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Top university bans open-air political rallies and meetings ahead of poll

In a move to control unruly student participation in politics, the authorities at the University of Ghana have banned all open-air political rallies, congresses and conventions ahead of a December general election. Student leadership is closely aligned to political parties in Ghana.

A circular signed by the registrar, JM Budu, said: “No open-air propagation of political messages through public address systems will be permitted on the campus.” The reason was to “ensure that academic work and peace on campus is not compromised”.

This has not gone down well with students.

The Tertiary Education Students’ Confederacy aligned to the main opposition, the New Patriotic Party, and the Tertiary Education Institutions Network of the ruling National Democratic Congress, have called for the ban to be reversed because the decision was “most undemocratic and highly misplaced”.

The groups said they were “of the strongest conviction that it would have been more democratic, appropriate and worthwhile” for the university to have consulted with party representatives on campus, parliamentary candidates contesting constituencies that cover the institution, and the Students Representative Council.

This was “so that we as stakeholders could have come to an amicable arrangement on how the security of students as well as the academic sanctity of students could have been preserved in the run-up to the December elections”, they argued in a statement.

They said the directive highlighted “the unfortunate mentality that politics is inevitably associated with violence and unrest, something intellectuals like us must strive to erode”. The ban was an attempt “to gag the activities of political parties and politicians on campus”.

Off-campus, leaders of the Inter-party Youth Committee, or IPYC – comprising the youth leagues of all major political parties – joined the students in demanding that the ban be lifted.

IPYC Chair Ludwig Hlodze described the university action as an attempt to stifle Ghana’s human resource capital, because the university served as a nursery for political ambitions.

“The duty of universities is not only to train people academically but to also train leaders for this country. Political party wings on campuses are channels for political parties to train young people in various political ideologies, and to give them some sense of leadership at the student level.”

Hlodze also called for dialogue between the university and parties on campus to “iron out issues. Come out with measures and disciplinary codes so that people will conform to them.”

The National Union of Ghana Students, or NUGS, agrees with the efforts of officials to ensure that campuses are not adorned indiscriminately with the posters of parties and candidates, as witnessed in the 2008 general elections.

It said that in order not to disrupt the peace and academic atmosphere on campus, the campaigns of parties and candidates ought to be regulated. In that way, academic activities would not be “comprised through undesirable actions, including unnecessary noise-making, violent behaviour and messing up the environment with trash”.

But the NUGS leadership also said it did not support a total ban on open-air rallies, congresses or conventions, as they would provide opportunities for students to interrogate party policies, manifestos and programmes ahead of the 7 December elections.

The union said the university should not lose sight of the fact that its community played a major role in selecting parliamentarians for the Ayawaso West Wugon constitution. It therefore called on the university to be considerate in policies and directives, and rather to encourage students to be peaceful and make wise decisions in the December polls.
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