Professor Clifford Tagoe, Vice Chancellor of The University of Ghana
STUDENTS of Commonwealth Hall at the University of Ghana yesterday stepped up their campaign to stop the authorities from converting the all-male hall into a graduate mixed-hall of residence, when they headed for the Accra Fast Track High Court to seek an interim injunction.
The more than 4,000 students, represented by four of them, have filed a writ at the court to restrain the university authorities from implementing the planned change in the status of the Commonwealth Hall, which they described as “unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional.”
In a suit filed against the university, its Executive Committee and the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Kwesi Yankah, the students claimed the decision was in violation, of Articles 23,284 and 296(a)(b) of the country’s’ constitution and amounted to unfair and unreasonable exercise of administrative powers.
In court yesterday for the case were about 10 students of the Hall, commonly called Vandals, including the president of the Junior Common Room (JCR), Joshua Laari, his vice, Emmanuel Nketia, the treasurer, Frederick Owusu Prempeh, and the secretary, Kofi Asante Sampong.
They are represented by Nana Ato Dadzie.
However, the case had to be adjourned to May 28, because the defendants had not been served with the motion paper and the statement of claim.
The court, presided over by Justice Ofori Atta, then asked that the defendants should accordingly be served.
The decision to convert the hall for the intended use was taken by the university’s Executive Committee in response to alleged disturbances by students of the hall, which the authorities claimed brought the name of the university into disrepute.
The students have kicked against the intended conversion, and petitioned a number of quarters, but, they claimed in their 63-point statement of claim filed on May 19 that they had since not had any favourable responses from the persons and offices petitioned.
The students are contending that “the present membership of 4,000 stands disbanded with dire consequences and implications for the organisation of its government and day-to-day life of ordinary students.”
They claim they had not been informed of any alternative arrangements for their affiliation from the next academic year.
The students said the explanation by the university on May 10, that the decision was not as a result of the events of March 13 was an after-thought which they described as a “radical departure” from what it said in its own letter of April 28.
They contended that the decision, as far as it was informed by the March 13 event, was discriminatory and a breach of Article 17 (2)(3) of the country’s constitution.
The students also averred that the university authorities have began illegal steps to convert the hall, for which reason they are praying the court to restrain the authorities since their actions would frustrate and deprive them of their legal and constitutional rights.
They said that on March 13, the University held its congregation at which some students were said to have put up some unruly acts which were said to have embarrassed the Chancellor of the University, Mr Kofi Annan.
The students said that on May 15, the Executive Committee held a meeting attended by senior members of the Commonwealth Hall-Master, and Senior Tutor during which the decision to convert the hall was taken.
Further, on March 23, the students said the university issued a general notice signed by its registrar which attributed the unruly behaviour to mostly students of Commonwealth Hall.
Following that letter, the students claim that on April 28, the Executive Committee in a letter signed by its secretary, announced that the hall was going to be closed down on May 15 and that the conversion of the hall would begin from the 2010/2011 academic year.
“The Executive Committee had discussed the incident which occurred before the congregation on March 13, leading to the late start of the congregation and similar incidents which have taken place in the past all of which have largely been traced to students of Commonwealth Hall” the students quoted as portion of the letter.
Also the students alleged that at a meeting with officials of Commonwealth Hall on April 29, Prof. Yankah in his capacity as Chairman of the Residence Board announced that Commonwealth Hall was dissolved.
At the same meeting, the students claim, Prof. Yankah described the gentlemen of the Commonwealth Hall JCR as “a bunch of people marooned on a hill with disgraceful antecedents.”
According to them, Prof. Yankah had prior to that comment, told the Residence Board of the university that the decision to convert the hall was one for implementation and not for discussion, irrespective of the fact that the disciplinary power of the university is vested in the Vice Chancellor.
They, argued that the “unproven allegations” made by the defendants against them had gravely affected the image of the hall and the reputation of the 4,000 students there.
In view of these, the students are seeking a declaration that Commonwealth Hall did not participate in the events of March 13, a declaration that the Executive Committee and Prof. Yankah do not constitute the governing council of the university and cannot expressly or impliedly or by any administrative actions, usurp the authority of the Governing Council and thereby, shut down or convert Commonwealth Hall from its present status.
They are also seeking an order of perpetual injunction to restrain the defendants, their duly authorized agents, officers, servants, privies and successors, howsoever, from attempting to and taking any steps to shut down or convert Commonwealth Hall into a mixed gender graduate hall.
Also, a declaration that the defendants decision to close down Commonwealth Hall without awaiting the findings of the Disciplinary Committee investigating the March 13 incident exhibits bias and prejudice towards the plaintiffs and thus prejudiced the hearings of the Committee, among other reliefs.