UNISA opens plagiarism investigation against USL Vice Chancellor

The University of South Africa (UNISA) has commenced an internal investigation into a report which listed cases of plagiarism found in a dissertation submitted to its College of Education by one of its former students, Ekundayo Jonathan David Thompson from Sierra Leone.

The University of South Africa, through a long-distance learning program, awarded Ekundayo Thompson a Doctorate degree in Education in 2004, and President Ernest Bai Koroma appointed him Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone in 2013.

He had submitted a dissertation titled, “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Non-Formal Schools and Centers in the Urban Areas of Kenya” as part of the requirements for the award of the long-distance doctorate degree in education from the University of South Africa. But a recent report by a team of international investigators in the United States of America has uncovered numerous cases of evidence suggesting that the said dissertation is the result of serious cases of plagiarism.

The report clearly stated that the dissertation submitted by Ekundayo Thompson to the University of South Africa for his doctorate degree has been found to contain passages and sentences that constitute overwhelming cases of plagiarism.

The plagiarism allegations listed in the report have been sent to the University of South Africa by a team of international journalists and researchers seeking clarification on the charges.

“Over the last couple of months, we have been looking at various aspects of E.J.D. Thompson’s “scholarship” and educational background, including a verification of the “Dissertation” he submitted to UNISA in fulfillment of the requirement for the award of his D.Ed. in 2004. Our investigation, has revealed evidence of several cases of plagiarism in the “Dissertation” submitted to UNISA by Thompson,” the investigators said in a recent correspondence to UNISA.

They pointed out that Thompson’s dissertation contains between 32% and 37% evidence of plagiarism.

“We focused only on overwhelming cases that can be easily found in conventionally published literature. Limiting our scope on this type of evidential material found in Chapters 1 and 2, we are able to safely say that the whole “Dissertation” in question contains between 32% and 37% passages and sentences that were found to be not unique to the author, and are therefore treated as cases of obvious plagiarism,” they stated in the report.

UNISA records indicated that Professor Eleanor Lemmer, a research professor in the College of Education, supervised Thompson’s dissertation in 2004. Investigators said they had earlier presented the plagiarism evidence to Professor Lemmer, the supervisor, but she offered no comments on the evidence.

In a correspondence dated May 16, 2016 Professor Lemmer only suggested that the matter be referred to the Research Directorate of the University of South Africa.

“I am in the process of retiring from the University of South Africa and I will have to refer your complaint to the Research Directorate of UNISA,” she wrote.

Earlier information from Professor Lemmer, however, revealed that Ekundayo Thompson scored only a pass in his dissertation evaluation in 2004.

Following months of communication and exchange of correspondences between investigators and UNISA authorities, the matter has now been sent to the University’s Vice Principal of Research and Innovation, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

In a correspondence dated June 15, 2016 Professor Phakeng has ordered an investigation into the findings of the report.

“I request that you investigate these allegations. I am copying the Dean of the College of Education (Prof McKay) for information since the allegations are about a graduate for CEDU and the Vice Principal for Teaching and Learning so that at least another member of Management is aware of this,” she wrote to Professor Michelle Havenga, the Acting Executive Dean of the College of Graduate Studies.

“My view is that this is a very serious matter and I trust that you colleagues will deal with it well,” Prof. Phakeng said.

Observers say the UNISA investigation might recommend the withdrawal of the doctorate degree awarded to Ekundayo Thompson if the allegations in the report are corroborated by the University’s internal investigation.

The international investigation team, however, stated in its report that the evidence contained in the plagiarism report was verified through multiple checking tools used by the publishing industry, and that the clinical verification carried out on Thompson’s dissertation show that the document cannot pass any plagiarism check regardless of the tool employed.

“Our overall findings are that, the entire “Dissertation”, from the above evidence in Chapters 1 & 2, cannot pass any plagiarism test regardless of the method of verification or the plagiarism tool(s) employed,” the report concluded.

Investigators said they had sent the report of the said plagiarism findings to Ekundayo Thompson himself nearly two months ago for his reaction, but he refused to offer any comment on the matter.

