Professor Dora Akunyili, Free Speech And Naija

26 November 2010

By Suleman Dankano
There is no doubt that Professor Dora Akunyili is a woman most to be adored, and rightly so because of her unparalleled achievements as a pharmacist. This is due to the way she brought sanity into the drug manufacturing industry Nigeria when serving as Director-General of NAFDAC. She earned the respect of many, both at home and abroad and this could be attested by the number of awards she has bagged at the national and international levels. It was this great performance that earned her the portfolio of a full cabinet minister in both the Yar'Adu'a  and Jonathan governments. I have great admiration for this lady, especially because of the role she played during the dark days of Nigeria when Mrs. Turai Yar'Adu'a, Michael Aondokaa, then Attorney-General of the Federation  and  other enemies of Nigeria held the country to ransom while then President Umaru Yar'Adua lied comatose both in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Against all odds and out of a sense of patriotism, she stuck out her neck to be slaughtered by her colleagues at the Federal Executive Council to call on them to declare Yar'Adu'a unfit to rule. One can recall all the insults hauled at her by those who were more interested in stealing the wealth of Nigeria than serving the nation. All, but professor Akunyili felt that the loyalty was to the late president and not Nigeria. They called her a betrayal and ingrate for daring to ask them to do was ethically and judicially right. She stuck to her guns and ignored all such calls. One can even recall that Senator Kanti Bello of Katsina state had the audacity to oppose her confirmation at the Senate simply because she asked the FEC to perform its duty.  After all was done and said, she was confirm minister and returned to the Ministry of Information. This single action by her made her to join the ranks of Humphrey Nwosu, during the dark days of the Babangida era of June 12 and Ken Nnamani during the equally dark days of Obasanjo's Third Term bid. After Professor Akunyili's bolded, I said to my friends, the Igbos have saved Nigeria once more. I said at that time that the Igbos were the most patriotic Nigerians judging by what this trio did to save Nigeria.

There can be no gainsaying that Professor Dora Akunyili has been a round peg in a square hole at the Ministry of Information. Right from her first appointment Minister of Information, it was clear that she was given a job she was not wired or prepared for. Just like during Obasanjo's first term when he appointed a medical doctor as his Chief Press Secretary, it was clear that the best job for this lady was the Ministry of Health, where as a professional pharmacist, she would have performed credibly. Again, whether true or false, it was rumored that Obasanjo forced his candidate both on Yar'Adua and Jonathan at the Ministry of Health. Self-aggrandizement rather than a sense of nationalism pushed Professor Akunyili to accept a job she was not trained or prepared for. Against every good advice and sense of reason Professor Akunyili chose to serve as Minister of Information just to hang in there.

Since this lady took the reins of the Ministry of Information, she has literally been unable to do anything tangible there. She is idle, bored and lacks a sense of direction on how to be the Chief Information Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She has been a noise maker rather than a performer. When she came in, she started a project known as "Rebranding Nigeria." While propagating this clueless and unusual project, she called Nigeria a "Brand." Wow, a brand? She emphatically described Nigeria as a brand just like any brand name. At first, I asked myself, "Does the learned professor really know what a brand is? Does she really understand the difference between a people, a culture and a commodity?" Then I thought to myself, "May be because she is pharmacist and is used to drug brands, this is why she couldn't differentiate between a culture and commodity, a people and a thing." Again, I thought to myself, could it be that her handlers don't also understand the difference between a thing and a person, a proper noun and a common noun, or, is she rejecting good advice, insisting that she would say whatever comes out of her mouth? I will leave the whole question of rebranding for another article but I see the whole idea as a hoax, a waste of resources and a misplacement of priorities. This woman is bored, is clueless about the real problems facing Nigeria is just making a living out of her office.

This article focuses on Professor Akunyili's recent outburst on the use of the word Naija. I totally understand Akunyili's ignorance here because I was once caught in this ignorance. When I first went to the United States in 1993, I was appalled by Nigerians who were referring to Nigeria as Naija. I opposed as many as I could, and described them as unpatriotic. When attending any Nigerian function, I made it a point of duty to try to tell Nigerians that the word Naija was pejorative. Then suddenly, I began to study jingles in my anthropology class and why peoples call their countries certain names. I discovered that the Americans called themselves Yankees, the Australians call themselves, the Aussies or Kangaroos and the British call themselves, the Britts. I then asked myself, so what is the problem Nigerians calling Nigeria Naija? Why should anyone take issues with a name? I joined the club and felt a sense of belonging; that this is something we can really call ours. The Americans burn their flag in protest of what their government does as part of free speech and Nigerian should do the same without fear or contradiction. Nigerians can the country whatever name they want as part of free speech and no one should second guess their patriotism. What the minister is doing is trying to regulate free speech, something that is enshrined in our constitution.

