Professor Abdullah Mansaray
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
at the Inauguration of the
Njala University Court
His Excellency the President and Chancellor of Njala University
Brigadier (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio
Venue: Conference Hall, Secretariat, Njala University, Njala Campus
Date: Friday 26th October, 2018.
Your Excellency the President and Chancellor of Njala University
Hon. Chief Minister
Hon. Minister ofTechnical and Higher Education
Deputy Minister of Technical and Higher Education
Other Ministers of Government here present
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Court, Njala University
Members of the Njala University Court
Vice-Chancellors and Principals of other Universities and Tertiary Institutions
Deputy Vice-Chancellors of Njala University and other universities present here
Excellences, Members of the Diplomatic & Consular Corps
Our Revered Traditional Rulers
Your Worships the Mayors of the cities of Bo, Freetown, Makeni, Kenema and Port Loko
Hon. Members of Parliament
The Chairman and Members of the Moyamba and Bo District Councils
Representatives of International Organisations and Agencies
Our Development Partners
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations
All Staff and Students of Njala University
Members of the Fourth Estate
Ladies and Gentlemen
I feel highly honoured to welcome you all to the Njala Campus of Njala University; and more precisely to the Secretariat of the University.
This is the first event of this magnitude that is being hosted at this Secretariat, thus making today a historic moment in the annals of Njala University.
Your Excellency, Mr. Chancellor, Sir, permit me to start on a note of gratitude. First, I want to thank you profusely for the appointment of the current management team at Njala University – with my humble self as the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, the Deputy Vice-Chancellors and the Registrar. We consider our appointment as a special privilege and honour to serve under the New Direction Leadership at a time when Sierra Leone’s Higher Education system is at the verge of monumental transformation. We will not betray this tremendous repose of confidence in our ability to make a significant contribution to this transformation.
I am also grateful to you, your Excellency, for creating a Ministry devoted exclusively to Technical and Higher Education; and for identifying the highly competent and dynamic leadership at the MTHE. With true-grit academic administrators, researchers, and (of course) former academic union leaders at the helm of affairs, our higher education system is firmly posited on a rapid upward trajectory.
We are also grateful for your creation of the Directorate of Research and Innovation, which, in this short time, has demonstrated its profound relevance in supporting higher education, with Njala University as an early beneficiary.
Finally, your Excellency, we are grateful for your careful selection of the membership of this Court – the fourth (4th) since the creation of Njala as an autonomous University in 2005. Our Pro Chancellor possesses excellent credentials as a university teacher, researcher, administrator, national and international consultant, and politician, among other things. Under his guidance and that of all the other highly competent Court members, I firmly believe that the University Administration will be greatly strengthened to address the many challenges facing Njala University, as, indeed, other higher education institutions in the country.
As interim Chairman of the Conference of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Higher Education Institutions in Sierra Leone (CVCP-SL), it is my pleasure to inform your Excellency and this distinguished gathering that all HEIs in Sierra Leone are resolved to work together through the common umbrella of the Conference for strategic change in the higher education stratum of the education system. We are of the firm belief that the full benefits of His Excellency’s Free Quality Education programme can only be realised with a strong higher education platform. We in the CVCP-SL are determined to create that platform. To that end, I am pleased to announce that the CVCP-SL is now fully registered and is already cooperating with the MTHE on a number of issues, including determining sustainable funding modalities for HEIs, and the on-going review of the Universities Act 2005, which creates an opportunity for HEIs to resolve longstanding systemic and governance challenges.
Your Excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret that recent times have been exceptionally tumultuous for Njala University. With incessant industrial actions by practically all staff associations (resulting mainly from the University’s inability to meet its fiduciary obligations), standoffs with students, disruption of the academic calendar and an overwhelming debt burden, Njala seemed to be all but buckling under the sheer weight of these challenges.
Today’s occasion might not be the most appropriate one at which to catalogue the many challenges we face at Njala University. And besides, I have no intention of scaring our soon-to-be-inducted Court members with the enormity of their task ahead. But permit me, your Excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to mention just a few. Because of our rural location, we have the burden of providing all our municipal facilities ourselves – our electricity, water, roads, housing, etc. Njala University spends One Hundred and Eighteen Million Leones (Le118,000,000.00) WEEKLY on just fuel to generate electricity on its campuses. The cost for treating and supplying water is an additional Forty-Five Million Leones (Le45,000,000.00) per month. Housing on this campus is so inadequate that in some cases flats have to be shared by two or more families. The major roads on the Njala Campus have been under construction since 2012. Our laboratories and other teaching-learning facilities are mostly decrepit, to say the least. Transportation within and between campuses is practically non-existent. And to crown it all, Njala University is the most indebted higher education institution in Sierra Leone – with a debt burden greater than that of all other institutions put together.
Some Key Achievements:
Your Excellency the Chancellor, Pro Chancellor and members of Court, distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to say, nevertheless, that it has not been all gloom and doom at Njala University! In spite of everything!!
If the question were to be asked about Njala, as it was asked about Bethlehem in the Christian Scriptures, “can anything good come out of Njala?” I would give an unequivocal answer: YES! A GREAT DEAL OF GOOD!!