“I will not talk to you or anyone concerning this matter. I know the reason why you people are after me,” Ekundayo Thompson said angrily on the phone when he was contacted for a response.

The international investigation, which uncovered the plagiarism evidence, has also been looking at other aspects relating to Ekundayo Thompson’s academic qualifications and the many problems affecting higher education in Sierra Leone.

In a separate investigation report released in early May 2016, they had earlier questioned Thompson’s academic qualifications and the criteria used in his professorial promotion. That report also revealed significant findings, which seriously challenged the credibility of the academic publications listed against Thompson’s name, which they said, might have formed part of the folio that was probably used to determine his qualifications for a professorial position.

Those earlier findings equally pointed to a long chain of irregularities ranging from academic fraud and intellectual deception. It also gave a clear case of how Ekundayo Thompson’s listed publications on Amazon, for instance, did not qualify as academic publications because they failed to meet the publishing industry’s publication standards and distribution requirements. That report also stated, among other things, that Thompson’s listed publications are not formally published academic materials or standard trade publications.

A senior lecturer at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) described the Thompson story as staggering.

“It is the germ of an international disgrace in the making,” he said. “These are serious allegations that call into question the whole basis of integrity in academe. It raises questions about how Thompson was hired; who hired him; and how he got promoted to a professorship in the space of six years after his long-distance degree,” he emphasized, adding that the situation is unprecedented and deserves to be investigated at all levels.

The University of Sierra Leone itself has been at the center of serious controversy since Thompson was appointed to head the country’s premier institution of higher learning by Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone.

In early April 2016, a report by the London-based Economist Magazine revealed that the university’s student population of over seven thousand has only a total of nine academic professors. All but two are due to retire in the next two years.

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University of Sierra Leone suffers another setback over Prof. Abdullah’s case

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has postponed an international workshop for Sierra Leonean scholars scheduled for June 15 and 16, 2016 in Freetown because of ongoing international protests against the University of Sierra Leone over the case of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah.

For several months now, the University of Sierra Leone has come under severe national and international criticisms for its failure to uphold academic freedom and its acts of injustice against the notable academic, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah.

The latest development followed attempts by the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya and Memunatu Pratt, the head of the Fourah Bay College Peace and Conflict Studies Program, to exclude Professor Abdullah from participation in a workshop for Sierra Leonean scholars that would have been held next week.

The said international workshop was to be organized by the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council, which supports independent African research on conflict-affected countries and neighboring regions of the continent. The organization seeks to integrate African knowledge into global policy communities.

The postponed workshop in Freetown was designed to help Sierra Leonean scholars who are interested in updating their knowledge of various aspects of proposal writing, such as framing research questions, research methods and ethics, literature review and proposal budgeting to be able to compete in SSRC-APN grant competitions.

The organizers said peacebuilding researchers in Sierra Leone have had historically low participation and success rates for SSRC-APN grant competitions.

“It was hoped that the workshop will give participants the opportunity to learn more about the various APN grant opportunities, including the application process and proposal requirements, and how to submit a good grant application,” one of the organizers stated.

The postponement came after, Memunatu Pratt, the current head of Fourah Bay College’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies objected to the inclusion of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah in the workshop.

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had invited Professor Abdullah to serve as a resource person for the said workshop in Freetown.

“As a leading peacebuilding scholar and researcher, we believe that your insights and experience would be invaluable to participants and wish to extend an invitation to you to serve as a resource person for the workshop. The expectation is that you will make presentation on Contextualizing Research in Existing Literature and hold one-on-one sessions with three proposal writers/participants on ways to improve the quality of the proposal or their papers,” the SSRC had written to Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah on May 4, 2016.
But Head of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Memunatu Pratt protested against the SSRC’s decision to include Prof. Abdullah as a resource person. She alleged that the Registrar of University of Sierra Leone, Sorie Dumbuya does not want the renowned international academic to be included in any of its programs.

