Prof Dora Akunyili,This Is Becoming Ridiculous!
BY UGOCHUKWU EJINKEONYE
If before the end of this year it becomes clear that the sterling performance of Dr. Dora Akunyili as Director General of the National Agency For Food, Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC) has been completely erased from the people's mind and rudely replaced with the clearly odious role she now plays as the ebullient head of President Yar'Adua's misinformation machinery, she would have no one to blame but herself. And it would be very sad indeed. No doubt, the costly, but naïve decision she took to become the image-maker of a passive and rudderless regime must, without fail, exact an even costlier price.
Never a one to miss an excellent opportunity to strike when the head is still on the block, Mohammed Haruna has stepped forward with the strange theory that the indisputable and widely acclaimed success of Dr. Akunyili in her determined battle against fake and substandard products may have been unduly exaggerated. "The problem with propaganda is that it almost always leads to self-deception. Akunyili may have succeeded possibly well beyond her wildest imagination in turning NAFDAC into a well-known brand, but the reality of food and drug administration in the country is that her success has been more of image than substance," wrote Mr. Mohammed in a March 4, 2009 column. He did not stop there: "The fact is that contrary to the image that NAFDAC under Akunyili has virtually eliminated the phenomena of fake drugs and drug abuse both have hardly experienced any significant decline. In spite of all her efforts, the open and illegal drug markets in the country including the three most notorious ones at Onitsha, Kano and Aba, have never really gone out of business. So also have those who openly hawk prescription drugs on our streets", Mohammed declared.
A few months ago, before Akunyili accepted to work for the very unpopular Yar'Adua regime as Information Minister, Mohammed, despite his sterling reputation in matters of this nature, would have thought twice before launching such an unfair broadside, but now, who would want to fight for a once widely-admired Dora who, for reasons that can only be less-than edifying, has chosen to hasten her self-immolation with her own hands?
As DG of NAFDAC, Akunyili was regularly celebrated in my newspaper column even though I have never met her. The same way, most Nigerians who had loved her, prayed fervently for her and had pleaded with her to resist the temptation to soil her shinning reputation by accepting to become the spokesperson of this clearly bankrupt regime, did not know her personally. And they would regard as gratuitous insult Mohammed Haruna's suggestion that they may have been hypnotized by Akunyili's successful propaganda and media hype.
No matter how revolting we may find Akunyili's present engagement, we cannot in all honesty deny that she did quality work, as NAFDAC DG, to restore the people's confidence in drugs and beverages circulated in Nigeria. So, solid was her work that as not a few Nigerians entered shops and confidently bought fruit juice or other beverages, and left with full assurances that their livers would still be intact after they had consumed them, they gratefully remembered Akunyili and thanked God for her life. As a baby suffered from jaundice, and the mother rushed to a nearby chemist shop and purchased the antibiotic prescribed by the doctor, and the drug saved the baby instead of killing him or her, that mother, depending on how informed she was, more often than not, would remember Akunyili. As drug manufacturing firms which were almost forced out of business (many multi-national drug companies actually closed shop and left the country) because their products were being indiscriminately counterfeited returned en masse and began smiling to the banks with their millions and billions instead of singing tales of woes, they remembered Akunyili, and thanked God for such a rare gift. To most Nigerians, Akunyili meant the return of sanity in a society overrun and made unsafe by heartless counterfeiters; the safeguarding of many lives which would have been lost because of the desperation of some devilish souls to rake in blood-stained millions at the expense of precious lives.
As I read recently the Daily Trust web copy of Mohammed's March 4 article and saw the comments posted by readers, it dawned on me that Akunyili's lower descent may even happen faster than I had feared. But then, it has always been evident that the first thing a public officer acquires in Nigeria is thick skin. That is why the very damaging allegation by one of Mohammed's readers (which Daily Trust allowed to be posted) may not even bother Akunyili. That may also explain why she is most stubbornly going on with her overly exasperating re-branding campaign despite widespread agreement among the citizenry that it is nothing but a useless and wasteful exercise.
