Akunyili and Re-branding Nigeria Initiative By Gbenga Kayode


“I am about the only one left of my generation that fought for Independence. I would be very sad if I die leaving Nigeria behind the way she is now. My goal is to help… see Nigeria better governed; then, one might leave,” an elder statesman and one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, Chief Anthony Enahoro, a few years back, was quoted as making this earnest assertion in an interview published by a leading weekly news magazine in the country few years back.

Certainly, such a soul-searching submission by the foremost nationalist and living legend equally, applies to all patriotic Nigerians of uprightness to rise to the challenge of quitting the beaten track of institutionalised corruption as a way of life, and re-orientating the citizenry towards playing a meaningful role as responsible members of the global community. This must have instigated the likes of Prof. Dora Akunyili, OFR, the recently re-appointed Honourable Minister for Information and Communications to moot the idea of “Re-branding Nigeria Project” in order to encourage her fellow countrymen and women to consciously “work on themselves”, so as to change the pervading negative perception of the country in the comity of nations.

It is fast becoming an established fact that the pessimistic view of Nigeria by the outside world, is of course, usually attributed to the telling effects of national malaise, manifesting in forms of stinking, unbridled corruption, brigandage, increasing youth unemployment, ethno-religious violence, gradual erosion of societal value system, and kidnapping, among others.

Perhaps, regarding the onerous task of re-branding the country as a moral burden and a sense of responsibility at this critical time of the nation’s history, while the communicating positive attributes inherent in millions of Nigerians to particularly, players in the international system that the country, popularly regarded as the most populous Black nation on earth, after all is not all about destructive social malaise called Corruption, Prof. Akunyili, who is the immediate past Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and her team in the Ministry, in 2009, initiated the Re-branding Nigeria Project.

Subsequently, late President Umaru Yar’Adua, another well-reported Nigerian of integrity and values-based leader, then approved the implementation of the proposal, thus giving birth to the current national campaign centred on the logo bearing Nigeria with the slogan, Good People, Great Nation, ruling the airwaves for sensitisation towards the socio-political well-being of the country.

It would be recalled that in her welcome address on the re-branding efforts, posted on Ministry’s redesigned website, Prof. Akunyili, an internationally renowned pharmacist, pharmacologist, erudite scholar, seasoned administrator, and visionary leader, with hundreds of awards, recognitions and accolades (totalling over 540) for her selfless service, infectious humility, rare courage, and work in pharmacology, public health and human rights, earlier said of the object of the endeavour: “Every Nigerian is as worried as each other on the perception of our country and her citizens and the ill-treatments they receive outside our shores. We cannot afford to watch the life raft of our nation sink…. A few undesirable elements in our midst have been uncharitable to our fatherland through the wrong values they display within and outside the country and every Nigerian is paying dearly for it…. We will refuse to allow our national spirit to be broken.” She has urged all to “take advantage of our aggregate strength to mould a better nation.”

However, shortly after her Ministry’s determined implementation of the Re-branding Nigeria Project since 2009, the programme began to generate a flurry of reactions, both disparaging and encouraging, by a section of the Nigerian populace resident at home and abroad, as reflected in publication headlines and meriting attention by bloggers on the Internet, newspaper and magazine columnists on the propriety or otherwise of the national image-oriented programme.


Many, of course, have hinged especially such a barrage of criticisms on the country’s decades of festering poverty, corruption, 419, armed banditry, violence, exam cum electoral malpractices, unimpressive governance, and political brigandage, among others, which are rife in the land. Nonetheless, Dora, as she is fondly called by her admirers, and her team have continued with the re-branding campaigns across the country without let-up.


While some of the earlier poignant criticisms against the project were predicated on her alleged inexperience in government information management system, possible official indifference to ensuring the success of the project, and eventual likelihood that the Nigerian system might rubbish her hard-earned reputation at the end of the day.


