You can loot our Resources, but you cannot loot our Right to Education – A Caveat to GoL to Reopen UL
By: Martin K. N. Kollie
Martin K. N. Kollie
The government of Liberia through its Ministry of Education authorized all schools to resume regular academic activities on February 16, 2015. As a result of this nationwide directive, primary, secondary, tertiary as well as vocational institutions have began regular classes while the fate of over thirty thousand students remains in uncertainty. The closure of UL without any clear-cut timeline to resume normal activities is troubling, disappointing and unacceptable especially at a time when our educational system is encountering multiplicity of anomalous challenges. The right of Liberians to access quality tertiary education is being abhorrently violated again by an unpatriotic and self-seeking regime. The sustainability of stability and encapsulation of security in Liberia can only become realistic if every citizen, regardless of status or background has limitless access to higher education.
The real meaning of injustice is, when students from private universities are in school and students from public universities are out of school. The actual definition of inequality is, when public resources are misused to send children of the elites abroad for advanced education while sons and daughters of the peasants are unable to acquire knowledge from UL due to low budgetary support. This speaks volume about how unjust our society is today even after more than 167 years of deprivation and degradation. Education is for ALL and not SOME and this fact must not even be undermined by unjustifiable excuses and shadowy objections. It is time for those in authority to begin exhibiting an uncompromising semblance of allegiance and loyalty to this country. The towering rate of illiteracy, ignorance, and disease can be wipeout if more investment is made to boost our educational sector.
State actors careless about promoting a system of quality education and care more about riding luxurious vehicles and increasing their fabulous salaries. This government needs to be very serious about its statutory obligation for once and prioritize public welfare not just through empty speech-making, but concrete actions. A government whose existence is built upon democratic ideals must not intentionally abandon its national commitment. It is unfair for few students to be in school while vast majority of them are out of school. This is a gross violation of our Constitution and we demand this government to reopen UL without any further procrastination. The continuous delay by this existing establishment to ensure UL resumes usual academic proceedings is elevating widespread dissatisfaction and provoking huge public displeasure. If nothing is done to solutionize this situation very soon, it could exacerbate into an undesirable outcome.
How could we forget so soon about the incomparable importance of education in a post-conflict nation like Liberia? The need to enlighten young minds through the acquisition of contemporary knowledge in diversity of professional disciplines is critical to genuine development and socio-economic growth. The mammoth progress of any great society depends on its human resource capacity. The State-run University has been and continues to be an unparalleled oasis of higher learning in Liberia since 1862. The University of Liberia has given birth to outstanding men and women whose impact in society today is unmatched. The University of Liberia has been shut down for about seven months now due to the Ebola outbreak, leaving the future of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students lingering in limbo. The hope of many students especially from UL was resuscitated when all schools, including private Universities were mandated to restart their normal academic operations.
Even though most schools especially private institutions have since adhered to the reopening timetable of the government, but the University of Liberia, which is a public institution remains closed due to ‘funding impediment’. The deliberate action of this unpatriotic regime to infringe on our rights as citizens is a clever and devious scheme to dampen our academic determination and discourage us from pursuing higher education. It is appalling and abysmal for anyone especially President Sirleaf to brag and swank about prioritizing education in post-conflict Liberia when thousands of University students are out of school due to the lack of adequate funding. It is an irony for President Sirleaf to publicly proclaim that her government cares about promoting education and academic excellence when the premier Institution of higher learning in Liberia is ill-equipped due to array of contending challenges. Those who are in public authority must lead by deeds and not words. It is not only about identifying loopholes and pitfalls within the educational sector, but it is more about providing timely solutions to mitigate existing gaps.
We have heard too many promises and commitments from duty-bearers without any genuine fulfillment. Our ears are becoming addicted to lies and deceits simply because people who we have entrusted with our future careless about protecting public interest. How long will our people live in ignorance? Liberians deserve access to quality education like any other nationals because this is a universal right that no government can take away from its citizens. Our leaders are very good at admiring other nations, but they have intentionally failed to understand that these nations are making huge progress today because they have literate populations. A country with an illiterate populace is doomed to fail and this has been Liberia’s greatest dilemma since its sovereign existence.
If those in positions of public trust truly claim to love Liberia, they must begin to invest more in education, empowerment, and employment. Liberia can become better if policy-makers are honest to themselves and those they serve. For too long our nation has been wrecked and ransacked as a result of greed and corruption. The money stolen by economic pillagers and vampires on a routine basis is far more than the money allotted to support education in Liberia. It is time for all public trustees to go beyond self-interest and invigorate an identity of selflessness, patriotism, and public loyalty.
Liberia is very rich in natural resources, but State actors are insensitively unable to utilize proceeds from these resources to satisfactorily sponsor higher education. I wonder sometimes whose interest this government is protecting. Since Liberia became an independent nation, this government under the presidential ambiance of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received the highest international support in terms of aids, grant, loan, and other financial assistance, but little or no impact has been felt especially by vast majority of the citizenry. This government cannot be bragging about attracting over 16 billion direct foreign investment to Liberia when the University of Liberia is shutdown due to funding crisis.
