Scores of final-year students at the Navrongo Senior High School (NAVASCO) in the Upper East region have been sent back home with police assistance and until further notice after they refused to take their breakfast and lunch Tuesday.
The students, who are said to have begun with the practical tests of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), went on open hunger strike in protest against some “unfair treatment” allegedly handed them by one of the school’s dining hall masters, Emmanuel Navorose.
The unease that led to the indefinite eviction of the students is reported to have begun Tuesday morning after some of the final-year students were prevented by the dining hall master from entering the hall for a porridge breakfast because they were dressed in mufti. The said students reportedly declined to do what was expected- to change into the accepted outfits- and rather passed their cups through the windows to their suitably dressed mates in the hall to have their cups filled on their behalf.
They became frustrated after the dining hall master foiled that move by declaring that no food would leave the hall, stressing “One student, one cup”. He allegedly then reached for a cane, flogged some of the plain-clothed students for teasing at him and poured the food back into the big porridge cans. Angered and in solidarity with their frustrated comrades, the students inside the hall also rejected the meal and staged a walkout.
And when the bell rang hours later for lunch, they all refused to put in an appearance at the dining hall for the rice prepared, still looking very furious about the morning incident. The headmistress, Francisca Yizura, dispatched members of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) to the aggrieved students, anxiously expecting a positive outcome; but the delegation returned to her office, saying they were stoned. Brave teachers, who reportedly were sent to the fuming students to bring back good results, returned sooner than expected to confirm to their boss that the students were not approachable. A face-to-face dialogue the Kassena-Nankana Municipal Director of Education, Anne Estella Kyeebo, had with the agitated students did not work, either.
Police storm school premises
The municipal director reportedly held a meeting behind closed doors with the staff of the school and soon after the meeting was over police officers stormed the premises to evacuate the angry students from their dormitories. The outcome of the meeting convened by the municipal director averted what sources say could have been too much to handle for authorities at the school.
Tuesday’s ejection of the students threw many of them off balance, with those from afar the most affected and not sure where to turn as commercial drivers cashed in on the development, conveying the evicted students and their belongings from the school’s gates to the centre of the town.
“It is still so pathetic here for some of the students from afar. After 10:00pm last night, some of the students were still hanging around the school’s gates and in the Navrongo Township, looking for accommodation. I together with another journalist, Alfred Kutajera, spotted a group of students who were from Kumasi, looking for accommodation at all costs. Even those from nearby areas like Sandema and Bawku couldn’t immediately leave. Within this period, one would ask where these students are going to be as some have started their practical examinations.
“However, some of the students were not showing remorse when they were packing out of the school. The prefects are not affected. They were not sent away. The police passed the night there because they didn’t know what would happen,” George Pwadura, a freelance journalist at Navrongo, told Starr News Wednesday morning.
The headmistress of the school, who did not pick the telephone calls Starr News placed to her before filing this report, is reported to have announced that a committee would be set up to unravel the cause of the disturbances. Starr News also contacted the dining hall master at the centre of the disturbances but he strongly declined to speak on the telephone. The Upper East Regional Director of Education, Jane Sebina Obeng, told Starr News she was outside the region as of the time the conflict erupted and that she had been duly informed about it by the director in charge of the municipality. The municipal director disclosed that the fate of the evacuated students would be determined when the regional director returned to the region.
Previous student riots in Upper East
At least 8 of the 32 senior high schools in the region were involved in student unrests that prompted a temporary closure of 7 of them between December 2014 and February 2016.
They include the Bolgatanga Senior High School, the Bawku Senior High School, the Sandema Senior High School, the Bolgatanga Technical Institute, the Awe Senior High School, the Zamse Senior High Technical School, the Fumbisi Senior High School and the Zuarungu Senior High School. Most of the unrests coincided with promotion or mock examination weeks. Riot-induced breaks have continued to punch huge gaps in the instructional timetable, taking a serious toll on the region where tumbling educational standards already have remained a major plague.
Barely a week after the Bolgatanga Technical Institute (BOTECH) was temporarily shut down in July, 2016, following students’ riot and hunger strike, the Bawku Technical Institute (BAWTECH), too, was closed down for similar reasons.
Police officers came under a hail of stones from the rioting students at BAWTECH as the law enforcers tried to quell the uprising.
The students had unleashed massive protests and declared a hunger strike to avert the transfer of a vice principal, Jacob Feli, soon after it was announced that he had been promoted to the rank of a Director of Education. The students refused to let go of the vice principal, saying he was a great mentor. They took to the highway that joins Bawku to neighbouring Togo, obstructing traffic amid deafening chants: “Our Vice Principal is going nowhere!”
A week earlier, BOTECH had been rocked by a riot after a first-year student fell to his death from a three-storey dormitory during a midnight stampede. The rush had been provoked by a sudden scream of fire outbreak from nowhere in the building. The angry students, numbering about 1,500, who blamed the tragedy on the crumbling state of the dormitory, staged wild protests and accompanied it with hunger strike as they cried for immediate renovation of the building.
An entire Zamse Senior High Technical School (ZAMSTECH) was temporarily closed down last year in the regional capital after students vandalised school property, reportedly attacked teachers and looted the school’s computer laboratory after authorities had kicked against their proposal to study through the night on campus. About 30 students were arrested for a variety of offences after the police took firm charge of the premises. A timely intervention by the Builsa South Assembly avoided another riot that could have brought about an indefinite closure to the Fumbisi Senior High School in 2016 over students’ dissatisfaction with some developments at the institution.