Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Much Ado About A Vandal

Their anger must have been bursting at the seams as they sat to deliberate the matter. There must have been a feeling in the room that they were positioned in history to get rid of a perennial irritation that has overgrown the average working life of a Ghanaian. They must have felt righteous in taking a decision that perhaps they had the power to. I presume there might have been a Vandal or two at the round table. Even they, might be tired of the antics of the current generation. Some may even express surprise that the problem has outlived many generations of the powerful Council. The centre piece of the debate and the fiery language in the room was The Vandal. Who is he? He is the occupant of the commonwealth hall of residence on the University of Ghana Campus at Legon. An enigmatic young man whose claim to fame is pushing the boundaries of what many consider as decency and decorum. He may even be the son of one of them. His presence on the campus may be a first step to earning some of the fanciful titles in the academia conspicuously worn by most of them at the round table. But today, he stands accused of heckling the chancellor of the University in the person of Busumuru Kofi Annan, the former Chief of the United Nations Organisation. The Executive Council of Legon has had enough. The meeting has come to a conclusion. The problem of the Vandal City is excess testosterone, it is time to calm the wayward hormone by injecting a dose of Oestrogen and Progesterone. Effective next academic year, the hall which has remained an only male hall for decades will become Coed and will be reserved only for postgraduate students. Ostensibly, the decision was taken to forestall further embarrassment to the University.

If it is just for the purpose of maintaining tradition, I wouldn't care a hoot about lining the wardrobes of Vandal City with skimpy skirts. In fact, that may be the joy of the sons of Bacchus assigned to the Waste Management unit of the hall. The choir master will bear the only complication arising out of the move as he has to decide what to do with the lines in the stupid songs that refer to Volta Hall. Under these conditions the position of the hall anthem becomes untenable and he may have to replace Volta 'Basia' with Vandal 'Basia' in many other songs? I believe traditions should be jettisoned once we have no more use for them. But in this case, I hold the view that the Executive Council's attempt to silence the Vandal tradition is high handed and misplaced. If it was a policy decision with stated aims, one would lend his sympathy. But this is borne out of rage and anger. They are not only hitting a fly with a sledge hammer, but they are doing so at a time the harmer is needed to fix the dining table without which dinner won't be served. There are many more important things in the university which require the intensity of the attention they devoted to the issue not to mention the publicity it generated. For many years the University has been crying for radical and innovating ways of dealing with overcrowding, filth, attracting motivated young lecturers, outmoded courses and a sinking image among African elite Universities. These and other problems which have been nursed and nurtured by various university administrations over the years are the real dent on the image of the university. The stench that hits you in the corridors leading to overused toilet facilities which lack regular flow of water is improperly located at the nation's premier University in the twenty-first century. These problems would welcome some real punch that puts them not only on the front page of our newspapers for days but also on the minds of every Ghanaian until resolved.

There have been no shortages of assaults on Vandalism over the years. Among other things, Vandals have been accused of using profanity in their songs, practicing occultism, and being excessively boisterous; and they cannot totally plead innocence to these charges. Meeting Vandals for the first time is a rude awakening. For many, this happens when they first join the Legon community. The reaction varies. For the Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, Vandalism features highly on the prayer list. I prayed many of such prayers in the hall chapel when I was a bona fide member of the Commonwealth Hall JCR. Don't ask me what I prayed for because I can't be sure that what is happening is not the answer to some of those prayers. For some people, their encounter with Vandalism creates a total revulsion towards the Hall which they carry decades after student life. When such people sit in council over Vandalism, what do you expect? Skin Pain 'sonnnn'. So right from the first year, Vandals are used to being cursed and criticized from within the hall and in the colonies. But I doubt if anybody expected the mega assault ostensibly coming from the Executive Council. The punch is power laden and devastating in two directions. First, they will get rid of all Vandals who presently occupy the hall. Then they will bring in post graduate students who I believe will be sieved to make sure that no ancient Vandal finds his way back to his roots. This is tantamount to robbing the hall of its memory (like an induced computer disk crash). With the memory goes the culture and tradition. This is exactly the kind of solution required to change the bad and damaging cultures in many Ghanaian institutions, the University not excluded. But alas, such a powerful tool used on 'small boys' whose youthful exuberance doesn't endear them to some powerful dons. Secondly, making the hall a graduate hall minimizes the chances of the culture sneaking back through the backdoor. On the average, graduate students spend less time in the University and are occupied with other matters other than building camaraderie in the hall. Within one or two years most are out, and most of that time is spent between lectures, family and work. I don't know who mooted the idea, but his genius can be better deployed elsewhere in the university. Not even the direct assault on the soul of Vandalism, which I suspect was carried out by the Christian fraternity, when the brass statue of the so called Father Bacchus vanished inexplicably in the mid 90s, could be more devastating. This new attack touches the spirit.

