Monrovia – Students at the state-run University of Liberia on Wednesday, July 24, blocked the main street on Capitol Hill in demand of their instructors’ salaries and others.
Report by J. H. Webster Clayeh, [email protected]
With two days to Liberia’s 172nd independence celebration, if nothing tangible is done, the students’ actions might just adversely affect the day. As they protested, they also chanted anti-government slogans.
UL Faculty under the banner ‘Concerned University of Liberia Faculty Association (CONULFA),’ comprising full and part-time employees, has refused to conduct regular academic activities in demand for their two month salaries and other benefits for the past three days.
The second semester’s final examinations for academic 2018-2019 year were to begin on Monday, July 22nd. But because of the faculty’s “go-slow” action, students on all the campuses of the UL could not write their tests.
The students’ protest action caused serious traffic jam during most part of the morning hours.
Students of the University of Liberia, specifically members of the campus-based political group – the Student Unification Party (SUP) – had resolved to disrupt the Independence Day celebrations unless the university pays lecturers their salaries, arrears and the government meets other demands.
The students threatened that they will not abandon their protest until their demands are met.
Included in their demands are the full payment of salaries/allowances of faculty members for June and July 2019; want the full restitution of all monies deducted from faculty members and exemption from any and every form of “pro-poor cut”.
They also want the lifting of ban on student political activities at the university and revision of the ‘New Student Handbook’.
“Get ready to shoot and arrest all of us but there will be no Independence Day celebration on July 26 if these demands are not met,” the students’ statement said.
On the streets, the present of officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) along with all their riot gears and hot water tanker couldn’t deter the protesting students, who had blocked the main street.
Former Pres. EJS Snubbed
At one point, when traffic got tense, during the early stage of the protest, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who had gotten stuck in the traffic jam got out of her car and made her way to the front of the main entrance of UL to where the students were assembled.
This was an attempt to appeal to the students to leave the main road. Despite her endeavor, the students snubbed the former Liberian leader.
The students accused her too, for some of the many problems at their institution and that negotiating with her was not in the right direction.
“You are no different from President [George] Weah. So, please leave us along. Even during your leadership, we the students at this university were not at peace,” one student was heard telling former President Sirleaf.
The students chanted slogans against the former Liberians leader. Madam Sirleaf could not with stand the hostile environment. She got back into her car, which meandered its way back in the huge traffic and left.
In a communication address to the President of UL, Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks on July 19, 2019, ‘Concerned University of Liberia Faculty Association (CONULFA)’ warned that if their money was not deposited in their respective accounts on or before July 19, 2019, they will not administer the second semester’s final examinations for academic 2018/2019 year.
The faculty in their communication gave four demands.
1. That the June and July salaries, allowances and benefits of all employees be credited to their various accounts held at the individual banks on or before Friday July 19, 2019.
2. That all monies deducted from the faculty and employees’ salaries accounts which are owed by the University are to be paid in full on or before July 19, 2019.
3. That the University of Liberia be exempted from the Pro-poor salaries deduction scheme.
4. That adjunct professors or instructors receive their salaries, allowances and benefit as per the time stipulated in the contracts with the University.
“In view if the above, the faculty members of the University of Liberia deem it expedient to disengage from all academic activities beginning July 22, 2019 until all of the above listed concerns can be addressed by the University’s Administration. Accordingly, please be informed that no faculty member will be allowed to administer final exam until otherwise order,” the faculty state said.
On the first day of the faculty go-slow action, the University of Liberia administration in no time sent out a release through their Facebook page to appeal to members of the faculty to remain in classes and administer final exams. The UL administration also promised to pay the June salary before the end of the week.
“We are aware of the unusual delay in the disbursement of salaries for the month of June, UL president, Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, is pleading with the university family, especially UL Faculty, not to boycott the administering of final exams, as the UL Administration is working out the necessary modalities and is confident that disbursement of salaries to employees will commence this Wednesday, July 24, 2019,” the statement posted on their Facebook page said.
It continued: “At the same time, the UL is holding discussion with the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP) for July salary payment to be released on or before July 30, 2019.”
Faculty and UL Administration Negotiate
At long last, after more than three hours behind close door at the Administrative Building, the faculty agreed to return to the classrooms and administer their final exams by next week.
Former Vice President for Fiscal Affairs and Minister of Commerce Professor Wilson Tarpeh including Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue were part of the negotiation.
Minister Tarpeh along with the Police IG couple with some members of the “Concern Teachers” walked out to the protesting students to inform them that they have reached an amicable solution after several hours of negotiation.
They managed to move the students from the main road and take them back into the UL fence to inform them about the outcome of long negotiation.
At first, Tarpeh told the protesting students that everything is alright between the UL administration and the faculty.
He said: “You will write your test, we have managed to put this situation under control.”
Also, the Chairperson of the “Concern Faculty” Alhaji S.M. Dukuly told the students that the administration had decided to deal with two of their four demands before the July 26 and that their remaining two demands will be dealt with at the end of the month of July.
By next week, we will administer the final exam. We will reschedule the test, we can assure you,” Dukuly told the protesting students.
In return, the protesting students, who were supporters of SUP, begin to sing, “Victory, victory, SUP has won victory, oh la la la, la la la, SUP has won victory.”