Since assuming office late in June, 2018, this nascent Administration is happy to note the following positive developments, among a number of others:
- There has been no ‘industrial action’ of any kind by any union or association, despite rumours of strikes and “food finding” ventures because of outstanding obligations to staff (leave allowances, etc.)
- Payment of salaries is up to date for the first time in the past couple of years.
- Student Union government activities have been rejuvenated on both campuses and the students are generally well behaved, and demonstrating an appreciable degree of maturity and responsibility.
- A systems review and management restructuring of all academic departments and schools as part of our rebranding efforts to urgently restore the institutional order and integrity of Njala University’s academic systems is actively underway.
- Our University has been working very hard to keep pace with the dynamism of the Ministry of Tertiary and Higher Education, achieving a significant proportionof the eighteen-item Terms of Reference issued to all HEIs on the 25thJune this year.
- To meet H.E.’s aspiration for skills development and entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector in general, NU is working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the FAO, and a number of international partners to establish the Songhai Centre Model in Njala to serve as a centre of excellence in agribusiness education in West Africa.
- With the prompting and support of the First Lady, Her Excellency Fatima Bio, we have also developed a brand new programme in Theatre and Performance Arts to specifically cater for the large number of talented youth of Sierra Leone, to help bring out these talents and our nation’s unique culture on the world stage.
- Other new programmes recently developed include Law, Agribusiness, Agricommunication, Right to Food, and B.Sc. Nursing, among others.
- Just recently, a distinguished colleague of ours, and our Head of the Department of Biological Sciences, Dr. Aiah Lebbie, (also a member of this Court) has been credited with the discovery of a near-extinct plant species which has been named after him; Lebbiea grandiflora. It is described as the first new African genus of Podostemaceae published in 30 years (May I request Dr. Lebbie to rise for recognition please).
- In the area of ICT, we have also recorded some significant achievements, including
- resuscitating and making more functional our website;
- establishing a high-speed Fibre Optic Internet connectivity with the support of the Government of Sierra Leone. We are presently partnering with MIC, SALCAB and NATCOM to improve on this connectivity;
- with support from IOM and USAID, establishing an e-learning suite;
- piloting of video classroom. A live video link has already been tested with State House, thanks largely to the Directorate of Innovation, Science and Technology at State House
- We have just concluded an International Training Programme for participants from 17 African countries on Bat Capturing and Sampling at our Animal Science Serology and Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, with support form the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
- Our Department of Animal Science has also partnered with FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry (MAF) to report for the first time an animal disease outbreak in Serra Leone to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
- We have also maintained vibrant partnerships with a number of international and local institutions, organisations, agencies and centres, including:
- University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (from 2006 to present)
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
- University of Wageningen
- University of Hohenheim
- University of Ibadan
- Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology
- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- The World Bank
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC), USA
- Tulane University, and
- Bo City Council (among many others)
- We are also contemplating a national pedagogical centre for the retraining of teachers and instructors to enable them drive the paradigm shift from a knowledge-based, teacher-centred educational system to skills and competence-based education across Sierra Leone.
It is our hope that these initiatives will be our initial contributions to the human capital investments needed to drive our economy.
In all this I must express my profound gratitude to my two DVCs, the Registrar, all staff and students of NU, our proactive Minister of Technical and Higher Education and his dynamic deputy, and all our friends in the Njala, Moyamba, Bo and Freetown communities for their commitment and understanding throughout these difficult times.
There are still a number of challenges ahead of us. We recognise that while we are up to date on salaries for all categories of staff, there are still a number of key allowances and other emoluments that are long overdue. That notwithstanding, you may also be pleased to learn that our staff profile is gradually improving with the recent promotion of some academic staff to Lecturer I and Senior Lecturer positions, while others are undergoing external peer review for professorial positions. The issue of upgrading our staff profile is being given urgent attention by this administration.
Your Excellency, Mr. Chancellor, Chairman and Members of Court, I am also pleased to let you know that our administration has successfully completed arrangements to defray our liabilities to NASSIT through a negotiated agreement consisting of a 2-year payment plan. Anyone retiring today from Njala University is assured of quick access to his or her NASSIT benefits.
Mr Chancellor, Sir, we are struggling at Njala University to do our very best. We have embarked on an aggressive programme of what we fondly refer to as the renaissance (reawakening) of Njala University. There is only one problem: Njala University is broke! We urgently need government’s support with clean energy and water supply to help us meet not only the growing requirements of students, staff, and other residents of the University campuses but also in the environs. The University also needs urgent assistance with the resolution of liabilities inherited by our administration to avoid threats of litigation by retirees and suppliers.
We require urgent support towards the many innovative initiatives we are contriving, as we strive to leapfrog our economy to middle-income status.
I do hope you like the modesty of our new Senate Room. I think it is symbolic of our dream of making Njala University, once again, a major institution in Africa!
Your Excellency, Members of Court, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this was meant to be a short welcome address. Forgive me if it has turned out to be a little longish. There is an African adage that says “when the handshake goes beyond the elbow, it ceases to be a handshake. It becomes a wrestling match”. I had no intention of making my handshake go beyond your elbows.
YOU ARE ALL WELCOME TO NJALA UNIVERSTY AND THANK YOU FOR LISTENING TO ME.