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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Columnist: Daniel Osei Wereko BeGreat

Cracks and Crevices: The case of UGSRC legal advisor versus the president - Accra City Campus SRC

Logo of University of Ghana SRC Logo of University of Ghana SRC

For about two years, the University of Ghana SRC has been in the news for the bad reasons. It has gradually become ineffective due to the cracks and crevices that have developed over time.

This is the result of the constant fluid relationships that have existed amongst various stakeholders in student governance. Most of these have led to election-related violence and litigations. The most recent litigation which lasted for over six (6) months has further infested old wounds and opened up cracks within the SRC.

Successfully surviving this ‘political war’, many expected the SRC to heal quickly and get back on sound footing. However, this did not happen.

With a few days for the Prince Asumadu-led administration to leave the scenes of power, yet another crack has been created. This time around the University of Ghana Students’ Representative Council (UGSRC) has dragged the University of Ghana Accra City Campus Local Students’ Representative Council (LSRC) before the SRC Judicial Board. In creating the cracks, the Judicial Board may be viewed as the ‘Cracking Instrument’.

At about 20:56GMT on October 3, 2022, a communication from the University of Ghana SRC read, “Update on Student Leadership at Accra City Campus” was sent to all students informing them of the status of the Local Students’ Representative Council (LSRC) of the Accra City Campus of the University of Ghana’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC). This was officially sent to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs hours before it was communicated.

On seeing this communication, I remembered what exactly it meant and how it started.

This article will not delve much into the politics of the issues but will rather examine the decision of the SRC Judicial Board in the matter of “The Legal Advisor UGSR v The President, Accra City Campus & The Electoral Commission, Accra City Campus, 2022.” Details on the politics and the state of the SRC between 2020 and 2022 are discussed in my over 90 paged article which is set to be released soon.

But now, the Cracks and Crevices!

HOW IT STARTED

In 2020, during the tenure of Isaac Agyemang as the SRC President, the General Assembly then through its Speaker, Emmanuel Owusu Agyei Ampem initiated a process to ‘collapse’ the Accra City Campus chapter of the University of Ghana SRC. According to the proposal then, the laws of the SRC allow for only one SRC, as a result, the Local SRC (LSRC) must cease to exist.

In essence, it was to be reduced or demoted to a Junior Common Room (JCR). This decision was fiercely opposed by the then LSRC administration led by Solomon Ocansey (as the SRC President) and Derrick Agyekum (as Speaker of the LSRC General Assembly).

Their opposition could not stop the University’s Legal Counsel to side with the Central SRC. In a memo dated June 25, 2020, the Legal Counsel of the University argued that the existence of the LSRC was unconstitutional since no two ‘SRCs’ could exist parallel to each other. To be fair to the Isaac Agyemang-led administration, they also inherited from previous administrations the idea of reducing the LSRC to a JCR.

Fast forward to 2022, the Prince Asumadu-led administration through its Legal Advisor filed a suit in the SRC Judicial Board seeking to continue the process of ‘demoting’ the LSRC which was started years ago. He sought the following reliefs,

(a) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of section 30(1) and (2) of the Act 806, section 37(4) of the University of Ghana Statutes (hereafter referred to as the UG Statutes) and articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution, Accra City Campus cannot have a separate Students’ Representative Council other than the one established under the University of Ghana SRC constitution.

(b) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of section 30(1) and
(2) of the Act 806, Section 37(4) of the UG Statutes and articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the SRC Constitution, Accra City Campus should be referred to as Junior Common Room (JCR) or any name other than an SRC.

(c) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of articles 2(a) and
(b) and 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution, article 2(a) and (b) of the City Campus Constitution is null and void.

(d) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of articles 16-25 and 29-41 of the UGSRC constitution, a different set of Executive Officers cannot be elected into office as Accra City Campus “SRC” Executives.

(e) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of articles 2(a) and
(b) and 5(1)(f) of the SRC Constitution, the Electoral Commission of the Accra City Campus cannot purport to conduct elections for the election of persons as Executive members of Accra City Campus “SRC”.

(f) A declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of articles 2(a) and
(b) and 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution, the 2022 constitutional instrument (C.I.) for the conduct of elections for executive officers of the Accra City Campus should be declared null and void to the extent of its inconsistency particularly regulations 1(A)(iii), 1(B)(ii), 2(C), 2(I), 3(A)(iv), 5(B), 5(C) and 5(E).

