Committee begins Makerere inquiry as students talk intimidation

Parliament’s Committee on Education and Sports has commenced its inquiry into allegations of mismanagement at Makerere University purported to have led to the strike witnessed last week. 

The committee kicked off the inquiry on Monday, 4 November 2019, meeting guild leaders and students in the Parliament conference hall who had testimonies of torture and illegal arrest.

Students testified to have been intimated by management even before the strike when they protested against university policies. 

“You have a professor telling you that you will not graduate if you keep negotiating like that yet these professors hold our academic in their hands,” said Marion Kirabo, Minister of Gender, Integrity and Ethics in the Makerere University Guild Council.

Kirabo explained that even the sub-committee report the university based on to pass the 15 percent tuition increment policy did not go through the due process because of pressure from management. 

“The agreement was that the guild president would present the report to the university council with recommendations from the student guild representatives’ council (GRC). However, after the report was handed to the administration, the speaker refused to call for a GRC session and we understood he was under pressure from management and so the council passed it without GRC input,” revealed Kirabo.

This process alone, Parliament learned, led to riots leading to suspension of students who opposed the policy from its inception. 

“There was a lot of chaos as members of the GRC retaliated because they did not have input in the policy. About 10 students were suspended,” added Kirabo.

A student identified as Derrick Obed, testified to have been suspended for an entire academic year because he led a group of students that rejected the tuition increment. 

“I was called to a professor’s office who intimidated me and called my mother threatening her that I would die,” said Obed.

The guild president, Julius Katerega, testified to have been arrested three times including on Monday, 4 November 2019 while he was heading to meet the education committee in Parliament. Kalungu West MP, Joseph Ssewungu, said he was forced to ring the Inspector General of Police and his officers to free Katerega so he could attend the meeting.

Katerega says students do not necessarily want the university to do away with the increment but want it halted until an agreement is reached between the university and students on the terms of increment. 

Students are for instance aggrieved that they had initially agreed to the 15 percent increment in tuition fees but did not know the increment would accumulate each financial year. They added that the university went ahead to increase functional fees, medical fees and even national IDs yet services such as hygiene gradually deteriorate.

This increment, students say, has resulted in some of their colleagues falling out of school, with the vice guild president, Judith Nalukwago, putting the number at 100. Katerega told the committee that he had received information that about 300 students, majority in first year, had lost hope of continuing with school because of the high costs.

The committee chairperson, Jacob Opolot, advised the guild leaders to stick to the interests of students irrespective of the pressure from the management. 

“Many times when you agree to positions in the guild council, the university takes it as a policy and you jump out on implementation. But if you stuck to your positions, we would not be having these problems,” said Opolot.

Hon. Allan Ssewanyana (DP, Makindye Division West) was concerned on learning that the university does not receive money from State House sponsored students yet the scheme has a sizeable number of students. He said such gaps and misuse of funds need to be closed so as to relieve students of having to carry the burden.

The committee was directed by Parliament on Thursday, 31 October 2019 to inquire into the circumstances leading to the Makerere strike. In its inquiry, the committee will meet the university management, ministries of education and sports; internal affairs; and defence and veteran affairs. Their mandate includes inquiry on tuition fees increment, management of finances, students-management relation, strike and reports of torture and sexual harassment.