We are at the cross roads of celebration and deep reflection on the current status of our alma mater and the prestigious position we wish it to regain. Sierra Leone owes much of its educational laurels to Fourah Bay College, once the greatest bastion of western education in sub-Saharan Africa. Our country became a hub of quality education in Black Africa; foreign nationals came to compete with Sierra Leoneans for the limited space this great institution had to provide. Erudite academic scholars, astute lawyers, outstanding engineers and eminent lecturers across Africa owe their measure of success in life to Fourah Bay College. This mark of achievement came by no mean feat, from the era of dedicated White administrators, to the period of affiliation with the Durham University, to the institution’s devolution to competent Sierra Leonean proprietors, the college was every bit the envy of outsiders. As a pivotal learning institution, Fourah Bay College earned Freetown the name Athens of West Africa in reminiscence of the calm days of Greek dominance in learning in the ancient world.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we have witnessed a glorious past with distinguished administrators and tutors who inspired students both in the classroom and outside, and who would not compromise academic standards any day of their lives. Great academics like Dr. Eustace Palmer, fondly called Dr. P inspired every student who studied in the humanities in the ‘70s. I witnessed an era when we had a conducive learning environment, well-stocked library and an excellent teaching staff. The canteen system was in full operation with three meals a day for every student. We even had an official dinner once a month.
Mr. Chairman, it is this feat of accomplishment that we are here to celebrate—190 years of academic journey. Sierra Leoneans hark back to much of this period with an air of pride and see it as a benchmark of our country’s success story. But interestingly, in this modern day of top-notch technology and internet connectivity, when learning is by far easier nowadays than bygone times, we have to put up with the nostalgia and the difficulty of trying to fully understand “Why the college’s performance should be rated better in those days than now?” In solving this riddle, we need a critical retrospection of where we stumbled and a thorough introspection of how we should pick ourselves up, dust off and move on to a bright future.
I am sure there are several areas to look into and lessons to learn from; because the history of this great university mimics the history of our nation. Its challenges have been Sierra Leone’s challenges. The past few decades have witnessed upheavals in our university calendar. Stints of war, political instability, the outbreak of epidemic and financial crises in our nation have had their toll on the operations of our foremost university college and the effect has been enormous.
The college has not been able to meet its full potentials owing to these external factors. It has had to close down in some instances in the past few decades, upsetting the learning calendar. As a result of these challenges, it has not been able to perform so well in international rankings and the prestige and glory our darling college has been slowly waning. It is sad to note that the college once revered by all in Africa is now a pale shadow of its old self.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, whilst we attribute the decline in standards to external factors, let us also look inward for approaches and behaviors, and for actions or inactions that are inimical to the progress and aspirations of the college. Owing to the increase in the enrollment of students, the student population has expanded considerably but the college lacks the infrastructure to accommodate this increase. Maintenance of the college buildings was long compromised. I therefore urge the university administration to improve on the job of running the university – in providing more classrooms and sitting accommodations for students, in ensuring that the buildings are well painted and the lawns taken care of. We want to see more international linkages and exchange programmes with other universities. We have to improve on the oversight on Fourah Bay College and the drive to get things done with excellence. All these require concerted efforts from the students, the administrators and the alumni association.
My Government remains committed to improve on the access to and quality of university education. We noted the dilapidated state of the university’s infrastructure and through the Ministry of Education we signed a contract with the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) for the rehabilitation and expansion of Fourah Bay College campus.
The Ministry of Finance has facilitated series of internal arrangements relating to the rehabilitation process and so far, as all of you here can see, the project implementation is on full throttle. Once again government will rehabilitate Fourah Bay College campus and hand it over to the university authorities. But while we hope that this rehabilitation drive will translate into better quality education—a conducive learning atmosphere with proper hostels and a campus with high standards of environmental and health safety conditions – I will like to reiterated that this rehabilitation should be extended: the minds and habits of the people should also be changed in other to restore the lost glory of this great institution.
We have quite some distance to go but, with new spirit, with sustained commitment and with steadfastness, Fourah Bay College will once again sparkle on this historic mountain to shine the light of knowledge on the rest of Sierra Leone and beyond. On behalf of the entire University, I thank every single person in the academic staff and faculty, and our entire, incredibly generous community of supporters, for bringing us to this height.
I wish all Fourahbites fruitful 190 years celebrations. I thank you all.