(g) A declaration that all actions taken by the Accra City Campus executive officers and the Electoral Commission in contravention of articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution are null and void.

(h) Any other consequential order or orders the court deems fit.

(h) Costs


The Addae-Marfo Judicial Board dealt with the plaintiff’s case by raising four legal issues. I will consider dealing with the issues seriatim.

ISSUE ONE

“Whether or not on a true and proper interpretation of section 30(1) and (2) of Act 806, section 37(4) of the University of Ghana Statutes and articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the SRC Constitution, Accra City Campus cannot have a separate Students’ Representative Council other than the one established under the University of Ghana SRC constitution”

The SRC Judicial Board answered this question in the affirmative arguing that the combined effect of the provisions stated in issue one above is that, “students of Accra City Campus shall also be deemed members of the SRC (emphasis is mine). It is therefore an anomaly to see students of the Accra City campus purporting to establish an “SRC” and duly issuing a C.I. to regulate the election of Executives of same. For the foregoing reasons, the Accra City Campus cannot have a separate Students’ Representative Council other than the one established under the University of Ghana SRC constitution.”

It is my considered opinion that the Justices of the Board misunderstood the provisions and as a result gave a bad ruling on this issue. It is erroneous to think that the existence of the LSRC contravenes Section 30(1)(2) of Act 806, Section 37(4) of the Statutes , and Articles 2(a) (b) of the UGSRC Constitution.

The combined effect of all these provisions is that the SRC will exist in unison as a representation of all students. The question the court failed to avert its mind to is whether or not the existence of the LSRC threatens the role or sovereignty of the main SRC or whether its existence creates a parallel SRC?

The answer is No. Rather, it strengthens it the more. To determine whether the LSRC is a threat or otherwise to the main SRC, one must simply look at the operations of the body. Over the period, the LSRC has operated within the remits of article 2 of the SRC Constitution thereby submitting to it and taking instructions from it and participating in its activities.

So, the LSRC is just an extension of the UGSRC and not a different SRC per se. Again, respectfully, the Justices misunderstood and misapplied article 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution. The said article reads,(1) The SRC shall be composed of: . . . For the avoidance of doubt, any student of the University of Ghana main campus, Accra City Campus, Medical School Campus, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission campus, Distance Education students and any other campus of the University shall be deemed a member of the SRC

Here, the constitution simply means the Accra City Campus in whatever form, is part of the SRC. This is not a matter in dispute. I say this because, the LSRC has never denied being part of the University of Ghana SRC. To make matters worse, the plaintiff failed to prove the strength of his case.

He failed to establish that the LSRC has denied being part of the UGSRC in the language of article 5(1)(f) thereby creating the alleged parallel body. Sadly, the court aided the plaintiff in committing this constitutional blunder. It is my unwavering position that, so far as the LSRC subjected itself to the dictates of UGSRC Constitution without existing as a parallel body, but as an extension of UGSRC. As such, I conclude that it did not offend any part of the University’s Act or Statutes or the UGSRC Constitution.

ISSUE TWO

“Whether or not on a true and proper interpretation of section 30(1) and (2) of the Act 806, section 37(4) of the University of Ghana Statutes and articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the SRC Constitution, Accra City Campus should be referred to as a Junior Common Room (JCRs) or any name other than an SRC.”


Following its decision on Issue One above, the court held that the student body at the Accra City Campus should not be referred to as an ‘SRC’ but rather “…a union, a JCR, an association or any suitable name other than a Students’ Representative Council”.

I find this position troubling since the court, which must protect or pretends to protect the constitution, was either misled, misdirected, or took solace in the absence of the defendant in court to draw this conclusion which clearly signifies which is a flagrant violation of the UGSRC Constitution.

If the UGSRC Constitution is anything to go by, then the Justices by their unanimous decision crippled the operation of Article 6(1)(f). The said article reads “There shall be a General Assembly which shall comprise: (f) The President and Secretary of the local Students’ Representative Council of the Accra City Campus of this University and five other representatives from the same, elected by an electoral college of the said Council”.

The framers of the constitution meant to call the student body at City Campus the local Students’ Representative Council of the Accra City Campus (which is how it is being called till today).

If these drafters meant it to be called any other name, then they would have made it clear without mincing words. This is further demonstrated in Article 14(1)(a) of the SRC Constitution where the term LSRC is repeated.

