The Brave Layout; Sparks Of 𝐓he Rebuilders’ Dream
By: Augustine Diction Bona
𝙎𝙩𝙪𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙐𝙣𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙋𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙩, 𝙁𝙤ur𝙖𝙝 𝘽𝙖𝙮 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙜𝙚, 2019-2020
(Law, LLB FINAL HONS. II)
It was almost dawn, and as the dark cloud paled to the sweeping twilight, the words of my campaign promises, images of the existential perils on campus, and the lamentation of students came rushing at me like arrows from a strange land. The night preceding that morning had Bob Marley’s Redemption song running through my phone on repeat till I was gone. My phone was almost out of life. Much like an abnormal wreck, my heart couldn’t sync with my chest. It was pounding in contemplation of the damage that might occur if things get out of plan. Every rational thought now stemmed from the belt of “what if”, but on each occasion, the lining question of “if not now” hit the former with an assuring response in a reminder of the exigency of time, prudence, and true concerns of students. I stormed the bathroom, did it all so quickly than normal, and strangely, what I was to put on came so easily. I bet my mind was so affixed to the main mission and I couldn’t help but convinced myself for the first time that mere neglect of the twelfth commandment of dress sense wouldn’t take me to hell. It will be counted as one.
The time on my wristwatch was in a world of its own — but my phone’s clock showed something between 6 am to 7 am. It was time to go! I up into the driver’s seat of the white three-seater Honda Pilot which I had used for election campaigns and was still with me because Pa Bona was somehow in love with that Black of that same model. Vangus Foday Bonya Vangahun sat in the passenger’s seat, inspired and ready, just like me.
We arrived at FBC Campus in 45. It was dry-cold. I could tell the harmattan was waving goodbye on that last Thursday morning in January, or maybe it was the perfect gush of the radical breeze with a chill of fine inspirational comfort. The Aureol birds sang to it.
The SU building was in bad shape, but not the parking space I had traditionally allotted myself, just beside the Common Room. I made my way to the SU Building and dashed into an empty conference room, hosting none of those whom we had concretely agreed to be there before 7:30 am. An expectant face dropped. It was a shock, but I wasn’t going to let it dwindle my focus. Vangus and I reached for the Placards and markers, in a bid to start inscribing the messages of the day. We were joined by Eric Lebbie, Ayesha Munu, Linda Daljenya Bull, Marian Pleasant Kargbo, Angelyn Opoku, Esther MASSAH Bockarie, and a few female students, summing the number slightly above fifteen.
The plan was to get things started by 8 am. But at some point, it seemed to me that 9 am was more realistic, especially when the Chairman, the Dictator and a few key individuals were on their way, according to them via phone calls.
It was now a few minutes to 9 am, and the number in the conference hall did not rise to 20. Those on the way were still on their way. Mixed feelings ensued, but the belief that they are probably just cheating on the time as we all sometimes do, and not deliberately attempting to frustrate the move stood chest-up.
At 9 am, the placards were ready, branded in inciting messages we had coined a few days earlier at Cabinet meeting. One read: “Bring Back Our Hostels”, others said something about reduction of tuition fees, Transportation, and more. We were almost set. Excuse for those who were still not with us was a luxury we could no longer afford. “They will join the train later,” was the unspoken position of everyone who looked at me like a positively charged ion.
I called the hall to order. It was grave-muted but highly-spirited. I could trace the echoes of my voice as it faded at the back of the hall down the staircase. It was like an army general, inspiring his soldiers to war, reminding them of all the odds and the things at stake; that it’s either we win or win.
A match of just a few of us wouldn’t create the impact as anticipated; so my last statements in the hall brought forth a sense of direction as to what we’ll do, where we’ll start, the route through which we will move, and then to the traditional oratory ground, Budstick—St. Edwards Garden. Speaking allotments were made: the Minister of Information or his deputy, Linda, MASSAH and then the President.
In the hall, I stood in front of the team. Placards lifted, eyes red and turgid, their facial makeup spoke everything about the depth of their outrage and frustration. I can sketch the contours on their faces. Their determination was raw and just out of this world.
My first step out of the SU Building came lining with a solemnly empathic loud chant that fuelled the lamp in my soul. I’m sure it did to everyone in the haphazard queue. The singer had converted an Auradicals song to fit our fight against social injustice for the day. That Song in its truest Auradicals sense and lyric will leave Comrades emotionally blown in memories, and for some, in tears. I turned back to confirm the voice. It was the Gladmaster Eric De’Visionary of the 43rd Battalion of the Auradicals Entity, doing his job on an unusual day. “Hostellllllls nor Daaaaaeeeee, hostellllllls nor Dae oooooo aaaaaa” he chanted. We responded the same way, out in the open, close to the Amphitheater where piles of students were standing in small groups, certainly waiting for their first class of the day. They were muted in surprise and uncertainty, but more so, feeling Ice-cold by the hit of a song that echoed in the bushes and the hills and on a campus that was just waking up to its duties.
Familiar ears to the song joined the haphazard queue which was slowly turning into an assemblage. Ibrahim, the Assistant Sec. GEN by then intimated the lecturer in charge of an ongoing class on the ground floor of the SU Building, that the SU President wants to talk to his students. Probably, for the fact that even at such a heated moment, we accorded him the respect to permitting us, he smiled and let us in. Maybe his hands were tied. Or maybe not… It was an unsettled class for the first 30 seconds, until the sound of my manly voice which I had upgraded to fit the occasion, days ago, ranged with the opening statement: “My fellow students…” My message was uncoded and in plain political and revolutionary language. The whole class was enthralled at the mention of the hostels, transportation, and the then just increased tuition fees. It was a melody to a song they yearned to dance to. And then the decree: “so for today, there will be no classes on campus. I want you all to walk with me to the length and breathe of this campus, as we assert the point that we are tired, frustrated and we need change and a better shade of welfare for all students.” Somehow, that was the benediction for Mr. Bangura’s class.