“The university administration has made it clear that Prof Abdullah must not participate in any activity that has to do directly with the University or its constituent colleges or departments. In this regard and in the interest of the partnership, it will be our mutual interest for him not to be involved in this program,” she wrote to the SSRC.

Dr. Cyril Obi of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Memunatu Pratt had earlier signed the letter of invitation sent to Professor Abdullah, but Madame Pratt objected to the inclusion of Professor Abdullah without consulting the SSRC.

Professor Ibrahim Abdullah described the University’s decision as an act of war against academic freedom in Sierra Leone. He said his struggle for academic freedom and justice is a battle against “academic jihadists” who want to run a university without regards for law.

“The powers vested in the Registrar has to be exercised within the laws of Sierra Leone—- not any arbitrary norm or illegalities designed by Mr. Dumbuya or any of his subalterns to undermine democratic institutions and practices. Neither the Registrar nor you, Ms. Pratt has any instrument on which you could stand in excluding me from participating in any meeting. At issue here is the continued violation of my academic rights of which you Ms. Pratt is now a party,” Prof. Abdullah wrote to Memunatu Pratt and the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya.

Following the evolving controversy, the SSRC has resolved to postpone the workshop and there are now concerns that this would result to sour relations with Fourah Bay College.

Observers say this latest development will also have severe impacts on the University’s relationship with other partner institutions around the world.

A lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies expressed anger over the action of Memunatu Pratt and the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya on the matter saying that the SSRC’s decision to postpone the workshop is not good for the University of Sierra Leone.

“The University must respect academic freedom and standards and it must address the case of Prof. Abdullah,” he said.

Professor Abdullah is one of Africa’s leading contemporary historians and also renowned conflict scholar in West Africa. Between 2002-2004, he was awarded a prestigious SSRC grant as part of his research on issues around the conflicts of the 1990s in West Africa.

Since January 2016, he has been engaged in a protracted struggle against university administrators at Fourah Bay College over decline in teaching and learning standards in the University of Sierra Leone. University authorities retaliated against his open criticisms of the current status of the university by suspending his salary and took an illegitimate decision to revoke his tenured professorial position. The case has drawn national and international attention with several petitions sent to the president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma who technically serves as the head of the University of Sierra Leone.

In early April 2016, an international conference of academics meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi described Prof. Abdullah’s case as a violation of national and international laws relating to academic freedom and justice.

“We believe that Professor Ibrahim Abdullah, a distinguished scholar of high international repute, raised questions of academic standards because of his deep commitment to his university and country,” they said in a letter sent to Sierra Leone president through the Council for the Development of Social Science Research (CODESRIA) on April 20, 2016.

Report on Ekundayo Thompson’s Amazon Findings

 

 

 

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.

The investigation report uncovered evidence that challenges both the validity of Thompson’s qualifications and his promotion. The findings, which are contained in the above report entitled “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?

 

 

Corruption in the Sierra Leone Academe: Who is Ekundayo J. D. Thompson?

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.

International Pressure Continues in Defense of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah

The case of the revered Sierra Leonean academic, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah continues to attract serious international concerns. The latest have come from an international conference of African academics that recently met in Lilongwe, Malawi under the auspices of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) to discuss the state of intellectual freedom in Africa over the last twenty-five years.

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Letter from the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) to Sierra Leone’s President Koroma, raising concerns about Dr. Abdullah’s dismissal.

CODESRIA said it learnt with shock and sadness the developments surrounding “the termination of the appointment of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah” in a letter addressed to President Ernest Bai Koroma.

 

“Participants at this conference, academics from univer
sities and other institutions of higher learning f
rom 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,” they said in the letter to President Koroma.

 

The group requested President Koroma, who equally serves as the Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, to intervene and address the violation of Professor Abdullah’s employment rights.

“Professor Abdullah has suffered this fate because of his critical stance regarding falling academic standards in this once proud institution,” they said.