“One wonders why a woman of integrity like Prof. Akunyili would accept a ministerial appointment just to be rubbished. But again, everyone has a right to aspire to become whatever…. Had she been given something in the area of her core competence, the former NAFDAC boss would probably not have problems trying to design a programme for her ministry…. One can only wish her the best and hope she is given a standing ovation at the end of her tenure as the Minister of Information and Communications,” Nigerian Bolaji Aregbesola once expressed his concern in an article titled: “Re-Branding Nigeria Project and Akunyili’s Competence”.


But to Akunyili, despite the initial overwhelming torrent of cynicisms against her taking up the position of the Federal Government’s chief spokesperson, she has rather remained undaunted in her stead to continue to toe the line of truth and integrity in the discharge of her “sacred” official responsibilities as the Minister for Information and Communications, even to the admiration of many Nigerians.


Recalling what makes her tick in this respect, she once commented in a piece on how her family background, regarding the utmost value of forthrightness, has had an invaluable influence on her: “I also imbibed a culture of contentment and zero tolerance for corruption. This is because in our traditional village settings, corruption was most unacceptable.”


This moral ethos, conscience, and courage to do what is right, no doubt, have constituted her beacon since she made a foray into public service. Whereas to some as humans, displaying personal integrity could be a very challenging option in certain difficult circumstances, although to Akunyili, doing so is the in-thing, as she unashamedly, believes that insisting on doing the right thing on the spur of the moment remains the only option for one to survive in such critical situations. Going down the memory lane, Akunyili, particularly, reflected much integrity, as an admirable social ideal during her days at the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), another political position, into which she got appointed based on merit.


Interestingly, between 1997 and 2000, Akunyili served as the Zonal Secretary of the PTF. In that position, she coordinated all projects in the five South Eastern States of Nigeria. But then, what actually distinguished her among her peers at the time? Though unknown to many Nigerians, she was given £17,000.00 by the PTF from which she was supposed to pay £12,000.00 for surgery and use £5,000.00 for other expenses abroad. Fortunately for her, after several tests, the doctors in London conclusively, determined that the initial diagnosis was in error, and that she did not need surgery. The London hospital, therefore, refunded the £12,000.00. As the aphoristic saying goes, that whatever is bred in the bones would definitely come out in the flesh, Akunyili without batting an eyelid, effortlessly, returned a sum of £12,000.00 to PTF’s coffers upon her return to Nigeria.


That singular splendid action caught the attention of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, a former Head of State and Executive Chairman of PTF at the time, as he personally wrote to Akunyili a commendation letter for that rare deed. Having got the gist of her story at the PTF, aside from her requisite qualifications as a qualified pharmacist, it was revealed that when former President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, was scouting around for a professional of honesty to head the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), she naturally, was said to have received overwhelming recommendations by well-meaning Nigerians, for her to be appointed into the challenging leadership position.

Despite that it’s no longer news that Akunyili performed creditably well as the Director-General of NAFDAC, it still needs to be stated that she and her team dared to confront headlong the evil network of “businessmen” behind the fake and adulterated drugs. She reportedly fought them tooth and nail in her determined efforts at safeguarding the health of the nation at the time. But that was not at the expense of the DG and her family’s personal safety. Unfortunately, her convoy was welcomed with bullets by supposed hired assassins in a failed assassination attempt right in her village in Anambra State December 26, 2003.

Nevertheless, she did not chicken out despite several near-death threats to her life and that of her immediate family as a result of her endless war against drug fakers and counterfeiters, all through her nearly eight-year winning tenure at NAFDAC.

In connection with the factor that underscores her ultimate belief in contributing her quota to the greatness of her fatherland, and whether she beholds any light at the end of the tunnel for Nigeria, Akunyili, in a published interview last year, declared that “Nigeria of the future will be brighter. Why not? The Nigeria of today is more developed, despite all the challenges, than Nigeria of 10 years ago. The Nigeria of 10 years to come will be much more developed than the Nigeria of today. Not just in the area of infrastructure, but in all areas…. So, I have hope in this country.”

