By Sam Ekpe
FOR sometime now some opinions in national newspapers have been calling for the head of Dr. Sam Egwu, the Honourable Minister of Education.
What is his offence? He celebrated the 25th anniversary of his wedlock to his one and only wife, Mrs. Eunice Ukamaka Egwu. While one of the trade unions in the Education sector called for his resignation, a popular columnist in the Vanguard, newspaper, Ochereoma Nnanna, called for his sack from the Federal Executive Council.
There is no doubt that at this period of global economic meltdown, declining national revenue arising from the Niger Delta crisis and the campaign to re-brand Nigeria in terms of national reorientation, awareness and consciousness about values that should uplift the nation, journalists and opinion leaders should call for transparency, prudence in public expenditure and focus on the critical issues in our national life.
In other words government should revert to austerity measures and public officers should live less ostentatious lives. However in doing so, we should not be mean, uncharitable and ridiculous in our analysis and criticism of our public officers.
Dr. Egwu is one of our very accomplished politicians. Even his worst enemy will acknowledge that as Governor of Ebonyi State for eight years, he left indelible footprints on the sand of that state. Ebonyi State was created in 1996, five years after my own state Anambra was created but Ebonyi State has by far surpassed Anambra State in terms of infrastructural development and other socio-economic indices.
Any visitor to the two states will readily conform that as the 7-up advert says, the difference is clear. Most of these development strides in Ebonyi State were achieved during Dr. Egwu’s administration and are being consolidated now by his successor, Chief Martin Elechi. Mr. President in his wisdom invited Dr. Egwu to contribute his knowledge and experience at the national level. So far he is doingÂ his best in the Education Ministry.
I cannot remember any Minister of Education in our recent history who successfully handled the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
From internationally acknowledged scholars like Prof. Babs Fafunwa to Prof.Â Ben Nwabueze,Â Prof. Tunji Olagunju, Prof. Borisabe andÂ Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, the ASUU had always proved a hard nut for them to crack. Dr. Sam Egwu therefore cannot be an exception and cannot be said to have failed simply because ASUU members are on strike.
A Minister of Education is only representing the Federal Government in the negotiation with university teachers. He cannot on his own accept the entire demands of the striking teachers without resort to his principal and members of the Federal Executive Council.
The Council discussed the university teachers demands recently and informed the nation through the Information and Communication Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili that three of their demands had been met. Negotiation was still on-going on the fourth, that is: percentage of increase in the teachers salary and allowances.
If the Federal Government accepts the 109 per cent increase in salary and allowancesÂ demanded by the teachers, will Dr. Egwu pay the increase from his pocket? Why should the Minister be personally seen as the stumbling block to the resumption of work by university teachers?
Twenty-five years of happy married life is worth celebrating.Â Dr. Sam Egwu as a Christian who has had a successful marriage for such number of years has cause to celebrate and thank God. He cannot be prevented from doing this just because he is a Minister of the Federal Republic. I wonder where the figure of N120 million the silver jubilee wedding anniversary celebration was said to have cost came from.
Was it supplied by the Chief Accountant or Director of Audit of the Federal Ministry of Education or by the Minister himself or his wife? Or is it as usual the figment of imagination of critics? It is hypocritical to assume that highly placed public officers have no private lives and should not like, any of us celebrate their marriages or those of their children.
It was the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who in response to a political opponentâ€™s accusation that he had accumulated wealth in public office said that he was not in public office to accumulate poverty. Ex-Governor Egwu could not therefore have accumulated poverty while at the helm of affairs in Ebonyi State for eight years.
A two-tenure governor of a state in Nigeria must have gained immense goodwill through political appointments he made in his state or influenced at the national level, through state and national assembly members he assisted during their elections and through beneficiaries of contracts awarded by the state government under his charge.
These are regular sources of sponsorship or support for his activities. In his present position he needs not steal public funds to run his personal life. Or are the critics saying that Minister Egwu should pretend not to have been married for 25 years just because he is a Minister in Nigeria.
Or perhaps his children who are of marriageable age should not do so until he leaves public office. By extension of this argument, President Yarâ€™Adua should not have given out his daughters in marriage until his tenure expires in 2011 or 2015, as public funds would have been spent in the process. Illogical, hypocritical, puerile, tendentious, and, with due respect, irresponsible reasoning.
There are many issues that should agitate the minds of our anti-corruption crusaders at this period. They include the billions of public funds said to have been stolen by some former state governors in the past 10 years.
The EFCC has been prosecuting them and has informed us that ourÂ cumbersome legal system is stalling and delaying unnecessarily the successful prosecution of the suspects. Shouldnâ€™t we rather consider ways and means of amending the provisions of our laws to achieve more efficient and faster results. Remember that the cases of bribe for budget involving a former Senate President and a Minister of Education are still in court.
So also are those of billions of naira in which two former Ministers of Aviation were involved, the Universal Basic Education (UBEC), National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NEPC) and Rural Electrification Projects involving some National Assembly members and are all unresolved.
These are serious matters that should engage our anti-corruption crusaders at this time. Not the celebration of silver jubilee wedding anniversary of Dr. Sam Egwu or the wedding of the daughter of the Information Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili.
This pull him down tendency in our commentary on national issues should now give way to more elevating and uplifting discourse. Let us address national issues more realistically and stop chasing shadows. Let us stop crying wolf where none exists.
Mr. Ekpe, a commentatorÂ on public affairs, writes from Abuja.