There has been continuous international and national outrage since news of Professor Abdullah’s unfair treatment by university authorities emerged several months ago. Professor Abdullah was the only tenured professor with a PhD in History in the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College. He is considered one of Africa’s leading contemporary historians whose seminal scholarly work offered tremendous insight into working class and youth development in West Africa. Over the last couple of years, he had openly spoken against declining teaching and learning standards in the University of Sierra Leone to the displeasure of certain officials in the University administration. International and national protests followed efforts by university authorities to revoke his tenured appointment. Repeated calls on President Koroma and educational authorities in Sierra Leone to respect employment rights have fallen on deaf ears.

In April, some 40 former students of the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College, who were taught by Professor Ibrahim Abdullah, wrote to Acting Vice Chancellor, Ekundayo Thompson, urging a speedy closure to the long drawn saga involving the eminent academic and the college administration. Thompson is believed to be the main character behind Professor Abdullah’s unfair treatment.

“We hereby write to register our utter dismay and outright disappointment at the unfair treatment of Prof. Abdullah by the administration. As his former students, we would like to inform you that Prof. Abdullah is considered by those of us he taught as the tutor who created an ever-lasting impression on our young minds; someone we still look up to today. He is the most respected academic in the History and African Studies Department of Fourah Bay College,” they stated in a letter of protest sent to Thompson in early April.

A similar petition was sent earlier this year by a group of respected academics to the Chancellor of the University, President Ernest Bai Koroma, urging him to intervene in the matter, which many now believe does not serve the interest of academic excellence in the country. CODESRIA, the latest to add its voice on the matter, stated that Professor Abdullah’s case constitutes a violation of fundamental provisions of the Constitution of Sierra Leone and other provisions of international law that the country is obligated to, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

“We believe that Professor Ibrahim Abdullah, a distinguished scholar of high international repute, raised questions of academic standards because of his deep commitment to his university and country,” they said.

The Crisis of Fourah Bay College: A Background on the Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah Case by Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

The matter between Fourah Bay College and Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah is still on the desk of Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone and the chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone. For several months now, Prof. Abdullah’s request for the intervention of the president to resolve the matter between himself and the Fourah Bay College administration appears to have fallen on the trashcan of the presidency. Under Sierra Leone’s educational system, Ernest Koroma serves as chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone. Despite mounting national and international condemnations of the unfair treatment meted out against Prof. Abdullah by administrators of Fourah Bay College, who have suspended his salary and now threaten to terminate his employment, educational authorities in Sierra Leone, including the president, continue to treat his matter with contempt.

Prof. Abdullah’s letter of complaint to President Koroma (sent precisely on January 27, 2016) clearly details the background of the controversy between him and Fourah Bay College. It points directly to the reason(s) why some in the administration, particularly the Acting Vice Chancellor, Ekundayo Thompson, and Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya, are bent on running Prof. Abdullah out of the university.  University records clearly reveal that Prof. Abdullah’s matter started some three years ago (in November 2013) when he sent a letter to the previous and succeeding heads of the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College. The letter in question raised a number of issues related to professional conduct, academic standards, allocation of courses, and lack of preparation for the introduction of new courses in his department. There was no proof of any official response to the said letter, which was copied to the current Acting Vice Chancellor and the Registrar. A subsequent meeting that was held between Prof. Abdullah and the Acting Vice Chancellor (on Abdullah’s request to discuss the issues raised in the correspondence) could also not address the concerns of academic excellence that he (Prof. Abdullah) had raised in his letter to the heads of his department.

A year later when the university administration decided to look into the matter, Prof. Abdullah’s concerns were never included in the subject of the discussion. University administrators instead initiated an illegitimate process to change the terms of his employment from a permanent and pensionable position to a temporary one-year appointment. Prof. Abdullah challenges the basis of the illegal decision and rejected the offer. The administration then claimed that Prof. Abdullah’s employment was “irregular” and had to be “investigated.” They eventually established, in an unprecedentedly hurried manner, a sub-committee to supposedly investigate Prof. Abdullah for a possible re-appointment.