After signing and ratifying hundreds of agreements with multi-million investment companies and business firms, socio-economic dispossession remains towering. Is this the Liberia we fought for? Is this the country many of our brothers and sisters died for? What was the necessity of questing for inclusive change through a civil revolution when nothing has changed up to now? We fought against corruption, nepotism, inequality, elitism, sectarianism, and all forms of societal vices, but have these ills gone? No, they have not! They are even invading our society more than ever before and if prompt interventions are not made to avert some of these inhumane and cruel diseases, Liberia risks a future of deep disappointment, disunity, division, and dissatisfaction.
I do not agree that the University of Liberia is shutdown due to low budgetary allotment or funding deficiency. I also disagree that this regime lacks the fiscal capacity to fully support the University of Liberia. The major reason why UL is not getting sufficient financial assistance from this government is because of corruption and the lack of political will. What will it take to provide a budget of US$21 million for the University of Liberia when the office of President Sirleaf uses over $US40 million in 12 months? What will it take this government to provide US$21 million to educate over 30,000 students when the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) annual budget is more than US$28 million?
The decision by this government to give blind eyes to pressing priorities at UL is not only deliberate, but it is meant to strangulate thousands of students whose parents do not have adequate resources to send them to private Universities. We will resist any dubious and devious plot by our oppressors to undermine our collective progress. You can loot our resources, but you cannot loot our right to education. Let it be known that we have had enough and we will no longer accept any form of exploitation. How can anyone tell us that there is insufficient funding to support UL when huge exportation of our natural resources is ongoing? How can we believe that there is no money when officials of government are bagging and banking millions of dollars per annum in local and foreign banks?
This indefensible justification is unrealistic because every day we look at the luxurious vehicles ridden by those who are telling us there is no money! We are yet to feel the economic impact of Chevron, Golden Verolem, Anadarko, ExxonMobil, Arcelor Mittal, BHP Billiton, Sime Darby, CRC, Putu Mountain, China Union, Firestone, APM Terminal, and other companies operating in various sectors of our country. It is impractical and insensitive to have all these foreign companies in Liberia and education is still a mess. The University of Liberia is struggling to survive in terms of providing quality education while these companies are making huge profits from our resources. This is really frustrating and we must stand up for once to challenge the power that be.
When students and teachers stood in long queues to elect public officials in 2005 and 2011 respectively, they were signing a contract to either help or hurt themselves. With optimistic, they finally marched to various polling centers nationwide to exercise their constitutional obligation. Our people were more concern about a new Liberia of socio-economic transformation and inclusive change. Their hope and determination for an equal and just Liberia was uncompromising as they reflected soberly on a vicious past. One major question that voters were asking is “Will our current situation change?” There were huge public doubts about finding an accurate answer to this question even though some overly ambitious politicians became vendors of lies, merchants of deceits, and patrons of rhetoric.
After a decade of unbroken peace, access to quality tertiary education is still a nightmare. This is shamefully shocking and the government must intervene now otherwise, there would be consistent public outcry. You cannot auction all of our 17 offshore or deepwater oil blocks to multilateral oil companies and you are telling us that there is no money to fund UL. How possible is this? You have cheaply given out all of our mountains with the exception of Wologisi, yet you claim there is no money to support academic programs at the State-run University. This barefaced contradiction does not only expose you to public ridicule, but scrutiny as well. Where are the socio-economic dividends or impact of all those multi-million investment contracts that were signed and ratified by this regime? The maturity of our emerging democracy depends on patriotism and nationalism. Until those who are piloting our national plane can begin to exemplify honesty, transparency, and accountability, our nation will forever remain on a trajectory of collapse.
The most important step towards national and inclusive development is tertiary education. The nation’s future is hampered when the University of Liberia is shutdown. Have we forgotten that education is not a privilege, but a universal right? While other nations around us are providing free higher education for their citizens, our leaders are still complaining about funding deficiency. The right to education is a universal entitlement, recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a human right that includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally by the progressive introduction of free higher education.
Liberia is a signatory to multiplicity of international protocols and legal instruments which guarantee access to quality primary, secondary, and tertiary education; unfortunately, much is not done by this government to uphold basic provisions and principles within these intercontinental agreements. The right to education is reflected in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to education has been reaffirmed in the 1960 UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Have we forgotten about all these global commitments we once made as a country?
The right to education is enshrined in article 15(b) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution. This provision guarantees academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge. It is a blatant violation of this provision for few students from private Universities to be in school while over 30,000 students from UL are out of school. We condemn this counterproductive action and demand an immediate resumption of academic activities at the University of Liberia. We will not accept any further delay from this government to reopen UL. This is a caveat that must not be taken lightly. We shall endeavor to exhaust any orthodox means to ensure UL reopens, but if our oppressors are imprudently adamant to our plights, we shall revert to unorthodox measures in order to liberate ourselves from academic enslavement and repression. You can loot our resources, but you cannot loot our right to education!
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a young writer. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia reading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). His passion is to ensure a new Liberia of socio-economic equality and justice for ALL. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org