Now, it seemed obvious that our message was in the air. Social Media made the most of it. “This will unavoidably attract big media houses”, I said to myself. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see reporters from SLBC, AYV and the others, as things progress. I could smell the perfume of Radio Mount Aureol — the Radio Station at FBC. Their Student Reporters had read the Press Conference notice we put out the day before; they understood the assignment and they were around to get a feel of it. As students, it was their fight too.
We made similar moves to various classes right around the campus, from the SU Building to Arts Building, Chemistry, Kennedy Building, EJ Hall, Engineering, and Law Department. As we did for the SU Class, speeches were delivered to students, except that this time, it wasn’t done just by me. The Dictator AIK and Chairman Sylvester Shaw who had joined us were also very vocal. They helped not just in controlling the crowds, but also in making speeches. I guess it was a conscious plan to preserve me for the ultimate gathering.
Climbing the Harry-Sawyerr Hill for a reach to the Mass Communication building, we came across police vans heavily loaded with policemen. Their dress alone explained how prepared they were to respond to the slightest sniff of violence. It was usual. Not a drop of intimidation fell on us. Without talking to them, We kept our match and chant alive and inspiring. The goal was to wrestle against the forces that had held us in one place for about a decade; not against our fellow students or the buildings or running cars. Our focus was to send a message that we are tired and we can no longer continue like that on campus. If we could only keep it tied to the strategy, no student would have to throw stones or something. It’s was a holy match of disgruntled but saintly students.
The Mass Com students were already outside, standing on their narrow pedestals, with most of them watching down on us from the Mass Com garden. They cheered and joined the crowds. Claudia Redwood-Sawyerr, my Vice President led that batch. Stone was empty, and so too for the Airport. No taxis, no separate groupings. It was a fight for all.
The street was in the embrace of the moment. It harboured the stepping feet of students and the brolly chants of lions. St. Edwards Garden and Bud-stick was our next but not final stop, especially if our needs remained unattended to. It welcomed us in peace.
As predicted, AYV, SLBC and the others showed up in flash vests, bearing their logo and inscriptions. Their cameras were in full swing. Radio democracy had it live, and so too for Marian Pleasant Kargbo who gave live coverage on Facebook. The world was with us.
At St. Edwards Garden, the trending slogan was invariably resounding: “FBC, Let’s Rebuild!” It went before and after every speech. Suliaman Gbla, the Minister of Information was the moderator of the day. Linda Bull was introduced. She spoke with extra rancour as if she had the bruises of maltreatment all over her. She was in Law, Final Honours 2, and had spent 4 years previously studying for a degree in English. Much like the dying heart of eight years in peril. She poured it all on us.
Massah, the controversial feminist, who desperately craved the experience of the hostel life for at least her last year in college, took off with a blaze of lamentation. She was smart in her references. Her body moved in the same direction as her head. She acted every word she said. She badly wished that we all could have beautiful moments in the hostels together. Frustrated but still pressing!
Gbla was running low in volume. There was no PA System. At his final words of introduction for the SU President of FBC, a song arose from the back of the huge crowd: “we glady wae Bona save we…X2, iffe noto be for Bona, na usi we for dae, we glady wae Bona save we.” The energetic Chief Judge Orator Ishmile Isho Kamara (who would go on to replace Shaw as Chairman) and his team were at work. Melody and style were absent, but their voices matched the occasion at equal length. Cacophony had a day to itself.
I was emotionally positioned to do what I was known for. First I fought for medals, now it was for the good of the general students’ populace.
My words came piercing from my heart. I have never been that ready to lose everything, including my highly cherished Law degree, just to get my fellow students what they badly needed; necessities they had time and again asked for with no good reply. That day’s speech brings me showers of tough feelings whenever I run through it. For the first time, I answered the blended call of radicalism and diplomacy. The speech reel ice and spice altogether.
That we will overcome the door-locks of the hostels, distribute rooms to all students wasn’t far from what students expected. At least, that was the image cast. That bravery, however, never blinked green to me. I knew our move was to get a seat at the table, where we can pressure the actual decision-makers to consider the view of the students and make life better for us, on mutual terms that we were committed to helping them achieve this, through every length, in the interest of the students.
And so it was! Meetings after meetings. Interviews after interviews. Day-in-day-out, our mission changed from storming the street of FBC, to searching for solutions and fixing the problems of FBC ourselves, instead of asking and waiting for stillborn miracles.
Three weeks later, the College tuition fees were reduced by 19%; we couldn’t buy new buses but the three FBC Buses were repaired and let loose on the roads to convey students. The SU building was renovated in a month. More delightfully, eleven months after, with undying support and cooperation from the Rebuilders SUG, the Central Government and other development partners, we opened the FBC hostels and made campus residency a breathing reality again.
The whining of those who had come before us was heard in our voices. The past was sent into purgatory. The future clashed with the present; yet, the biggest gift was the hostel to hold. A new dawn was upon us again. The Rebuilders Dream came alive, finally! Finally indeed.
~Augustine Diction Bona
Former Students’ Union President
Fourah Bay College – USL.
14th April, 2022.