NUGS and the making of GETFUND

NUGS Logo National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS) logo

Thu, 8 Feb 2018 Source: James Kofi Annan

The Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) is 18 years this year. I am proud that I played a leading activist role in its establishment. It is important, at this time, that we remind ourselves of the role the Mmobrowa Struggle played in the Fund’s establishment.

The Mmobrowa Struggle was a period in the lives of the universities in Ghana when we mounted sustained agitations against the introduction of academic facility user fees (AFUF), as well as residential facilities user fees (REFUF). Yours truly, Simpa Panyin, was the field marshal for the mobilization of radical agitators, leading efforts towards defying security oppression, to demand what we believed was our rights to higher education.

University education had been free, until the year 1994 when fresh students were forced to pay GHC4.5, as academic facility user fees. A couple of years later, the universities decided to introduce another fee, residential facilities user fees, and kept increasing both fees unreasonably.

Prior to the Mmobrowa Struggle, we had a generation of National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS) leadership in the persons of Haruna Iddrisu (the current Minority leader in Parliament), Mahamed Amin Anta (the current Deputy Minister of Energy), and Joseph Adongo (I don’t know where he is now), who led students in putting up fierce protests across the country, to resist the imposition of fees.

The highlight of that generation was the introduction of the Mmobrowa Struggle during the presidency of Emmanuel Agyei Domson. Mmobrowa was a term that was introduced by the then SRC President of the University of Ghana, Nii Narku Dowuona. It meant the poorest of the poor. Our message was that we were poor, and therefore could not pay the fees being introduced.

As was expected, I became a lead sponsor of the struggle, knowing that the introduction, and the increase in those fees, were a threat to my university education. I was then the Secretary to the NUGS Intelligence and Research Committee, with Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah, as the Chair. Those were the days when NUGS was a fearsome organization.

Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah (now Professor) and I have had our student leadership tied to each other for several years. I was elected to the University of Ghana General Assembly while in level 200. A year later, both Professor Amponsah-Tawiah and I were elected President and Secretary, respectively, to the Legon Hall JCR. Professor Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah was later elected as the National Coordinating Secretary of NUGS, while I got elected as the National Programs Officer, continuing from where we left off.

I have been quite unhappy with how the front of NUGS has been broken, politicized, and made nearly redundant. Part of the problem has certainly been internal. But the greater part has been the attempt by the two major political parties, NPP and NDC, to influence the leadership of the union.

At the time, the government of Ghana, in the face of all the struggles and agitations of universities in Ghana, was looking for solutions to the mountain challenge of funding university education, and subsequently quelling agitations. Our predecessors had, on several occasions, proposed the establishment of an educational trust fund, but this had been rejected, over and over again, by both the universities and the government.

And that is why I will like to pay a special tribute to Professor Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah, for the role he played in helping the student body provide proof, that the establishment of GETFUND was possible.

The National Union of Ghanaian Students had set up a Sub-committee (the Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah Committee) under the NUGS Research and Intelligence Committee. Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah was made the Chairman, with me as the Secretary. Our mandate was simple, to produce a research evidence that proves that the establishment of the Ghana Education Trust Fund was feasible, and was viable.

We travelled the length and breadth of Ghana, visiting nearly every university in the country. We walked long distances, we faced rejections in public offices, in search of information.

Even before the Amponsah-Tawiah Committee report could be released, the then Minister of Education, Ekow Spio-Garbrah, had called for a university PTA meeting, at the Teachers Hall in Accra. That was the first time we ever heard, that there is something called university PTA. Apparently the Minister was trying to pre-empt our committee’s report, by organizing a charade PTA meeting, bringing some rich parents to attend, and for the charade PTA attendees to announce, that, parents have agreed to pay whatever fees that the government was charging university students.

For some reason Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah and myself had intercepted the government’s PTA plan, and filtered it to Legon SRC. As lead strategists of the struggle, we succeeded in pushing a self-representative agenda, arguing that many of us students were our own parents, paying our own fees, and therefore had the rights to represent ourselves, at that so-called PTA meeting.

But knowing that Kofi Boakye and his Striking Force men would be deployed at the venue, to prevent students from entering the venue of the event, we inspired every student who wished to attend the PTA meeting, to put on an old-school cloth, and to ensure that he naturally looked like a parent.

The meeting started at 1pm, with a long speech from Ekow Spio-Garbrah, as to why the government is forced to introduce new university fees, and to increase the existing ones. After the Minister was done, he began inviting contributions from the audience. The first person to be called, to contribute, was a known advocate for fee-paying university education, and as expected, this woman spoke profusely in favor of paying fees.

NUGS anticipated this, so before the woman could complete her contribution, we quickly deployed our plan B. As many student-turned-parents as possible formed a long queue, forcing the Minister to follow the queue formed, in inviting parents to contribute to the discussion. Subsequently, all those who were called to make contributions were those of us students who had dressed as though we were parents.

I have always had a grey hair, since secondary school, so it was easy for me, to look old, spotting my late uncle’s Nkyonkyo, with my hard haired legs. The ladies spotted puffed kaba, flowing slit, and many shades of scarf.

Speaker upon speaker condemned the introduction of the fees. The Minister was forced to close the meeting, just under one hour into the scheduled three-hour program, the power we had huh?

A few weeks later, we released the Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah report, which then became the center of the national discussions towards providing a solution to the problem of funding tertiary education. Included in the recommendations of the Amponsah-Tawiah report was the organization of a National Forum on education financing. The Minister of Education quickly organized the forum, as recommended in the report, and a few months thereafter, a draft Bill was in Parliament for the establishment of the GETFUND, as recommended in the Amponsah-Tawiah report.

Yesterday I set myself up with Professor Amponsah-Tawiah, on the phone, for nearly an hour, discussing life, and how far it has brought us. He is currently the only Occupational Health Psychologist in Ghana, and works as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School.

As the discussion raged, I felt the pain in his voice, the misuse of the GETFUND, and the deviation of the application of the FUND from its original intentions. It feels as though we endured spray bullets and tear gas for nothing. People put in place to administer the FUND, are now enriching themselves, issuing useless contracts to themselves, and giving out unmerited scholarships, cronyism, politicization, and corruption, are all what has engulfed what we fought for.

We have GETFUND now giving scholarships to people to study Dress-Making, and Typewriting, in UK. We have GETFUND Coordinators traveling all over the world for nothing, paying themselves big allowances, and incurring the FUND big expenses in hotel and flight bills.

In the face of the establishment of GETFUND, which had the primary aim of making tertiary education affordable for students, we currently have some students paying as high as GHC15,000 per year, in fees, at public universities. Recently I saw the result of an SHS graduate who scored A1 in series, and yet could not access tertiary education. He could not go to the university because his parents could not afford the fees. Such people, are the reason we fought to establish GETFUND.

Our struggle might have looked failed, but posterity has our back.

Columnist: James Kofi Annan