With all due respect to the appointing authority, Professor Nkandu Luo was an awful choice for Minister of Higher Education. You just have to listen to her to appreciate that she has no energy to run such a demanding ministry of colleges and universities.
On July 27, 2017, the University of Zambia made a decision to bar over 8,000 students from writing their examination on grounds that they were owing the institution various amounts in school fees. Some students complained that they were owing as little as K100 and did not understand how they could be stopped from progressing in their academic pursuit over such negligible debts.
UNZA’s position, as explained by Vice-Chancellor Prof Luke Mumba, was that: “The University needs to buy thousands of reams of paper. When we give exams, there are also practicals; for those practicals, we have to buy the materials that are required like chemicals and so forth to give those exams. Thirdly, as a University, we want to ensure that we adhere to quality. That involves examination papers being purely viewed by external examiners in order to conform with the standards of the University.”
However, National Development and Planning Minister Lucky Mulusa could not help but describe the move as illegal. He found the decision unconstitutional, adding that the right procedure for management was to allow the students to sit the examination and withhold their results until all debts are settled.
So journalists are turning to the Minister of Higher Education to hear her views over the fate of the unfortunate students. Instead of explaining if she felt the proposal from her fellow minister, Lucky Mulusa was a feasible solution to helping the students, Prof Luo’s response went off the cliff.
“The problem with you the media is that you want to be dwelling on negatives all the time…I am not the one who made that comment so why do you want me to comment on somebody’s comment? I haven’t looked at the law so I don’t know and I don’t want to be commenting on things that I don’t know. If you want to know, ask the management of the university, I am Minister of Higher Education, I am not Minister of University of Zambia. That decision was made by the University of Zambia so you call them and get their comment,” said Prof Luo.
We feel that is a language of a very tired, hurting and probably grudge-bearing minister. The minister sounded bitter talking to the journalist than she would sound talking to a person who is challenging her election in Munali. A minister has no right to vent such anger on a defenseless journalist. What is negative about asking a minister what government was doing to help the 8,000 UNZA students? Prof Luo cannot say, “I can’t comment on the barring of students because I am not Minister of the University of Zambia.” She is actually the minister of UNZA, as a matter of fact! She is also the minister of Copperbelt University, Evelyn Hone College, NIPA and all the higher learning institutions in Zambia.
We love elderly people in our society because old age comes with immense wisdom, but the wisdom that is coming out of Prof Luo is not desirable. This is a minister who is not only a product of the University of Zambia but was also voted into office by the same UNZA students under Munali constituency. When campaigning, Prof Luo was a humble and understanding politician, making all the sweet promises to the people of Munali and UNZA. Today, she is in the forefront pushing the PF agenda to abolish UNZASU. She doesn’t want to intervene for the poor 8,000 students, some of whom need less money than the cost of her flamboyant hats to sit for exams. What kind of a leader is she?
No one is asking Prof Luo to pay for the students because she is Minister of Higher Education; what the students are saying is that they are poor hence paying school fees piecemeal. It is therefore expected of a responsible minister to show compassion and concern, even if she doesn’t care about those students. At least she should have had the courtesy of addressing them and meeting UNZA management to find a win-win situation. She could even have escalated the matter by raising it with her “listening President” so that the Head of State proves himself as a leader of a pro-poor political party in power.
But Prof Luo won’t do any of this because she is too tired and frustrated. She has been in and out of government for the past 20 years and her ears are tired of hearing problems. That is why when journalists call her to raise new pressing issues, she hears malice and responds with bitterness. Prof Luo has lost the zeal to overcome challenges. She wishes problems could solve themselves while she sits there to get paid and live another day.
We recall Nkandu Luo’s heydays when she became Zambia’s first female professor of microbiology and immunology in 1993. She was bubbling with confidence as she founded the famous Tasintha, the National AIDS Control program, the National Blood Transfusion Service and various national AIDS advocacy groups. Even before taking up Cabinet positions in the MMD government, Prof Luo was already an award-winning academician. No doubt, she is among Zambia’s most learned female politicians. But our Super Woman is done; she has run her race with nothing more to offer. She has no more energy left to handle the everyday frustrations of striking unpaid lecturers and rioting hungry students. She can’t deal!
The best our beloved professor can do now is take a bow, because even Dr Bowman Lusambo with his lower education can do better as Higher Education Minister.