Various governments have tried and failed to find a rallying point for Nigerians. Other than a football march between Nigeria and another country, which stops us from killing each other but continue to so right after the match, nothing unites Nigerians. Governments have tried programs such as War Against Indiscipline (WAI), by the Buhari regime, MAMSER by the Babangida regime, NOA by the Obasanjo regime and none of these have made Nigerians more patriotic. Gowon tried the NYSC as a means to unite the country, but we all know what the NYSC has turned into. Prof. Akunyili herself has been promoting this ruse called rebranding and has not been able to reach Nigerians, why is she against something Nigerians, especially the younger generation have developed that now makes them feel they belong? Is the professor aware of the fact that this is the only word that unites all Nigerians? Naija is the only thing that has gained acceptance by all sundry irrespective of where they come from, tribe, religion or state? This is the only thing we can truly call Nigerian Naija and if I might borrow her words, the only brand name developed by Nigerians is Naija and why would anybody in their right senses speak against such a rallying point? Is the professor aware that she is in a sense regulating free speech, something that is enshrined in the constitution she swore to protect? Did the professor wait to think of the political ramifications of her statement? It was reported in the news that the Federal Government has banned the use of the word Naija, is this really true it was the federal government or the professor's own personal ignorance that banned it? How does a minister's statement constitute a ban?  It is so shameful that after twelve years since the military left the political scene, most Nigerian officials still behave like military officers.

We talk about democracy and yet act militarily. Is the professor aware that we are in a democratic dispensation? In a democracy, most policies require legal backing through relevant legislation. When was the ban submitted by the executive as a bill to be debated in both chambers of the legislature and passed a law? If Professor Akunyili wants to ban free speech, she should first get legislative backing and Nigerians would now have to decide whether we are operating a democracy or still in a military dictatorship! This era of band this, band that must stop. The Obasanjo government banded the importation of frozen meats such as turkey, chicken and beef to protect Otta farm as the main distributor of these commotions and yet Nigerians bout into. The government banned the importation of used clothing when paying workers a minimum wage of about N5,500. The government banned the importation of readymade clothes when all our textiles were closing. The government banned the importation of cement to protect, Aliko Dangote's business empire when we could not produce cement in the country. A government official wakes of from a dream and approaches the president for a ban and the next day it becomes law. We produce nothing in this country yet ban everything the common person needs to survive. The oil we produce in this country is sent out to be refined and then be re-imported and yet we talk about Nigeria joining the G20. Even in developed countries like America, which our leaders are quick to cite as examples, there are thrift stores everywhere, where the common people can buy used clothing and other used commodities. Prominent among these are the Salvation Army Thrift Stores, the American Veterans Thrift Stores, Goodwill Stores and a host of other Community Thrift Stores.  We produce nothing but are quick to ban. And we ban, we create room for minister's wives, husbands and highly placed government officials to smuggle these things in and sell at high prizes.

It is hardly understandable why Nigeria places a ban on things that almost every country in the world imports. Professor Akunyili, the next time you are in the US please go to any store and check the labels on the commodities sold there. Pick a typical jacket, shirt, shoes or pants (slacks) and you would see, Made in Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, India, Ghana, etc, etc; very few of these are made in the US. Why do you think the US imports almost everything? In a free economy, people should have the freedom to buy whatever money can legally buy. Why are we banning importation of everything that you and your cronies fly abroad to buy? How many Hollandis wrappers, laces and Made in Italy shoes do you have in your closet? How many Gucci Gucci and other named brand ladies purses, shoes and clothing do you have in your closet? How many Made in Nigeria wrist watches, gold and diamond rings and bangles, earrings, braces and brooches to you wear? Again this is where I see the hypocrisy and lack of patriotism on your own part and trying to tell Nigerians why to and not say. Your rebranding should start with you and the fat cats that are milking us and stealing our money.

The minister, rather than concentrate her efforts on making the Freedom of Information Bill a reality, is busy going about proposing a ban on free speech. Here are some recommendations for Professor Akunyili

  1. Please stop dissipating energy on frivolities
  2. Please focus on getting the Freedom of Information Bill that has stalled in both chambers passed
  3. Please reduced your appearance on TV just for Nigerians to see your face when you have nothing to say
  4. With immediate effect, please stop wasting our resources on the so-called rebranding campaign. If there must be a rebranding campaign, it should start from the FEC, the Senate and House of Representatives. These are the fat cats milking our country for their personal luxury. A senator in Nigeria earns four times the salary of the US President, the largest in economy in the world! Do you see anything wrong with this at all? Be sure to educate more Nigerians on how to ensure equity in the distribution of wealth in the country.
  5. Please channel your energy on fighting the corruption that has become the hallmark of Nigerian politicians
  6. Please focus your energy on the Child Right Bill that needs urgent implementation
  7. Please focus your attention on service delivery. A situation where a patient goes to the hospital and is left unattended because he/she has no means of recourse because doctors and nurses are kings cannot be acceptable. People go to government offices and can't get the services they need. Please focus on how to get SERVICOM work.
  8. Above all, Madam Minister, if you have nothing doing and have ran out of steam; please resign so that we can put some more credible person in the office. It looks you have ran out of ideas and are just passing time.
  9. There are many important issues that need your attention that you are not doing. People need more information on the running and function of government that fall within your purview; you therefore owe Nigerians a duty to let information flow.
  10. Enough of your lousiness and opening your mouth wide when you should be closing it. Does being a minister entitle you not spite and disparage Nigerians? There are many Nigerians that can do a better job than you, given the opportunity to do so. Stop the arrogance and get real. Naija is for all of us and not select few and privileged people like you. A word is enough for the wise. Naija is the way to go. The name has come to stay and there is nothing you can do about it. You will soon be out of the government and out of circulation and reach the sun set of your life, but Naija will remain. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria, long live Naija

Suleiman Dankano, Ph.D.; MDY

Los Angeles, CA




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