A recent independent investigation into the operations of the University of Sierra Leone, and of Fourah Bay College in particular, has unearthed the root causes of the crisis that now plagues higher education in Sierra Leone. The investigation, which focused on the causes of decline in teaching and learning standards in the oldest western-style institution of higher learning in Sub-Saharan Africa, exposes a chronically corrupt practice, spanning decades, of how certain academic staff in the University of Sierra Leone (lecturers and university administrators) were hired and promoted through questionable circumstances.
In early April, London-based The Economist Magazine published an alarming news story detailing the ways in which the rising student population in the University of Sierra Leone lacks the required number of academic professors to attend to their teaching needs. The current population of seven thousand students, according to The Economist, has only seven academic professors to cater to their educational needs. The disturbing news report came at the heels of a protracted case between a renowned African historian, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah and the Fourah Bay College administration.
Professor Abdullah, a reputable international scholar and the only academic with a PhD in history in the Department of History and African Studies of Fourah Bay College, had his tenured professorial position revoked in January 2016 by university administrators through unprecedented and illegal procedures. The illegal and unfair decision, condemned by national and international groups, was in response to Professor Abdullah’s ongoing call for academic standards and excellence. University records indicate that Professor Abdullah has been critical of the way the university operates. He has spoken openly against declining teaching and learning standards in the university: a position that angered leading university administrators. In retaliation, they resorted to dubious and questionable procedures aimed at removing the revered professor from the campus as part of, what many say is, a strategy to cover-up the ills afflicting university education in the country.
Professor Abdullah’s matter, which began as a struggle against the illegal decision of the university administration, quickly turned into an international affair with serious interests. International and national protests followed the decisions of university administrators to remove him from the campus. In April, a group of international academics that met in Lilongwe, Malawi under the auspices of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) sent a petition to the president of Sierra Leone condemning the unfair treatment of Professor Abdullah.
While protests over Professor Abdullah’s matter still hangs on the heads of the university, the floodlights have now been turned on the decaying status of Fourah Bay College and the questionable qualifications and promotions of leading administrators in the university.
The higher education crisis in Sierra Leone is the focus of an international investigation, which sheds light into the history of an ongoing practice of questionable promotions criteria that is a key factor in the ineptitude and management problems bedeviling the university.
The recent investigation centered, in particular, on the academic records and qualifications of the current Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, Ekundayo J. D. Thompson. Thompson’s professorial promotion and subsequent appointment to head the university are at the heart of two separate investigations. The said investigations’ reports seriously question the credibility of the academic publications listed against Thompson’s name, which may have formed part of the folio that was probably used to determine his qualifications for a professorial position.
One of the reports of the investigation contains damning information that sheds significant doubts on Thompson’s academic qualifications and casts suspicions on the overall methodology used to elevate Thompson into the ranks of professors in the country. The said investigation report raised a fundamental question relating to the publication requirement normally used as “scoring” criteria by university authorities to determine academic promotions. It seeks to determine whether Thompson’s academic publications, which are listed on Amazon, sufficiently met the “scoring criteria” supposedly used to determine his promotion into the ranks of professors in the country?
The investigation report uncovered evidence that challenges both the validity of Thompson’s qualifications and his promotion. The findings, which are contained in a report titled “Ekundayo Thompson’s Amazon Findings”, point to a long chain of irregularities ranging from academic fraud and intellectual deception. It gives a clear case of how Ekundayo Thompson’s listed publications on Amazon, for instance, do not qualify as academic publications because they failed to meet the publishing industry’s publication standards and distribution requirements. The report states, among other things, that Thompson’s listed publications are not formally published academic materials or standard trade publications.
It raises a question regarding the list of publications that were used as materials to determine his suitability for a professorial promotion. The report clearly states that if the listed publications on Amazon were part of the material, then the scoring criteria used failed to meet the university’s required benchmarks for professorial promotions. Ekundayo Thompson had listed four publications on Amazon, claiming the titles were all published between 1992 and 1997. The listed titles include “The Prince of AALAE: Corruption and Mismanagement in an African NGO”, “Curriculum Development in Non-formal Education, Some Thoughts on Adult Education: A Collection of Papers and Articles”, and “The Umm Kedddada [sic] Experience: Report of a People-to- People Visit to Umm Keddada Province, North Darfur, Republic of Sudan, January 25-February 9, 1995.”
The investigation report, however, states that the Amazon records do not show evidence that any of the listed items were actually bought or sold on the Amazon’s space where they were listed. And there is no record on Amazon to indicate that the items were actually re-published.
“Ekundayo Thompson’s listings on Amazon were placed through the third method,” the report stated. It was discovered that an independent squatter trader on Amazon listed Thompson’s supposed publication as general commodities for sale and not as books. This actually meant that the so-called publications did not meet any of the industry standards used for book publication and distribution.
It adds that Thompson’s listed publications have “no ISBN numbers, which every published book requires. In addition, they are not in any book format. They are in an unknown binding format. This being the case, they were never published through any method: traditional or self-publishing.”
“If such items were to be actually available, it means that a third party can only sell them as used items (supposedly used books) or as republished books. The records on Amazon show that at no time were any of the listed items actually bought or sold on the Amazon space that they were listed. And there is no record on Amazon to indicate that the items were republished. This only means that the items were listed but were not truly available and cannot be accessed or bought from any retailer,” the investigators reported.
The report clearly disputes claims on the availability of Thompson’s publications on Amazon’s book distribution channels or any place whatsoever.
It concludes that “Ekundayo Thompson, has no conventionally published book on Amazon.com at present. The listed books do not exist on Amazon, and they were never made available on Amazon for actual sale. It is possible that the information was placed on Amazon for a specific purpose other than trade, which is unusual with the procedures of listings followed by Amazon booksellers.”
In one case, the investigation pointed out a serious case of ISBN theft by Thompson. It was found that one of the identifiers stitched on one of Thompson’s supposed publications, carried identifier numbers that belonged to a book on non-formal education published in Mexico.
This raises a significant question: Did Ekundayo Thompson set out to create the impression that he owned academic publications in order to achieve academic positions without due merit?
The investigators state clearly that they found no evidence of Thompson owning any published book that is readily accessible in the book industry, whether through traditional publishers or independent publishers. This fact poses a serious question on the criteria used to promote Ekundayo Thompson into the rank of a professor and subsequently to head of the University of Sierra Leone. University records show that Thompson’s assessment and promotion was made on a score done by one Dr. Vidal Godwin, who is alleged to have used a questionable and non-transparent method to elevate Thompson’s status within the ranks of the academic community in Sierra Leone.
The University of Sierra Leone’s “scoring system” has come under severe criticisms in recent decades because of the obviously rising evidence of nepotism and favoritism that privileges individuals for academic promotion based on certain political and other interests and considerations.
“It allows for individuals without any publications to be promoted if only they have a godfather. The university has become a decadent rotten civil service where knowledge is devalorized and mediocrity extolled as the norm” a senior academic in the University of Sierra Leone explained.
Ekundayo Thompson refuses to comment on the evidence contained in the report.
“I will not talk to you or anyone concerning this matter. I know the reason why you people are after me,” Thompson said angrily on the phone when he was contacted for a response.