■ Education ministers are difficult to reach – Correspondents
■ It’s not true –Media aides
By Chika Abanobi
Many education correspondents, based at the Lagos headquarters of newspaper houses, have complained of how difficult it is to reach Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, and, lately, his Minister of State counterpart, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, either for interview or to have them respond to some burning issues in education in Nigeria.
“Since the new Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, was appointed more than six months ago, access to information about the policies, programmes and, in many cases, decisions of the government on education issues, has been very difficult for reporters covering the sector,” Mojeed Alabi, of the New Telegraph newspaper, reports. “The fact is that even securing the needed information through officials of the ministry has not also been easy, as I can confirm to you that many of them usually claim ignorance of the positions of government, even when the issues concern decisions already taken. This is complicated by the fact that there seems to be no media aide to the Minister and neither is he available for comments or reactions on issues of concern.”
“What I found rather disappointing is his unfriendly attitude toward reporters, especially education reporters,” Dayo Adesulu of Vanguard newspapers lamented. “Often times when I needed him to respond on burning national issues, especially as it bothered on education, he would not pick calls and if you sent him text message, he would not reply. When I asked from my colleagues on the education beat, their responses were in the affirmative.
“Besides, as I monitored his activities in the past seven months, I discovered that he seldom makes any policy statement that stakeholders in the sector could work on. For me, the Minister of State for Education (Prof. Anthony Anwukah) is more active than he is in the ministry in past months. As he enters into the second year of his ministry, I urge him to be more proactive and to work with other stakeholders in the sector to drive the system. He should pick calls from education writers as they are all working toward the same goals.”
On Adesulu’s observation about the Minister of State being more media-friendly than Adamu, Alabi opines that his dance steps seemed to have changed in recent times. “Before now, the Minister of State for Education used to be available through his media aides but lately, the minister also seems to be adopting the style of his boss, the substantive Minister. However, he can only by his statutory roles, comment on issues of basic education. Experiencing difficulties accessing information in the Ministry has happened many times and has continued to affect my effective performance as a reporter.”
“I have not contacted him for either interview or comment on any issue,” Tunbosun Ogundare of the National Mirror and Chairman, Education Writers Association of Nigeria (EWAN), confessed. “The only time I did, I could say, was when EWAN as a body tried to meet him for introduction and deep interaction as a new minister in the sector. We sent letter to him but we couldn’t say whether it was delivered to him or not. As a minister, having a CPS (Chief Press Secretary) or special adviser on media is not out of place. It would indeed help him in policy making and feedback.”
Funmi Ogundare, an education correspondent with ThisDay feels that the experiences that the journalists are talking about may not be common but peculiar to Lagos-based education correspondents who are a bit far from the centre of activities in Abuja. Kofoworola Bello-Osagie of The Nation is not sure whether that view is totally correct. She remembers sending their Abuja-based correspondent to the Minister to get some information when the news about the sack/retirement of 13 Vice Chancellors broke out. “But his office could not answer him.”
Magnus Eze who reports for The Sun, from Abuja, said sometimes this is true. “The Ministry would remain mute on issues,” he said. “Attempts to get reactions on the issues of sacking of Vice Chancellors and my investigation on the insurance policy for FGC students were fruitless. A media aide with deep and robust media background would break the jinx. Unless the situation changes, former ministers remain far more accessible; some of them had personal relationships with journalists.”
“The basic truth is that there is no known information aide working with the minister and neither have I been opportune to come in contact with him,” Alabi observed. “For instance, it came as a rumour that the 13 vice-chancellors were sacked sometimes ago and it became a big issue confirming the true state of the matter in spite of the pressure from office. Not even the media officers at the ministry could neither confirm nor deny the development because the tersely worded press statement issued on the matter had emanated directly from the minister. There have been several other instances including accessing information on the proposed establishment of additional science and technology universities.”
Contacted, the media aides working for the two Ministers dismissed the allegations about their bosses being press-shy or inaccessible to the media, with a wave of the pen. Bem Goong, Deputy Director, Press, Ministry of Education told The Sun Education that although it has not been long he was appointed to work with Mallam Adamu, (two months ago, he said), he can say with certainty that the Minister has been carrying the Press along and still intends to do more in future because he believes in partnering with journalists because of their wealth of knowledge.
“I mean he recently addressed the Press on the sexual harassment bill and the forthcoming Children’s Day,” he said. “Such a person could not be said to be hiding from the Press. And, beyond that, plans are on the way to invite members of the Press to a get-together soon. I am new on this job and yet to familiarize myself with the way things work even in the Ministry but I want to assure you that, with time we will soon reach out to everybody. We intend to reach out to all stakeholders including the Vice Chancellors and members of the Press so that they can speak with him any day on how to move things forward.”
“In all honesty, I joined Prof. Anwukah two months after (he was sworn in), so cannot say the difference between what obtained in the beginning and after I joined,” Anthony Akuneme, his media aide, said. “Secondly, he has never discussed any issue with me regarding why he should avoid the Press. He spoke to the Press during the budget sessions at the National Assembly, although he didn’t like the screaming headlines about education ministry padding their budget which later was clarified by the Chair of Senate Committee on Education, Senator Binta Masi who said that the irregularities were from the budget office. The Minister like any civilized person would have expected a more robust investigative journalism. He spoke to the Press during the Commonwealth day ceremony. He spoke to the press at the UNN convocation, where he represented Mr. President. He spoke to the press during the Turkish Nile University Entrepreneurship conference where he was special guest. He even spoke to the world press during the recent world education forum in London. Few weeks ago he also invited some journalists to his office to join him in marking his 65th birthday. Finally, I am not sure it’s the minister’s responsibility to respond to inquiries by journalists. It is my responsibility. So it depends on who they contacted. So you see, maybe it’s the Press that is unfriendly with Prof. Anwukah and not the other way round.”