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Opinions of Sunday, 12 May 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

KNUST Law faculty is 15-years-old; an exhortation

On 25 April, the Law Faculty of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) celebrated its 15th anniversary. We say ayekoo to Professor Lydia Nkansah, Head of Faculty, all lectures and students.

The theme you have chosen for your anniversary could not have been more appropriate; Law, Science and Technology in the 21st Century.

Many of us remember the earlier public commentary about why KNUST will not concentrate on its supposedly core function of training technocrats in science and technology, and leave the study of Law to other institutions.

After 15 years, I am impressed to hear about the exploits of the KNUST Faculty of Law, including winning national law students’ competitions and your students representing Ghana in West African contests.

Such victories, and the prominence of your alumni lawyers, have added to the laurels and glory of the faculty and the university.
However, the core issues of concern to the larger society about the relevance of producing lawyers and their impact on addressing the many existential problems of the Ghanaian society still remain; they have not been resolved.

On 16 September, 2009, that is nearly 10 years ago, Law professor Albert K. Fiadzo, Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, eloquently raised this public concern in a lecture delivered to the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.
His lecture was titled, “The Public Law of Ghana: A Tale of Two Legal Systems”.

Kindly permit me to quote portions of that lecture.

‘It is my understanding, speaking with colleagues and friends, that there is a fair amount of public despair, especially among lawyers, about the general lack of public discourse on current decisions emanating from our courts. If that is true, then this lecture provides a singularly opportune moment to begin that discussion. In my respectful submission, that role [of the Supreme Court] has to be quintessentially one of fashioning judicial policy for Ghana while bridging the gap between law and society…….Natural Justice is said to rest on two pillars – the right to a fair hearing and freedom from bias by an adjudicator.’

Three key lessons are identifiable from Prof Fiadzo’s lecture; first the inadequacy of public discourse whilst being respectful of the judiciary and the prohibition on judges from explaining themselves; second, the twin pillars of Natural Justice – namely, the right to a fair hearing and freedom from bias on the part of judges; and third, our collective slowness in acting on research information, particularly information from the physical and biological research findings.

There are portions of the President’s 2019 State of the Nation’s Address which are of supreme relevance to the three lessons emphasized by Prof Fiadzo.

The president stated that in proclaiming 2019 as the “Year of Return” he had invited our African Diasporan Brothers and Sisters home to commemorate 400 years since the first 20 West African slaves arrived in the Commonwealth of Virgina, later USA. He also lamented that there are things we do that will turn any visitor away, that is, our poor sanitation habits.

The president stated: “We have witnessed an increase in the coverage of solid waste management from, from 16.6% to 53% and over the course of last year, thirty-five thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two (35,862) household toilets were built. In 2019, apart from continuing with education and sensitizing people, we intend to use the bye-laws to enforce cleanliness. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Sanitation are working together to try sanitation offences”.

According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), ONLY ONE PERCENT of institutional waste in Ghana is treated! And that includes all our universities, hotels and tourist centres.

The President’s statement said 53 percent of solid waste was collected last year. This means 47 PERCENT was not collected! We lived with it and we are still living DAILY with 47 percent of our solid waste! As for our liquid waste, the raw sewage, I repeat, ONLY ONE PERCENT IS TREATED! This means that raw sewage is polluting our aquifers and that should be a matter of international concern, a matter of life and death for flora and fauna, in short, the very survival of humanity.

Dr Joseph Addo Ampofo, the Director of Water Research Institute of the same CSIR, offers stark warning, ‘There is a misconception that Ghana is 70 percent covered with water. Even with the abuses, water will not depart from Ghana but the quality of water cannot be guaranteed’.

If we do not begin now, today, I mean right now, to collect and treat 100 percent of our waste, provide reliable running water, and enforce high standards of hygiene, the Year of Return might well include the pandemic return of communicable diseases with high mortality rates.

Perhaps no institution within contemporary Ghanaian society is better equipped to face this challenge of creating a national modern sanitation and sewage system that can reduce the burden of disease among our people.

A multifaceted coordinated approach involving engineering, science, technology and public education, and of course all founded on a legal framework of responsibilities and sanctions that honour freedom and justice is urgently necessary. It cannot wait.

The theme for your celebration, “Law, Science and Technology in the Twenty-First Century” should provide the impetus to seek a practical solution to this daunting problem whose effects go far beyond our national borders.

Certainly, a great university such as yours should be able to rise to the challenge and lead our people to an era of excellent sanitation, a markedly improved physical environment and a significantly reduced burden of infectious disease.

Within the context of the landmark 20th anniversary celebration of your esteemed Chancellor, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, an alliance of your faculty with other disciplines will once again reflect the formidable spirit of the Asante warriors of yesteryear. This time the march is against poverty, ignorance and disease, and no doubt the indomitable spirit will once again prevail.

All you have to do is plan, organise, march and execute.

I therefore charge our KNUST law students and faculty to lead the way, to become beacons of light where the rest of the Ghanaian society is in darkness, and be the respected faculty that collaborates proactively with other faculties, to solve serious existential problems in the areas of law, science and technology.

To do that, you need to engage in healthy debates based on didactic learning and profound introspection on all matters of public concern.

My challenge to you is to rally with other disciplines in your great institution to provide a solution to our sanitation crisis.

I am aware that to be more effective, however, you need to establish a Moot Court, within the Faculty, for your practice, with two offices for judges.

Let me respectfully suggest that when your Moot Court is in place, you do not only invite students and faculty, but invite EVERYONE in the city of Kumasi to attend court and watch you practice. That way, you will make the university even more relevant to the community.

Our nation continues to hope, pray and expect that our universities will make themselves relevant to solving our nation’s existential threats, NUMBER ONE OF WHICH IS SANITATION.

The essence of Professor Fiadzo’s lecture was a call on the Ghanaian academia to show its relevance by engaging in open but respectful debates that will help bridge the gap between the law and society.

It is my expectation that this exhortation will provoke further debate that will lead to clear decisive action to improve our lives in a remarkable way.

If KNUST is to concentrate on its core function of providing a science and technology education that meets with public expectations of its brand name, then I respectfully submit that you take up the challenge of addressing these matters, and you have the human and material resources to prevail.

I wish you a happy 15th anniversary and God’s eternal blessing on your Faculty and University.

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