Before its commencement, two members of the said sub-committee reportedly declined to participate on the grounds of obvious procedural violation, which the said “investigation” had occasioned. According to the Universities Act of 2005, a university lecturer can only be dismissed on grounds of “infirmity, criminality, and failure or inability of the person to perform his/her functions.” None of the said conditions apply to Prof. Abdullah’s situation. The conditions of service for senior staff of the University of Sierra Leone also stipulate that the positions of associate professors are “permanent, irrevocable, and pensionable.”

Prof. Abdullah had worked at Fourah Bay College for twelve consecutive years since 2004. He was officially promoted in 2006 to the position of Associate Professor of History and, a year later in 2007, was asked to head the Department of History and African Studies, a request he declined.

Despite the non-participation of two of its members, the said sub-committee, constituted by the Acting Vice Chancellor and the Registrar, to look into the alleged irregularities of Prof. Abdullah’s employment, handling of the situation is an obvious breach of university regulation.

“I found it shocking, insulting and extremely unjust that after twelve years of committed and selfless service to the university, the Acting Vice-Chancellor would question the legality of my employment,” Prof. Abdullah categorically stated in his letter to the president.

At a meeting with Prof. Abdullah held on January 26, 2016, Ekundayo Thompson, the Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, is recorded to have stated that Prof. Abdullah’s appointment was “irregular” and that he (Thompson) was out to “correct” the said “irregularity,”which he claimed, was allegedly commissioned by the previous university registrar, Mr. E. T. Ngandi.

Ngandi had since retired in 2012 and was replaced by Sorie Dumbuya, a staunch ruling party supporter, who was appointed as University Registrar the same year by President Ernest Bai Koroma. University records, however, indicate that the action against Prof. Abdullah, especially the manner in which his employment is about to be invalidated, remained unprecedented in the history of the University of Sierra Leone.

“My appointment has never been subjected to a renewal since I started working in the university,” Prof. Abdullah said, adding that, “there is no official explanation regarding the charges against me or any presentation of the evidence adduced to warrant their unjust actions.”

At a recent event at Njala University, Prof. Ernest Ndomahina, the Vice Chancellor and Principal of that university, was quoted to have said that professors are “endangered species” in Sierra Leone. He was making a call for the extension of the retirement age for professors who, he said, are very few in the country. University records confirmed that there are fewer than thirty professors in the country.

Many have, therefore, wondered why university administrators at Fourah Bay College, a hugely under-staffed academic institution, would want to dismiss one of its most qualified professors at a time when other university administrators in the country are calling for prolongation of the retirement age for professors.  In a recent petition to President Koroma, a group of eminent scholars from around the world stated that, “the move by the university administrators to terminate (Prof. Abdullah’s) employment suggests that they do not fully appreciate his stature as a scholar of international standing or his admirable commitment to fostering academic excellence.”

Independent accounts from Fourah Bay College have blamed the decision to invalidate Prof. Abdullah’s employment on the head of the Acting Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ekundayo Thompson. Thompson was awarded a doctorate degree in education twelve years ago in 2004 (the same year he turned 60 years old), and six years later, he was unprecedentedly promoted to the position of professor in 2010. He was subsequently appointed by President Ernest Koroma to head the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) and then made Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone thereafter. Some long-serving professors in the university have expressed severe concerns on the meteoric rise of Thompson in the university, expressing worries over his competence and qualifications to head the University of Sierra Leone.

“A vice chancellor must have, at least, twenty years of academic experience after his or her terminal degree, and this is clearly absent in the case of Ekundayo Thompson, whose doctorate degree was awarded in 2004,” some professors have complained.  Many people saw Thompson’s appointment as part of a tradition of political nepotism that rewards ruling party members and staunch supporters with strategic institutional appointments. The central government practice of staffing the university with ruling party adherents contributes to the problems affecting the University of Sierra Leone in recent years (especially since Koroma assumed power in 2007).

During a recent convocation ceremony at Fourah Bay College, Thompson was widely quoted to have publicly demanded, from ruling party politicians, additional “extra-ordinary powers” to enable him deal with, what he referred to as, “errant lecturers” at the university. Many lecturers believed the said statement proved Thompson is a politician instead of an academic, meaning he has the potential to undermine academic freedom in the university.

