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How not to defend a minister

By Tonnie Iredia
When this column recently supported the introduction of Islamic Banking to Nigeria, some non-muslims were visibly angry with our standpoint. One critic dismissed our article as ‘sponsored’, and ‘a magnitude of lies’.

Believing that no non-muslim would support Islamic banking, another critic said “Tonnie should be aware of the fact that Nigerians are not stooges and that his idea about Christianity is vague, much as he understands Islamic religion”.

Meanwhile in the ‘offensive’ article, I clearly established my faith in my argument that “if my fellow Catholics would not be comfortable with my stand point, the way out is for them to set up, a catholic bank whose operations would provide me with a better option than the current conventional banking which is always a reap off no matter the transaction.

Otherwise, they we will only see me at church services while my Muslim friends will see me in their bank and help me to protect my hard earned money because for me banking is nothing more than a financial transacti on”.

None of the critics made any effort to identify who allegedly sponsored my article or which points in it could make it a tissue of lies. Instead, they attacked the messenger rather than the message. With a- holier- than- the-Pope mentality, they portrayed great antagonism to Islam without educating anyone on the ills of Islamic banking.

That is how some Nigerians often react to opinions that do not validate their predisposition. Thus, when this newspaper published a rejoinder to our article in which we called for the resignation of the minister of education, we knew what it would contain before reading it!

The rejoinder was written by Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga who was described as a journalist and a writer on national issues. One of the points he canvassed was that our call for the resignation of the minister was a subtle one.

Subtle was a wrong word because our conclusion on the issue of the on-going ASUU strike clearly stated that “since the minister is expected to take glory for the ministry’s achievements as well as blame when things go wrong, this is the appropriate time for her to resign.”

While we agree that Professor Ruqayya did not create the ASUU crisis; we held her liable on the basis of ministerial responsibility-a doctrine which makes a political office holder answerable for every government decision under his areas of supervision so as to propel him to ensure that the right things are done  under his watch.

We drew attention to how it functions in other countries with a good example from Britain where as far back as 1954, Sir Thomas Dugdale saw it as his duty to resign as minister for agriculture after an inquiry criticised civil servants in his ministry over a compulsory purchase of some farmland although there was no evidence of his personal involvement. To honourably quit is thus not a sign of guilt, rather it is a sign of accepting responsibility as a leader

The writer of the rejoinder was not happy that we did not call for the resignation of previous education ministers, Dr. Sam Egwu and Professor Borishade who had similar problems with ASUU in the past.  Here, the rejoinder lost sight of the differences in roles.

If a public officer mandated to manage television, was busy making calls in the media for the resignation of ministers, not many can vouch for his sanity. We could not have opted for that then. Now it is appropriate to do so as a columnist.

But to say that because we did not criticize non-performing previous ministers of education, it is wrong to do so with respect to the incumbent is not only mundane but suggests that the current minister plans to be an untouchable failure like her predecessors.

Another point in the rejoinder was that in 2002, when the House of Representatives served impeachment notice on former President Obasanjo, the NTA under Iredia’s leadership played it down. Interestingly, NTA was not under Iredia in 2002 as he was then the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA).

That inaccuracy should however not worry us because getting facts right is one of the weaknesses of our profession.  But then, should the DG of NTA be liable for the failure of the organization when the law setting up the NTA specifically empowers the minister of information to give him directives which in the words of the said law he must obey?

Consequently, whether it is Verdict 79 or 83 or one key that opened every door or the third term controversy, NTA’s lack of balance and objectivity ought to call for ministerial responsibility.

To accuse Iredia of sycophancy and timidity is another aspect where journalist Zagga’s rejoinder may not be persuasive because it attacks our strong points. We can say without being immodest, that the courage with which we handled NTA’ s major interview programme, ‘Point Blank’ even while in government service remains a source of inspiration to most journalists except the Zaggas.

When in 2007, we visited all political parties to sensitize them to use NTA freely for political broadcasts, government did not find it funny, but we did. Indeed, government record is replete with complaints of Iredia’s alleged anti-establishment posture for which he was now and again sacked, reinstated, reappointed, redeployed and removed.

In addition considering that not long ago Mrs Titi Atiku Abubakar herself publicly paid glowing tribute to us on how we ran the NTA, we will discountenance the attack on how NTA covered Vice President Atiku’s office.

Those who think we did badly must therefore accept their contributory negligence for not calling for our resignation at that time. For us, to chastise leaders who oversee failed assignments is a moral obligation. The charge that we singled out minister Ruqayya for vilification is incorrect as we have been doing so with other public officers.

For example, when the Chief Justice of Nigeria had a running battle with the President of the Court of Appeal we argued in this column on August 14, 2011 that “the two top-most judges involved would have saved the day if as in civilized climes; they had resigned from office”.

Following the shortage of medals and certificates for our citizens honoured during our 50th independence anniversary as well as this year’s National honours award, our article of November 20, 2011 canvassed the sanctioning of those in charge of the assignments.

We similarly loathed the fact that at a time when the nation had its greatest security challenges ever; all those who should have been made to take responsibility for the lapses received this year’s national award.

This column therefore underscores the expedience of social change in our country.  It is a forum to mirror society, isolate the topical issue of the moment for analysis and then draw attention to lapses so that they can be redressed.  Rather than organizing summits and talk shops after which we do the same things all over again while awaiting different results, we should institute a culture of holding public officers accountable.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.