, students representative council (SRC), National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE), Convocation and all the institutional representations.

It raises serious questions about how a decision taken by all these representatives could still ignite such fray from a section of the alumni and a section of the students with the calamitous consequences we now face.

The fact that this happened and led to the worst incident in the life of the university under my chancellorship is a pain I do not bear lightly.

So I am determined that the return to normalcy should not be seen as a premature closure but the commencement of the cleaning process for the sake of the future.

Enquiry 

We should not sweep any dirt under the carpet and accordingly, a full and transparent inquiry must be set up to look into all the circumstances leading to the day of horrors.

As Chancellor of this university and in line with the understanding by which government mandated me to manage this process, I should with appropriate consultation, appoint a 5-man committee to be headed by a judge to probe the remote and immediate causes of the disturbances and the lessons to be derived there from.

Since the crisis, a plethora of allegations have been aired in various outlets about the administration, its procedures and the conduct of some of its most senior officers, including the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Obiri-Danso.

The role of the alumni is very much to the fore and we clearly need to interrogate the extent to which they can influence the administration of the institution.

But whilst the probe is essential, we should be clear also that we are not called upon to reinvent the wheel, the university cannot turn away from established good practice nor compromise on the integrity of its management. 

Nothing should be done to hamstring the council from discharging their duty to develop the policies for the running of the university in accordance with its statutes nor encourage students to feel they have the right to defy authority or cherry pick rules they choose to obey.

Free expression

Yes, the university is nothing if not a hotbed of free expression and the penchant for rigorous debate must be one of the intrinsic values we inculcate in our students.

But defiance and disorder cannot and can never be part of those values, and it should be abundantly clear that neither students nor alumni nor any group within the university shall be allowed to dictate or conduct itself in a manner that undermines the integrity of management.

Academic freedom is one of the pillars upon which true democracy thrives, it is as critical as the freedom of the press and the rule of law and just as we want our courts to function with integrity, so we should protect the integrity of the system of higher education within our democratic environment.

While we await the probe which will throw the light on what may have gone wrong in the immediate past, I hope the constituted council and management will work together to ensure there is smooth and swift return to normalcy with all deliberate speed.

Advice

I will advise council when I am ready to set up this committee [probe] and I will have you assemble here so I can inaugurate the committee.

Anybody who has any concerns, knows of whatever that would help in the smooth administration of university, whatever has gone on, whatever, the students, if they have issues, they should go to tell the committee, the alumni if they have any issues, they should tell the committee, the Vice Chancellor will also be given the opportunity to also, whether if there is any accusations against him to also appear, everybody would be allowed in an open frank manner, so that we can get to the bottom of what has happened.

As I said, as I sit here, as a father, you hear so many things, people accuse, but that is not to be used against anybody.

I don’t believe in that, every accusation must be proven and that is the only basis where we can move this university forward.

And for the members of the new council who are coming in, please you are coming in as members of the council, we expect of you to discharge your duties as the university wants so that this university can move on, so whatever it is in your experience that you can also help, you are coming to join the old members, because this is not the reconstituted council, so we are moving on with what it is.

The government has withdrawn their members, the new ones are in so we continue from there and we move on. So whatever the agenda that you had, please you continue to move for this university to have peace and whatever it is that we can do to add to bring it to normalcy we do that, so I thank you very much for this afternoon, I hope that you continue with your deliberations.