Education Minister, Sam Egwu Frolics While Rome Burns by Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu


Dr. Sam Egwu is an Igbo man, so he is at home with the time-honored philosophical aphorism of Ndi Igbo, that a man does not go out to chase a rat in the bush while his house is on fire. "Onye ?lo ya n' agba ?ku anaghi achu oke". But Egwu shunned all decent reflections, after thought and sensibilities to engage in wild chase of insatiable appetite for his 25th wedding anniversary party. I am not against his celebration of such a feat for holding his marriage for 25 years, happy anniversary to him and to his wife. Again, the timing was not right and this shows the hollowness and the nasty taste in the leadership menu served to the Nigerian people. In a decent and functional society, such a man will not be at his post again, to further superintends the rot in education in Nigeria. But as far as Umaru is in charge, the beat can still go on. Insha Allah!!

Can someone please, tell me what professor Fabian Osuji, the ebullient education minister during the infamous Obasanjo administration did that warranted the disgrace he suffered in the hands of Obasanjo? Don't get me wrong, I am not in any way pitching tent with any kind of sleaze, but prof. Osuji loved education, the problems and the possibilities associated with his staff of office. He had passion for his constituency and he was all out to do anything to get money for the education ministry, and that was his offence, though he went about it in a wrong way. In that context, don't blame the man. Bribery is bad, but in his novel, No Longer at Ease, Professor Chinue Achebe painted an actor, who gave bribery somewhat, a little good face, when the man said there was nothing wrong with bribery if it delivers the purpose it is meant for. I am not talking about the type of Halliburton's bribery scandal. All animal are equal but some are more equal than others. Everybody knows that bribery is bad, and it is a form of corruption, but judging from the lack of interest in the development of education in Nigeria, coupled with the greed of the Abuja's pinheads, Prof. Osuji staked his head to his first love, education and he greased the palms of those traders in Abuja to get a handsome budget for the ministry he headed that time. Just forgive him, he was really concerned.

When Nigerian politicians seek for peoples' votes (which never count any way) they say all kinds of things to endear them to the masses. Remember this Egwu vied a shot for Aso Rock before Obasanjo deflated his ambition along with others in 2007 presidential election. This is what we could have got. Both the nose of the dog and its anus, none is good. The spirit of Umaru is everywhere, in all the strategic positions in Nigeria, so the country is in once again in trouble. This man, Umaru is making Obasanjo look like a saint. Egwu was once an instructor at Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), Enugu and from there to be the governor of Ebonyi State for eight years. Did he learn anything while he was at ESUT? Has he now become a "big man" and forgets that the Ukachukwu Awuzie led ASUU was one his constituency? Aja Nwachukwu messed up, so he was drafted to replace him, but he is not better by the turn of events.

The Academic Staff University Union (ASUU) went on strike on June 22, 2009 after a warning strike, pressing for a number of demands among them, university autonomy, adequate funding, enhanced salary structure and stemming brain drain. These are the quartet that is bogging our universities down. A nation that jokes with its ivory towers will not progress as they are the sources of manpower. After I have passed through two universities in USA, a public university and a private one, I cry sore everyday in that Nigeria has the opportunities to build and equip universities of my experience, but we chose madness without method. I passed through a state university in Nigeria, precisely, University of Science & Technology (UST), Port Harcourt, and a state university; and by now, I know there has been a degradation and rot in my alma mater. The best university in Nigeria is no better than a community college in USA while the rest are glorified secondary schools; Imo State University, Owerri is a shinning example.

I was on vacation in 2008 and I travelled to my dear country, Nigeria to have a rest; and in Owerri, I lodged in Eastgate Hotel, along Owerri-Okigwe Road. In one of the nights, I went to the bar to have a drink, and behold there hordes of girls. One of them had a book and her cell phone plugged to an outlet. She caught my attention and I called her with a query. Are you a student, I asked? Yes sir, she replied. Why are you here reading, in the midst of the noise and the blaring music? I probed. "Sir, we have no light in our hostel for weeks and no kerosene to use lantern", she enthused. I shook my head in awe and I said Nigerian educational system in action. We thank God, the Nigerian way.

No matter the reason why that girl was there and I had no reason to doubt her because I spent one week in Owerri without light, only the one powered by generator in the hotel I lodged. I spent five years in the engineering department at Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt and the students had no cause to worry for light. Believe me; I had a good education at UST, Port Harcourt and so did all others in all the universities in Nigeria in the eighties. The effects were noticeable in my graduate schools in USA; I proved myself as one that had a qualitative education in Nigeria. We had good instructors, and in the engineering faculty at UST, most of the instructors came from Bulgaria, India, Ukraine and Russia, in addition to the crack Nigerian counterparts. We had two or three struggling ones scattered in the faculty. Drs. Wami, Oboho, Miadonye, Abowei and Idoniboye, thank you all for giving me concentrated instructions.

The university system in Nigeria now is a broken one and good instructors are leaving in droves. I have attended two workshops in Los Angeles delivered by two African American lady professors, guess what: two of them obtained their bachelor degrees at University of Ibadan (UI) in the early 70s. These two ladies left the shores of United States of America to attend university in Nigeria. This will give you a peep into the state of our few universities in those good old days. I had discussions with them after the workshops, and I told them that they would cry when they step their feet on UI and indeed any other university in Nigeria. All they said in each occasion was how Nigeria was regressing instead of progressing despite the oil boom. They recounted their experiences at UI, a positive one and one of them was able to greet me in Yoruba.

Teaching rarely takes place in our universities now and talking of research, one of the main businesses of the university is out of the bargain. May God bless those who agree to remain in the face of harsh environment? Many of the products being churned out in almost all the universities in Nigeria are chaff and unemployable and many factors are attributed to these, some facts already known and that is what ASUU is fighting to remedy. The worst decay started during the Obasanjo regime and Umaru is deepening it with fanfare. We thought that things could have been better judging from the fact that Umaru and Goodluck are products of the local universities. Starkly, we are all wrong.

While, Joy Emordi, the Senate Committee Chairman on education is growing gray hair on the rot in our university system, Sam Egwu is masturbating himself with happiness, laughing at the ASUU struggles as fetish and foolish. A man, who is supposed to be in agony that our children are out school and their future at the precipice, and rolling steadily towards a cliff hanger, is however not bothered a bit. What manner of a country is this, that a public servant will be engrossed in an irresponsible behavior with impunity, to throw a lavish bash while Rome burns? Where did he get the N120 million that was spent on that wild goose chase? Will the senate allow this to pass and becomes another business as usual? Will these (dis)honorable men and women in Abuja not press for Egwu's sack? Umaru will not say a word and he is very inactive, so it is left for some of those representatives who still have honors to boot this man out of the education ministry. Halims Agoda, may God bless you wherever you are, and surely, you are truly representing the famished segment of the Nigerian people. I feel for our youths and the decaying university system.

Idleness is the devils' workshop, they say. What will the students do other than lying fallow and exploiting avenues to keep themselves busy? Why are these people wicked? I know many of them have their children in the foreign universities, but can they be this wicked and callous? ASUU's struggle is a genuine one, but since it is not the business of Sam Egwu to get the lousy Umaru to play ball and get the teachers back to their classrooms, it is time for him to go. Until then Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, Aluta continua.

Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu is the Executive Director, Harcourt Foundation, Los Angeles.

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