Again, at the momentous period of the nation’s political history early 2010, when many thought the country was fast sliding into an unpredictable leadership crisis, the end of which no one could predict then, Akunyili’s innate instinct to continually walk in integrity, once more, was challenged to the limit. In what certain Nigerians described as “bearding the lion in his den”, she broached to her colleagues in the former Federal Executive Council the need to own up to Nigerians on the true state of health of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, that he could not continue to govern the country as expected when alive.

In spite the initial uproar which erupted within the ranks of the members of the Cabinet at the time, following her so-called “Controversial Memo” to the last Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) on the need to act fast, as Nigeria was standing on the edge of a  precipice, by urging the National Assembly to apply the relevant portions of the Nigerian Constitution and confer Executive powers on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces, recent checks have revealed that many Nigerians believe the re-appointment of Prof. Akunyili’s as the Minister for Information and Communications in the reconstituted Cabinet by Acting President  Jonathan was not unintentional after all.

Some of her ardent critics, who initially, kicked against her taking up a political appointment in the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, have begun to see reason after all, that she has a mission to accomplish. One of them who simply identified himself Omoruyi O. in his comment, once stated: “Aunty Dora… please do not fear anybody. Keep speaking out until we all know the truth. I was one of your critics for accepting to serve as Minister for Information (and Communications), but time has proved that your position may ultimately be used for good.”

Just as some may not share this sentiment, nevertheless, the Federal Government seems to agree with Akunyili and her team that Nigeria, in the midst of crushing negative perception, both within and without, actually needs her programme christened “Nigeria Re-branding Project”. As respects her strategy, the country needs a rebranding that begins with making Nigerians to change the way they see and think of their own country.

According to Akunyili, her approach is a designed programme to arouse Nigerians’ dormant passionate patriotism. This strategy persuades the citizenry to appreciate the simple fact that if the image of this country remains poor, a pitiable nation and pathetic people.

“We rather believe that we should tackle the problem from within rather than from outside. When we successfully dismantle serious brand eroders within, foreigners and Nigerians in the Diaspora will have no other choice but to adapt to our new values, behavioural patterns and mannerisms,” Akunyili declared in an address to Nigerians soliciting their support to join in the campaign.

Even if not for any other factor, many believe, Chief Enahoro’s heartfelt remark on the need to support the survival of our nationhood cannot be over-emphasised, in the sense that the labour of Nigerian heros’ past shall not be in vain. One believes this could be achieved only if Nigerians collectively and individually, intensify earnest efforts at restoring the declining ideals of good governance, cherished value system, honesty of purpose, integrity, self-respect, as well as national pride and unity as the prime national ethos.


Adding his voice to the call on Nigerians to support the current efforts at achieving national re-orientation and rebirth in his article titled: “Rebranding Nigeria: An Appraisal”, Mr. Dan Agbese, a veteran journalist and highflying columnist at Newswatch Magazine, once wrote:  “If we get our acts together with say, credible elections, energy or security, the image of the country would improve automatically. It would not need re-branding any more. It makes sense to re-brand now, if only to encourage us to get our acts together to make Nigeria an improved country in which some things work.”


Waxing spiritual in his comment on the need to support the current attempt by Akunyili’s Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, through the Rebranding Project, certain Uduzeli Kingsley, in a recent contribution to an online forum said: “The question everyone needs to ask is: “What exactly is re-branding of humanity? Re-branding is likened to the experience in the Noah’s time, when the obedient and good like-minded persons responded to the call, while the nonchalant were wiped-off. I wish to use this medium to awaken the youths, discover yourself and impact your vicinity for good, either through writing books, music or seminars, as we the noble elites have chosen to do. This country starts from you, your family and the society at large. We must affect our generation for good.” Thus, as a Nigerian living at home or abroad, where do you stand?


Kayode, a media and communication professional, writes from Lagos.