By Tajudeen Kareem

A popular maxim of the law is that no one accused of an offence is punished until found guilty.

While the general outrage against public officers messing around with public funds is absolutely justified, the case of Betta Edu requires some introspection. It is unacceptable to subject the hard-working lady, albeit an exuberant 37-year-old, to media trial and condemnation.

Media frenzy, trial and a verdict of guilt on a minister will serve no useful purpose. It is wiser to examine what went wrong and devise policies and programmes to ensure that others don’t get carried away and get caught in circumventing rules and procedures.

Available information in the public space suggests that Ms Edu was engaged in a power tussle, perhaps on spending limits, with the suspended co-ordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, Hajia Halima Shehu. While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has begun investigating allegations against them, it is proper to allow full and unfettered investigation before hanging those accused.

So, who is Betta Edu? And what do we know about her. First, there is no discrediting her credentials for the job, having had a fantastic tenure as Commissioner for Health in Cross River State. She was widely regarded as a workaholic during the Covid-19 era. Indeed, her assignment as Women Leader of the All Progressives Congress recommended her for the position of a minister in the cabinet of President Bola Tinubu.

If anyone is in doubt about the credentials and competence of Betta Edu, let us listen to her people from ‘home’. Just two weeks ago, Governor Bassey Otu, and his wife, Mrs Eyoanwan Bassey Otu, led top government officials and other dignitaries to recognise select indigenes of the state for their distinguished services to the state and humanity.

Leading the pack was Dr Edu who bagged the outstanding public service award. At the award ceremony in Calabar, Senator Otu described Dr Edu as “the Jewel of the Crown and an outstanding daughter of Cross River State serving Nigeria at the National level diligently.”

The Governor said Dr. Edu has distinguished herself in every assignment given to her, noting that her contributions to the social, economic and political development of her state and Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized.

“Dr Betta is our ‘Jewel of the Crown’. She is Cross River state export to the world. She has been making the state proud. Indeed, we are proud of what she’s doing at the centre and for being an illustrious daughter of Cross River State. For your commitment to nation building, you are recognised”, the governor emphasised.

At the 2023 International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Abuja, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, James Lalu commended President Tinubu for giving them Dr Edu as the minister supervising the commission.Lalu who described the minister as the ambassador of the disability community, lauded her for providing innovative and dynamic leadership in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

“President Tinubu has given us a BETTA HAND. She takes this Commission as a priority in the ministry and we are very grateful”, Lalu said.

The words of elders are indeed words of wisdom. Former Lagos State Deputy governor, Otunba Femi Pedro sums up the “Omoluabi” in Betta Edu.

“I first met Betty when she was introduced to me as a candidate for Women Leader of our party in Abuja in early 2022. Shortly after, she was in Lagos on a courtesy visit and I immediately liked her style, her carriage and her comportment. She exuded confidence, was articulate, knew what she wanted, and appeared to me as focused, determined and ambitious.

“Betty worked very hard during the campaign. She was everywhere mobilizing women, campaigning with the Presidential Campaign team all over the country and attending most of the events

“I wasn’t surprised when she eventually became a minister. Honestly, if I were the President, I would not have hesitated to also appoint her as minister because she’s not too young to serve as minister. She’s a qualified medical doctor, experienced enough as a former commissioner and women leader of our party, and has demonstrated drive, passion, and loyalty to qualify as a minister.

This is where I disagree with those who are tagging her as too inexperienced, too young, and too green to be appointed minister.

“We have all read about her wrongdoings and her suspension by the President and questioning by the EFCC. This is as it should be. I hope and pray that at the end of the day, she will have learned a hard lesson on how to conduct herself as a public officer and navigate the banana peels in the corridors of power.

“She’s a promising bright star who could have served this nation in higher capacities. The nation needs more young people in public service and I hope her misadventure will not discourage others in her age bracket.

“My candid advice to all young people who are called to service in public office is to seek out a mentor of a public officer serving or retired with some measure of credibility and good pedigree who will guide and mentor them on how to navigate the murky waters of public office.

“To us critics and commentators, I get it that we are genuinely shocked and angry as to the level of malfeasance we are witnessing in public service, but be aware that we should rather learn from her mistakes rather than laugh at her. What happened to her could have happened to many of us whether by omission or commission. Public service is a serious and sensitive business where your actions or inactions could have serious consequences for millions of citizens that you’ll never meet personally.”

Kareem is a public policy analyst in Abuja.

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