Coming from the Christian charismatic circle, I'm aware that the belief that Vandalism is occultism is strong. This belief is fueled by activities that herald the inauguration of the Chief Vandal. Personally, I do not believe that the young men are possessed. It is just a play that goes too far. I have had major challenges with the profane songs. I will never forget the year (93/94) in which I had to abandon my room at the A-Block when the PAWA (Profane Association of West Africa) competition was held at the observatory. In the year that followed, as the hall President, I had to live with about half an hour of profane lyrics anytime I had to Chair a hall meeting. Luckily for me, the music writers were so lazy they never wrote original songs, it was always an adaptation of well known songs. To block my mind from capturing the unwanted lyrics, I always hummed the true words when they get intoxicated with the profanity that flowed freely from the LPs. But I do not believe that these songs or the antics that go with them bring any disgrace to the University. In fact, most of the criticisms of the songs stem from the fact that they are sang in a local language-Twi. I have heard similar descriptions in songs written in English and no eyebrows are raised. I don't know why we are so hypocritical when we speak our local languages. The other day on JoyFm, a young man was accused of raping a girl he had earlier saved from being raped. The word sex was used several times without trouble in the exchanges. When a lady police officer used the same word in twi, some colleagues in the office couldn't repeat it. They had to whisper it to each other. In any case, if profane lyrics merit throwing out thousands of students from a hall, then let's disband the Ghana army. There are many Christian s today who serve in the security services. What songs did they sing when they were in training? Praises and worship? ' Awala'. Oh, and we sang some of those songs in the secondary school too. I recall my days in West Africa Secondary School when we declared ourselves the Jama Lords as we took trophy after trophy in the Interco competition. The only difference then was that most of the songs were in Ga not Twi. Maybe the students should be dismissed.

Admittedly, some of the acts attributed to vandalism are indefensible. You may get away with profane lyrics and call it freedom of expression, gloss over libation and suspected occultism and call it religious freedom, but how do you justify the attempted burning of another hall? What can you say about S..t bombing of colleague students? Try making sense out of nudity in the form of BWT and others on a University Campus. Some of them border on criminality. The good news is that such acts have been internally resisted by decent minded Vandals for decades. Over the years there have been skillful maneuvers to redefine Vandalism from its original meaning (the dictionary vandal ) to an acronym- Vivacious Affable Neighborly Devoted Altruistic and Loyal . As a hall president, I openly took on the chief Vandal over the 'Nibinson & Dibinson' affair for an act that I felt he should have taken responsibility for, though not entirely his fault, in an article titled "Wither Drifts Vandalism?" The Old Vandals Association has had cause to openly reprimand Vandals over excesses. These efforts demonstrate that many of us are on the side of the university council to get rid of the excesses in Vandalism. That is why their decision is a smack in the face of partners they had to uphold. To hurt the bad and the ugly, they didn't care about offending the good.

Bluntly put, these excesses are youthful exuberance wrongly expressed. I want to believe it is the responsibility of the University authorities to mold the young men and women who pass through the university into useful assets for the nation. That is the spirit with which they should engage the Vandals. The university code of ethics is clear. People who breach it, must be identified and dealt with. It sends a very important message to these young men that you're free to express yourself in society as you want, but you must avoid breaking the rules. This is one thing Legon has done quite well in the past. The resort to totalitarianism this time is unnecessary. Throwing these young men out of the hall is defeatist and a sign of failure. It's like a father who throws out a fourteen year old son because he can't rein him in. Many young men will still come into the university with that same energy. In the absence of Vandalism, they will find new outlets to vent them. Rather than rally round a defined group with structures known to all, underground groups may emerge with totally wayward leadership, then will the greatness of this idea to quash Vandalism burst forth. When the university has to deal with ninja style disruption of congregations, they will recall the days of heckling with nostalgia. If anyone thinks it is farfetched, take a look at the gangs that reign in Nigeria's universities. By the way, doesn't Vandalism provide the psychology and sociology departments a good laboratory to study and propound interesting theories about humans? Sounds funny huh?

One cannot also discount the positive attributes of Vandalism in this matter. There are way too many timid Ghanaians. This is partly a result of our upbringing in our educational institutions. You're suppressed and not allowed to express your thoughts if the authorities are not comfortable with them. Instead of engaging you in reason, to show why you are wrong, you are tagged disrespectful and undisciplined. By the time you leave the Vandal city, you learn to express your thoughts without fear or favour. It doesn't matter if your diction is sick or you suffer from vocabulary epilepsy. Nobody cares about the village secondary school you attended or how broke your parents are. We all sit on the green grass and eat Daavi's banku whiles trading ideas, unflattering remarks about each other and anybody, and encouraging each other. Your confidence is fully built by the time you walk out of the place. It is one place to find a family bonding that lasts for years. It is not by co-incidence that for decades, Commonwealth hall has remained the centre of student resistance. Of course, some universities administrators hate their guts. They prefer docile students who will succumb to any poorly constructed policy because they're too scared to speak their minds. Why won't they throw out the Vandals and then Okponglo will follow since the introduction of ladies in that hall didn't succeed in taming anybody, then maybe KNUST will follow with Katanga and so on ….. Is it any surprise the university has almost become a glorified secondary school?

To my younger V-Mates, I say, there is a time to fight and there is a time for diplomacy. This is a time to be really smart and use diplomacy to achieve an end. Disrupting examinations and petulance will only serve to erode all goodwill your course has attracted. Many voices in the land including those from the colonies have screamed in your support. Hopefully, the dons shall see reason. They will not choose the path of creating a monster bigger than what they think you are.

As always, Truth stands!


PS: Is it true the Kwatroit is behind theses wahalas? He is one Don I've admired since childhood o.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Vandalism is ata cross rod. will it die or it will live?


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