Since his appointment as Acting Vice Chancellor, Thompson presided over a rising environment of decline in the university’s educational standards. A growing climate of progressive campus disorder now prevails at Fourah Bay College and the other constituent campuses of the university. Poor service conditions for lecturers and irregular payment of salaries, lack of adequate lecture halls and learning facilities, an ongoing crisis of student’s welfare and registration difficulties are all characteristics of the University of Sierra Leone under Ekundayo Thompson.

The case of Prof. Abdullah came at a time when the crisis of Fourah Bay College, and the entire University of Sierra Leone, has reached monumental levels; the climax in a plethora of contradictions plaguing higher education in Sierra Leone today.  A week ago, angry students from Fourah Bay College took to the streets and stormed the gates of the State House in Freetown. They demanded the intervention of the president to resolve the welfare crisis and registration difficulties they faced on campus. The president’s office responded swiftly to the situation: armed police blocked the students at the entrance of the State House. Journalists who were covering the protests, from a local television station, later alleged that armed officers who restricted them access to the students assaulted them.

A press release from the president’s communications unit, released a day later, claimed that a resolution was reached with the protesting students. The State House press release reported that the students’ concerns had been addressed. But it later emerged that the said meeting, held behind the curtains of the president’s office, never included the representatives of the “militant students” who were seeking acknowledgement from the president. The protesting students had included, in their list of demands, the case of Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah among the issues they wanted the president to address. The State House press release, which claimed to have resolved the concerns of the university, made no mention of the perennial problems of teaching, research and the issues of academic professionalism, which are at the very the heart of the Fourah Bay College crisis.

Reliable sources later revealed that Dr. Minkailu Bah, Koroma’s choice of Education Minister since 2007, substituted the leadership of the protestors with members of another group he had handpicked from the National Union of APC Students (NUAS), the student organization of Koroma’s governing party.

For much of the period that Koroma had been in power, students of Fourah Bay College – and nearly all other institutions of higher education in the country – have been prevented from undertaking student union activities on campus. Ruling party politicians and university authorities have undermined all efforts to have a functioning student union government on the campus. Students alleged that university authorities, in alliance with ruling party politicians, have frustrated all previous efforts to genuinely elect an independent student union leadership. For several years now, the students’ hostels at Fourah Bay College have remained closed and decrepit; a decision, students alleged, forms part of the apparent efforts to undermine the opportunity for students’ mobilizations on campus. There are also allegations that Koroma’s ruling party built the capacity of the student wing of the governing All Peoples Congress (APC) in place of the independent student union movement in the country. They alleged that members of the ruling party’s student wing have been installed by the Education Minister as heads of the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS), the umbrella organization of student organizations in the country.

On February 24, 2015 (during the Ebola outbreak) a group of concerned students sent a letter to President Koroma decrying the Education Minister’s imposition of an illegitimate student union leadership on NUSS (the National Union of Sierra Leone Students). They complained that many in the current leadership are no longer enrolled in the University of Sierra Leone or any of the other institutions of higher education in the country as required by the constitution of the organization. In the letter, the concerned students informed the president that they had sent a letter to the Education Minister challenging the “legality of the said executive” and the violations of the NUSS constitution.

“The minister did not engage us on the issues raised,” they complained, adding that, “we remain downcast that no response has yet come from him regarding our concern.”

Since 2007, when President Koroma assumed power, the country continues to witness an accelerated decline in the standard of education. Primary and secondary school students have performed poorly on public examinations since 2010. In 2015, less than five thousands students, out of a total of over twenty-three thousands nationally, who took the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations qualified for university admission; a factor blamed on the poor quality of teaching in schools. The education ministry has not focused on addressing these fatalities in the educational sector. Since 2010, the education ministry remained trapped in a controversy over the approvals and payments of backlog salaries of thousands of teachers across the country. Citizens have continually expressed serious reservations against Koroma’s choice of Education Minister.

