Early last year, the Abia State government flagged off the free feeding programme for primary schools in the state under the supervision of the wife of the governor, Mrs Nkechi Ikpeazu.
On March 16, 2017, it was the turn of Amaetiti Primary School in Ohafia local government Area, and Mrs Ikpeazu visited the school to inaugurate her free meal programme.
As usual, there were speeches and comments by stakeholders. And when the headmistress of the host school, Mrs Maryleen Ezichi, was called on for her remarks, she allegedly “begged” the governor’s wife to appeal to the governor to pay teachers in order to alleviate their plight.
Ezichi was quoted to have said, “Your Excellency, our first lady, a common adage says that ‘any message sent through the billow of smoke is believed to have gotten to heaven’, so please help us to plead with His Excellency to pay teachers because we are suffering.”
The appeal, which was said to have elicited applause from teachers and pupils at the event, was regarded as embarrassing to the state government.
Few days later, it was reported that the headmistress had been demoted to a classroom teacher and transferred to Ukwa East Local Government Area for allegedly embarrassing the wife of Abia State governor.
In defense of the headmistress, one of her colleagues, who craved anonymity, said if the government felt embarrassed by her appeal it should do the needful.
“Of what importance is the meal programme to the pupils in particular and the schools in general? What about other schools in the community? All we are saying is that the government should pay us our entitlements period,’ she argued.
An executive member of the state NUT told Daily Trust that the union had received an official report on the matter from the Ohafia Chapter of the NUT, with a photocopy of the letter from Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB) attached.
“The union wants to wade into the matter,” the official said, adding that a meeting had been scheduled with the Commissioner for Education, Prof Ikechi Mgbeoji, on the matter.
A source at ASUBEB confirmed the report but debunked the allegation that the measure was punitive and in connection with the visit of the governor’s wife.
The source told our correspondent in a telephone interview yesterday that the letter of transfer and ‘demotion’ was issued by the Secretary and Director of Administration of the board, Messrs Iheanacho Ogwunka, and Chris Ugorji, last week Wednesday.
The source denied reports that Ezichi was demoted and transferred because she pleaded with Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to pay teachers’ salary arrears.
“As an employee of government, you can be transferred from one part of the state to another, where government considers that your service is needed. Government reserves the right to reshuffle its workers, so the case of Ezichi is not an exception,” the source said.
It said that the transfer was “with immediate effect” and described her failure to report to her new posting as “an act of insubordination.”
The state’s Commissioner for Education, Prof Ikechi Mgbeoji, said the report could not be true, pointing out that government would not demote or transfer anybody for alleged wrongdoing without issuing a query to the person first.
The Chief Press Secretary to the wife of the governor, Mr Eze Ajuzie, in a statement made available to NAN, dissociated his principal from the saga, saying the governor’s wife was not aware of the development.
Daily Trust gathered that the development, which was greeted with public outcry, has continued to dominate discussions in public places.
A cross-section of Abia residents considered it as witch-hunting and victimisation of the headmistress for making a legitimate demand.
When contacted, the headmistress declined an interview with Daily Trust, saying there’s an order from “above” not to speak to the press. She said besides she was a civil servant, and directed our correspondent to the Head of Service for comments.
In a fresh twist to the matter, Gov Ikpeazu’s men have taken to the social media to insult themselves over the comments credited to the embattled headmistress.
Don Ubani, Publicity Secretary of PDP in the state, who hails from the same political bloc with the governor, said “No adviser worth his salt will advise or encourage the wife of his principal to “stray” into a domain which hatred and hostility against the principal are not in any way hidden.”
Responding, the Deputy Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Cosmos Ndukwe, who hails from the local government where the school is situated, said “it is very regrettable, utterly disappointing, shameful, thoughtless, embarrassing and politically suicidal for a man like Don Ubani who claims to be experienced in the game of politics to be credited with those unfortunate lines.”