The unravelling of Dora Akunyili

Perhaps only few vocations put practitioners consistently under the klieg lights than power politics. As politicians, especially those in public offices, would attest, power naturally thrusts you into the centre stage where you practically take your bath under the klieg lights. Since men naturally have egos, the notoriety conferred by power could also be exhilarating, and more so, when you are under focus for

doing the right things in this clime where knavery and public office often come across like a Siamese twins. Dora Akunyili came across as one who enjoyed the beaming lights while she held court at NAFDAC, and who except the merchants of death in Onitsha market would have begrudged the lady that took on the task of ridding Nigeria of fake drugs? Who could rightly begrudge her for the accolades she gathered for her noble roles at stopping death merchants from playing the Russian roulette with our lives? Read also Farida Waziri, you can quit, you know

No one therefore raised an eye-brow even when Lamidi Adedibu, the godfather of our immediate past president and the grandmaster of Amala Politics, hinted that the NAFDAC woman also had eyes on a ministerial position and that she made no bones about pretension on the matter. Even if you took the Alexander Pope’s maxim to heart that men should do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame, you hardly would have doubted that the elevation of someone with Mrs. Akunyili pedigree into the ministerial fold was a welcome development, especially here in our land, where integrity is in short supply. Wouldn’t it be good after all, if someone with Akunyili’s moral bent could bring fresh air into the stifling chamber of the Federal Executive Council?

For once, it was soothing that the grandmaster of Amala Politics scored a bull-eye hit on the ministerial predictions, even if one had thought that the assignment of Madam NAFDAC to the information portfolio somewhat looked like hiring an Eskimo to shovel sand in the desert. Just a couple of months after, there are now growing concerns that Mrs. Akunyili that had displayed adorable candour at NAFDAC appears set to self-destruct like the mythical sphinx. Two indications would suffice to justify the fear.

The first, apparently, is her ongoing misadventure on so-called re-branding project. You actually do not need to be a university don to know that the propositions of the Honourable Minister on re-branding stand logic on its head both in theory and in fact, and one ordinarily expects that Mrs. Akunyili herself should know. It goes without saying that a pharmacist of her stature need not be told that content sells a brand and not the other way round, and that the brand can only sell the content if only such brands are based on solid antecedents. In other words, a brand would only sell if the buyer is convinced of the integrity of its current content or a previous one sold under the brand. The implication is that an attempt at re-packaging a bad product by mere re-branding without taking time to improving the integrity of the content would be a swindle, a fraudulent effort at hoodwinking the buyer into purchasing a lie.

Secondly, my other fear about the information minister’s self-deconstruction stemmed from her roles as a hatchet person for Iwu’s INEC in the just concluded farce in Ekiti State. One wonders why Mrs. Akunyili that had talked so much about re-branding Nigeria would easily allow herself to play a fall guy in another contrived ploy to subvert the peoples’ will. As you watched Madam NAFDAC’s sweating it out on prime-time news during the Adebayo Ayoka somersaulting saga, you wondered if she should not have left the INEC’s publicity outfit to carry its own can. Akunyili’s feeble intervention was quite pathetic and her doublespeak made her position doubly precarious that evening on TV as she pontificated on Ido Osi, Ayoka and conscience; the latest words from INEC’s lexicon of infamy.

But thank goodness, if the illogicality of Akunyili’s re-branding farce had been in doubt, the Ekiti debacle unravelled it in a manner that would make it clear even to the simple minded. Trust AC, never one to miss such opportunities, it aptly joined the dots in clear terms for avoidance of doubts, “…you cannot re-brand a country or a product successfully when all you do is stand the truth on its head… (Akunyili’s) re-branding project is dead on arrival.’’

The AC comments apart with Madam NAFDAC’s tendentious suasions about conscience and Christian belief, it is obvious that the illogicality of re-branding is indeed dead on arrival. By joining the fray on appealing to morality in an issue that clearly demanded accountability and probity, and the Ekiti saga ending the way it ended, Mrs. Akunyili had exposed the soft underbelly of her re-branding project and implicitly underlined the fact that the fundamental ills of our society cannot just be healed by a re-branding effort, no matter how well intentioned. The obvious facts are that societies are not governed by moral suasions but by laws, institutions and immutable set criteria on minimum standards of behaviour, especially in public office.

Setting high scores on moral suasions would only subject the collective will to the ethics of individuals who could open or shut their moral valves at will, as we just witnessed in Ekiti State’s REC. Wouldn’t the dramatis personae in the yet another tragic electoral episode have acted differently if INEC were truly independent and if stiff rules and sanctions exist for subversion of the electoral process? The point is that Mrs. Akunyili would do well to ruminate in the privacy of her bedroom over the damage the Ekiti electoral dross had further inflicted on Nigerian image, and ask herself if what we actually need now is a re-branding of Nigeria or an honest re-engineering of the system to ensure that our votes count and that powerful men and women live up to their responsibilities on the Nigerian project.

One way to do that is for Madam NAFDAC to save her breath on re-branding and spare more efforts at persuading her co-travellers to build credible institutions that could conduct impartial elections as happened elsewhere in Africa in Ghana and South Africa. Few acts could be more fraudulent than the mouthing of re-branding by Dora Akunyili while Nigeria is held down for milking by capricious political elites, as she rationalizes electoral malfeasance in broad day light.

Alexander Hamilton one of the a foremost founding father of American federalism an one of the prominent writers of the Federal Papers, warned about the dangers of manipulating public office for personal avarice. Hamilton riled against the regional forces that mobilised against emerging federalism in America out of fear of losing political power, advising that subjection of personal greed to general good was most imperative for national health.

With the Ekiti saga, that sadly is a lesson most Nigerian leaders had failed to learn till date, and Dora Akunyili should read the Federalist Papers to see other reasons why her re-branding exercise would be an exercise in futility or at best a shadow-chasing diversionary exercise without first changing the self-perpetration traits in our polity.

The fact, however, is that such diversion tactics are not new; Tony Momoh wrote series of public letters to Nigerians while Ibrahim Babangida was milking the nation dry, Tom Ikimi and Walter Ofonagoro shamelessly lauded Abacha’s transition programme to the high heavens promising the coming of an Eldorado even while they knew that the General could only be transiting to hell.

Now, if Dora Akunyili thinks she can hoodwink us with a re-branding gimmick, then the joke is on her, especially after that shameful farce she helped chaperoned at Ekiti.

Dr. Goldsmith practices Medicine in Lagos