Dr. Minkailu Bah, a lecturer at Fourah Bay College, has been at loggerheads with teachers and lecturers across the country since his appointment. In 2011, the Fourah Bay College’s Academic Staff Association (ASA) forced a shutdown of the university for a whole semester over the government’s refusal to address demands for pay increases and better conditions of services for lecturers. In the case of Prof. Abdullah, however, the ASA ignored the case and chose to remain silent on the matter. Independent investigations reveal that the leadership of the association appears afraid to confront the administration and the central government on the matter for fear of losing housing and other benefits accorded to its leaders.

In downtown Freetown also, President Koroma, has closed his eyes on the problems of the educational sector: despite the continuous public complaints against the Education Minister and the continuing decline in educational standards, the president has left Dr. Minkailu Bah untouched in the many cabinet changes he announced in recent times. He has also not accorded the case of Prof. Abdullah its required attention. Despite the ongoing requests from national and international groups, President Koroma has done nothing to help protect and restore Prof. Abdullah’s right to employment.

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Chernoh Alpha M. Bah is a writer and political activist in Sierra Leone. He is Chairman of the African Socialist Movement (ASM) and author of “The Ebola Outbreak in West Africa: Corporate Gangsters, Multinationals & Rogue Politicians”.

The War Against Academic Freedom: FBC and the case of Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah 

Fourah Bay College (FBC), a constituent college of the University of Sierra Leone, has reached the breaking point. Yet, the college’s latest predicaments have nothing to do with the usual issues of students’ welfare or unaffordable tuition fees. This time, the stakes are far higher and directly relate to integrity and survival of the University of Sierra Leone. There is a war against academic excellence and academic freedom going on. A few weeks ago, this matter was brought to the attention of the world when a group of reputable academics from across the world (including from every major university in Europe, America, and Africa) sent a petition to Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone. The president, under the current educational arrangement, serves as the chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone and is responsible for the appointment of senior officials at the university, including the vice chancellor. The petition decried an evolving climate of repression against progressive academics throughout the country.

 
It came at the heels of acts of injustice committed against Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah, one of Africa’s foremost contemporary historians, whose employment unfairly, and without due process, faces the threat of termination by university administrators at Fourah Bay College. Until recently, Prof. Abdullah was the only tenured professor with a PhD in history in the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College. In a letter sent to President Koroma, Prof. Abdullah’s colleagues protested against an unfair threat of dismissal and insulting treatment against him; calling him “a brilliant and well known historian.” They informed President Koroma that Prof. Abdullah’s “research and publications have made seminal contributions to the understanding of working class and youth development, culture and politics in West Africa.”

 
This group of academics stated they are “deeply shocked that a disagreement over the allocation of courses in his department” was used by the university to unjustifiably change the employment conditions of Prof. Abdullah from a tenured and pensionable position to a year’s contract. Prof. Abdullah challenges the basis for such a repressive treatment and obviously refuses to submit to the unprincipled conduct and coercive attitude of the administration’s officials. The college’s officials remain reluctant to address the merit of his protest – the inviolable rights of academics to independently choose and administer their own courses. Instead, they summarily suspended his salary and threatens to dismiss him from the university.Prof. Abdullah has sent his complaint to the president’s office, hoping for a redress, but the matter had lingered for months without a resolution.

 
In past years, since he assumed power in 2007, Ernest Koroma had personally intervened in disputes involving trade unions and other social organizations across the country, including leadership disputes of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA). In 2012, a conflict between angry youths and police officers that led to the deaths of two people in the eastern parts of Freetown, for example, was only settled by the arrival of the president at the scene of the riots. Meetings with the president had also settled similar events involving motorcyclists and anti-riot police in Freetown in 2014 (during the Ebola outbreak). The case of Prof. Abdullah appears to be treated differently, despite his justified protest and the complaints of his international colleagues; the president’s office and the education ministry have all deliberately treated the matter with contempt.