Here, Article 14(1)(a) provides that, “There shall be an Executive Committee consisting of the President of the JCRs of the Halls of residence, the Executive officers, as provided for in article 16, the Chairperson of the Women’s Commission, the President of GRASAG University of Ghana branch, a permanent representative from each Faculty, School and College represented in the General Assembly, the President of the local SRC of the Accra City Campus, the President of the Continuing and Distance Education Students Association, and the Legal advisor to the SRC.”

This is not rocket science, it is a classification simplified to be understood even by the lowest of all men. Readers must have this understanding, if the framers meant to call it an association, union or whatever the Judicial Board wants us to believe, they would have described it as they did for the distance education students as quoted above.

This means that the SRC Judicial Board erred in concluding that the student body at the Accra City Campus is not and cannot be called “local SRC”.

ISSUE THREE

“Whether or not on a true and proper interpretation of articles 2(a) and (b) and 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution, article 2(a) and (b) of the City Campus Constitution should be declared null and void”.


Before I continue, it is appropriate to quote verbatim the provisions cited above.

Article 2(a)(b) of the UGSRC Constitution state that;

(a) This Constitution shall be the supreme constitution of all students, clubs, associations or unions in the University of Ghana and any other constitution found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of that inconsistency, be null and void.

(b) Notwithstanding Article (2)(a) this constitution shall be subject to the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Laws of Ghana and Statutes of this University.



Article 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution provides that;

(1) The SRC shall be composed of: . . . For the avoidance of doubt, any student of the University of Ghana main campus, Accra City Campus, Medical School Campus, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission campus, Distance Education students and any other campus of the University shall be deemed a member of the SRC.

Articles 2(a)(b) , City Campus Constitution provides that: a) This Constitution shall be the supreme constitution of all students, clubs, associations or unions in the Accra City Campus. Any other constitution found to be inconsistent with any provision of this constitution shall, to extent of its inconsistency, be null and void.

b) Notwithstanding, article (2)(a) this constitution shall be subject to the Constitution of Republic of Ghana and the Statute Establishing this University.”


I have already discussed what article 5(1)(f) means in connection with the issue above, I therefore wish not to belabour the point. Now to Article 2(a)(b) of the City Campus Constitution as against Article 2(a)(b) of the UGSRC Constitution, it is surprising how the Justices arrived at their decision believing that the two provisions in the two constitutions are in conflicts.

First, though Article 2(a)(b) of the City Campus Constitution or the entire constitution does not make it clear that the LSRC is subjected to that of the UGSRC Constitution.

However, as indicated above, the LSRC has never denied being part of the UGSRC and as a result, it is ruled by the UGSRC constitution. Per article 5(1)(f) of the UGSRC Constitution, all students of City Campus are deemed members of the SRC - a unified SRC. Based on this, the LSRC is automatically subjected to the provisions of Article 2 of the UGSRC Constitution. The two provisions are therefore not in conflict.

Shockingly, in an attempt to escape useful criticisms like this on its judgment, the court clandestinely tried to equate and more fatally, elevate the LSRC Constitution over that of the UGSRC so as it could pronounce it unconstitutional.

The court noted that,“The effect of this is that the Accra City Campus Constitution purports to be equal to, or even worse, take precedence over the UGSRC Constitution. Such an assumption is untenable, unacceptable and even unlawful.”

The court made a poor analysis of the issue. The article in the LSRC Constitution that the court sought to ascribe this interpretation states that, “This Constitution shall be the supreme constitution of all students, clubs, associations or unions IN THE ACCRA CITY CAMPUS” (emphasis supplied).

Does this provision bear the meaning given to it by the court? No. What this provision simply did was to elevate the LSRC Constitution above that of all associations, clubs, unions, etc. who operate from the Accra City Campus. To be fair, the LSRC Constitution was silent on its status with the UGSRC Constitution.

But as mentioned earlier, this issue is not in contention since it has been settled by Article 2 of the UGSRC constitution. On its proper interpretation, the two constitutions are not in conflicts in terms of which is supreme. The LSRC certainly bows to the UGSRC constitution.

Per Article 2 of the LSRC Constitution, the LSRC Constitution only elevates itself above constitutions of clubs, associations, etc on City Campus and not even Main Campus. It is therefore a cardinal sin against the UGSRC Constitution for the court to have read the law the way it did. It erred.