I have heard that when people enter government they tend to be willingly ignorant and blind in order to survive for too long there. Else, how can somebody with Dr. Akunyili's intelligence, training, exposure and endowments wake up one morning and convince herself that by attacking my phones daily with the very uninspiring slogan: "Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation," she will succeed in intimidating me into suddenly forgetting all the indescribable pains tormenting me in this country as a result of the abysmal failure of leadership and character on the part of our rulers, and start grinning from ear to ear? Does a country become great simply because some fellow stood in some cosy office in Abuja and attacked my phones with silly slogans he or she does not even believe? What do these people really take us for? A population of empty-headed fools? Now, if a father who had wasted his money on wine and women, and, consequently, starved his family sore, suddenly woke up one morning and started reciting: "My Family: Healthy, Well-fed!" won't his wife and neighbours think he has gone crazy? How can such a useless slogan better the lot of the family he had irresponsibly neglected? How would that secure him the love and cooperation of his family members and make them to stop seeing him as an irresponsible and failed family head?
I seriously think that this is becoming too ridiculous! There is a disgusting penchant in Nigerian leaders to always throw money at problems and expect a magic to happen – a clearly lazy, insincere man's option that would always be rewarded with resounding failure. We always want to seek a shot-cut to glory by seeking to purchase a good image. How can any nation hope to re-brand itself in a vacuum, with practically nothing to showcase? Will the potential tourist or investor simply start rushing down to Nigeria because of one meaningless slogan when the verdict of Country Risk Analysts about this same country remains alarming? Why this indecent haste to re-brand? Why not Yar'Adua now set a realistic date to achieve uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria, for instance, and when that has been achieved, use it as a milestone to anchor a re-branding campaign?
To clearly underline the fact that the rest of the world is unimpressed by our infantile campaign of misinformation, Nigeria was recently excluded from the G20 Summit of world leaders which it had before now attended as merely an observer. What it means then is that even as an observer, the global community is sick and tired of enduring the unprofitable company of this perennially sick baby. And when this happened, Yar'Adua mourned in Abuja: "I must say that today is a sad day for me. And I think it should be for all Nigerians, when 20 leaders of the leading countries in the world are meeting and Nigeria is not there. This is something we need to reflect upon," he cried.
Well, I can only hope that Yar'Adua and his unwieldy crowd will truly reflect upon this, and tell themselves that even if a G40 Summit is holding tomorrow, Nigeria may still be excluded, even if we sink billions to re-brand and re-brand and re-brand. Somebody should please tell Akunyili what I think she already knows too well, namely, that when a room is horribly messed up with the indiscriminate droppings of a very reckless dog, what you must do is to bend down and carefully wash the place with an active detergent. Only then would you get back the fresh, pleasant air that makes a room worth inhabiting. But if you take the unhealthy short cut of spraying the dog-shit with heavy dose of deodorant, then you will get a putrid scent that will make the room more repelling than ever before. Indeed, it is time to discard this unprofitable and ridiculous exercise and roll up the sleeves to work to move Nigeria forward. Without any re-branding campaign to hoodwink anyone, companies are closing shop here, and relocating to Ghana. Yar'Adua and Akunyili can also reflect on this. A good market, they say, sells itself.
About the Author
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, an influential commentator on public issues, is Editor-In-Chief and Head of the Editorial Unit of a Publishing Outfit in Lagos, Nigeria. He was until recently on the Editorial Board of Independent (www.independentngonline.com), a national newspaper published in Lagos, Nigeria, where he wrote a highly regarded column (SCRUPLES) on the back page of the paper every Wednesday. His articles have equally appeared in several newspapers, magazines, journals and internet media sites in Nigeria and around the world. EMAIL: email@example.com; www.ugowite.blogspot.com
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