 
There seems to be only one option now left open for Prof. Abdullah: pursuing a legal matter against administrators of Fourah Bay College and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Education. But going to court against appointed officials of a government that appears willing to allow the violation of individual freedoms of its citizens is a difficult battle to win. The fact is that hopes for a fair trial and justice are slim at the courts in Freetown. A case of injustice of this nature (especially one that involves a progressive academic and uncompromising scholar like Abdullah) is certainly bound to drag on for months on end, consuming resources and energy for years with no results.

 
Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah’s academic work and scholarly influence transcend the borders of Sierra Leone and the confines of the dilapidated administrative offices and rundown lecture halls of Fourah Bay College, the oldest western-style institution of higher learning in Africa south of the Sahara. Fourah Bay College, built in 1827 by evangelists, was considered Sierra Leone’s most prestigious learning center, but administrative corruption and political nepotism in recent decades (central government staffing the university with ruling party members and staunch supporters) have all contributed to decline in standards of teaching and learning. Allegations of sexual harassment against female students, bribery, academic injustice and scholarly favoritism are among the rampant reports of misconduct within Fourah Bay College today. Questions have also been raised about the professional qualifications of certain lecturers. Some professors have complained that junior undergraduate degree holders are eventually employed by university administrators to administer courses on grounds of favoritism without due consideration of merit. Nearly all departments at FBC have lacked running academic journals for several years now.

 
Prof. Abdullah is on record being critical of the state of the university, and has openly spoken against the decline of teaching and learning standards on the campus since his employment in 2004. Prof. Abdullah left a tenured-track job and returned to Sierra Leone at the height of the rebel war in 1997 – arriving on the eve of the infamous coup of May 25, 1997, that overthrew the government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah at a time when nearly every other Sierra Leonean academic had fled the country. As a well-known scholar and vocal academic, Prof. Abdullah had taught in universities in Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and the United States before returning to Sierra Leone to assist in the development of higher education at the University of Sierra Leone.

 

Over the decades, Prof. Abdullah has been noted for his passion for academic excellence in his research and teachings. His courses are known for introducing students to emerging scholarship in African studies. His presence at Fourah Bay College was considered by academics from across the world as instrumental to the resurrection of the image and credibility of Fourah Bay College, an institution starved of qualified academics and pedagogic quality.

 
In the twelve years that he has served at Fourah Bay College, Prof. Abdullah was considered the foremost academic in his department by students whom he taught and inspired. In recent years, he was promoted from a senior lecturer to associate professor and was even asked to head the History and African Studies Department. “It would be a travesty of justice to allow the administrators of the university to terminate his career or tarnish his hard-earned academic reputation,” the international academic community stated in the letter to President Koroma.

 
His colleagues also said, “the move by the university administrators to terminate his employment suggests that they do not fully appreciate his stature as a scholar of international standing or his admirable commitment to fostering academic excellence.” This is exactly the case. The documentary evidence on the matter between Prof. Abdullah and Fourah Bay College clearly demonstrate an atmosphere of envious hostility. Independent accounts testify that Prof. Abdullah always had professional issues with the university administration, and that some in the administration were uncomfortable with his open criticisms of the way the university operates.

 
As Prof. Abdullah’s matter sits on the table of the president’s office, another case involving the administration of Fourah Bay College has also been brought to the attention of the president: students have complained of unfair registration rules and the deplorable conditions of student welfare on campus; they threatened to demonstrate if their complaint is not addressed immediately. The president’s office has reportedly singled out the students’ complaint for a resolution. The swift decision to act is obviously due to the potential political implications for the State House and the presidency. But the case of Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah with the Fourah Bay College administration, the Office of the President, and the Education Ministry, is gathering dust on the president’s desk despite the calls by Prof. Abdullah and the international academic community for a resolution.

 

 
Chernoh Alpha M. Bah is a writer and political activist in Sierra Leone and chairman of the African Socialist Movement (ASM). He is the author of “The Ebola Outbreak in West Africa: Corporate Gangsters, Multinationals & Rogue Politicians”.