ISSUE FOUR

“Whether or not on a true and proper interpretation of articles 16-25 and 29-41 of the UGSRC constitution, a different set of Executive Officers cannot be elected into office as Accra City Campus “SRC” Executives.”


The articles mentioned in this issue have to do with the creation of the executive offices. Here too, as it was expected, the court ruled that no executive officers can be elected on the Accra City Campus.

I think it is trivial for the court to think that once the articles creating the executive offices did not directly mention that of LSRC, it will be unlawful to do so under any law. I respectfully disagree with the Justices.

Mind you, the UGSRC Constitution had already acknowledged the existence of LSRC President in article 14 of the UGSRC Constitution and existence of the President and General Secretary (and by extension the executive officers) under article 6(1)(f).

I therefore struggle to understand why the court tried to solve a non-existential problem. It created its own problem and invited us to agree with their style of dealing with it. This invitation is respectfully declined.

I argue that the LSRC can have its own elected executives as “LSRC Executives” without it raising any constitutional issue.

The Court therefore ordered that,

1. An order that an interim management committee of not more than 5 students be set up by the current UGSRC President, to primarily organize an election of JCR Executives for the Accra City Campus and administer its affairs until new executives are elected and duly sworn in. The said committee must organize the elections within the first 3 weeks of reopening in the ensuing academic year after which the new administration will take the reins from the interim management committee.

2. An order that Articles 2(a) and (b) of the Accra City Campus constitution be amended with immediate effect in order to conform to the UGSRC Constitution


Essentially, the court failed in the task that was before it. Its analyses are superficial betraying the trust of the people and submerging the UGSRC Constitution in the political ebbs.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE DECISION

First, this decision, if implemented will adversely affect the SRC’s power, influence, and pride in external relations, especially, external elections like NUGS, and USAG. This is because, in these elections, each campus of the University is given a specific number of delegates who will be eligible to vote.

With a decrease in the number of the campuses in terms of the SRC to only one, the number of delegates to be allocated by NUGS or USAG will only be to the central SRC who will then decide whether to invite the ‘the Judicially created JCR’ to be part of the external dealings of the SRC. This will make the UGSRC executives more powerful than they ought to be.

Secondly, the student body at the Accra City Campus will struggle and suffer financially. Already, the LSRC struggles to get their constitutionally allocated budget from the main SRC. Due to this, they usually supplement their activities with funds from sponsors. Sponsors are attracted to the ‘SRC’ brand. Should the SRC be scrapped and replaced with a ‘JCR’, the body will not be able to attract sponsors.

Third, the UGSRC (Central SRC) has failed over the years to properly represent students of the Accra City Campus, even while the LSRC was existing. Nothing is done for them. Executives on main campus rarely visit the campus, not to talk about planning events for them. This condition will take a worse turn should the decisions outlined by the court be implemented.

Lastly, another challenge will arise should these rulings be implemented. The challenge is that this decision when implemented will increase the tension and chaos usually associated with SRC elections.

This is because over the years, the existence of the LSRC has served as a buffer since students from the Accra City Campus did not avail themselves to compete in the elections for the main campus.

With the LSRC ceasing to exist, students from City Campus may now freely add to the tension on main campus by deciding to contest for positions in the main campus SRC. Considering the recent SRC election related tensions and violence, it will be chaotic to create another avenue for these issues to thrive.

I therefore, consider the JB’s decision as divisive, rushed, and misplaced. If I ever have the ears of the Vice-Chancellor on this matter, I will certainly make a case for maintaining the LSRC, not on the grounds of sympathy but in obedience to the provisions of the UGSRC Constitution. Let notice be served that this decision will come back to hunt student governance on the University of Ghana campus.

THE WAY FORWARD

I have only one solution. I must state categorically that despite the implications of this move, I am not against the idea of converting the LSRC into a JCR. What I am against is the misapplication of the current SRC Constitution. What is my position then?

My position is that, under the current UGSRC Constitution, the student body on the Accra City Campus is and can only remain a local SRC (LSRC), and not a JCR. However, if the Central SRC with the help of the Judicial Board is so bent on this conversion, the proper thing must be done, i.e. Article 6(1)(f) and 14(1)(a) of the UGSRC Constitution as well as Article 2(a)(b) of the Accra City Campus SRC Constitution must be amended. In fact, this calls for the overhaul of the entire SRC Constitution and by extension, the restructuring of student governance on the University of Ghana campuses.

Until then, let the existing constitution be interpreted accordingly.