“At the end, what I am saying is that the state has to look at higher education seriously. Because it’s about time we develop a vigorous and serious graduate programme in this country. To train people at the masters and PhD levels. Liberal art is here forever, let us develop a strong graduate programme that is interdisciplinary, to build up our capacity. That future will not happen under the current university leadership led by Ekundayo Thompson and Sahr Gbamanja at all. Now we need people who can turn this mess around. Turn around intellectually.” Prof Abdullah noted.
He added firmly “The University should always be a site for knowledge production. That should never cease. The moment you stop producing knowledge in the university, then it is no longer a university. And if it’s a site for knowledge production, every party has to be listened to. It’s a conversation that is going on and on and if people have discordant voices – the more the merrier. I put my case and you counter my case, we discuss. If there is a middle ground okay. If not we leave it like that. But there should not be one hegemonic force or voice that says this is the way. No. That is not a university culture. This is no religion. There is no compulsion here! It has to be intellectual.” The renowned man of letters asserted.
Prof Abdullah also called on past students of FBC to speedily intervene to save the university from total collapse. “Those who claim an ‘Athens’ of West Africa which never existed, should put their money where their mouth is and make FBC. Those who have come together under an Alumni Association, should do that. We can make Fourah Bay College the premier Pan-African institution of higher learning in Africa. We change it. We rebrand it completely.”
He further critiqued the current leadership of the university calling the Vice Chancellor incompetent. “Someone with no academic pedigree: not an academic nor a scholar, coming with NGO mentality. He cannot do anything. Rules and regulations are there but he flouts them. You put somebody like that at the helm, it’s going to be chaos. That is what we are seeing now.” Said Prof Ibrahim Abdullah.
He added “Any serious vice chancellor will be more concerned about addressing the deep rooted problems – lack of a functioning library, no serious post-graduate programme and decadent teaching and learning environment. These are the real issues not trying to illegally expel so-called ‘errant lecturers’.
His sharp critique of the university leadership are rolling out as he battles the university for his reinstatement after his tenured appointment was illegally converted into a one-year position by the Registrar and his salary put on hold since January 2016. Dubbing the illegality a Santa offer he stoutly proclaimed in a letter to the Registrar: “My appointment is permanent and pensionable.”
Many believe that Prof Abdullah, a leading man of letters from Sierra Leone, is being victimised for his critical stance in the university. Professor Abdullah has taught at FBC for the past 12 years and published widely. He has also taught in universities in Nigeria, Canada, USA and South Africa before coming home in 2002.
“This is a clear case of injustice.” Said Alie Tarawallie, a member of the JPACC and former student of Prof Abdullah. “We cannot allow this to go on. The actions of this university was partially responsible for the war in this country. In the 80s radical students and lecturers were unfairly expelled from the university.”
Another former student of Prof Abdullah said “I am now doing my PhD in the UK. Prof Abdullah made me who I am today. He doesn’t just teach. He trains his students. I am so happy I passed through his hands.”
In February 2016, over 80 leading scholars from around the world petitioned President Koroma who is also the Chancellor of the University calling the action of the university “unjust” the eminent scholars reminded the President “Dr Abdullah is a brilliant an well-known historian…His research and publications have made seminal contributions to the understanding of working class and youth development, culture and politics in West Africa…We believe Dr Abdullah’s presence at Fourah Bay College contributes positively to the credibility of the institution, nationally and globally.”
“This move by the University administrators to terminate his employment” the petitioners noted, “suggests that they do not fully appreciate Dr. Abdullah’s stature as a scholar of international standing or his admirable commitment to fostering academic excellence.”
More recently in May, a conference of African scholars and academics meeting under the auspices of the Council for Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Lilongwe, Malawi also wrote to President Koroma calling for his reinstatement.
“Participants at this conference, academics from universities and other institutions of higher learning from across Africa, came to the conclusion after a careful review of the circumstances surrounding the termination of Professor Abdullah’s appointment that his academic freedom has been violated. Professor Abdullah has suffered this fate because of his critical stance regarding falling academic standards in this once proud institution.’