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The price I’m paying as a Public servant by Dora Akunyili

Minister of information, Professor Dora Akunyili, launched herself into public consciousness when she was the Director – General of NAFDAC . 

During her reign at the anti-fake drug organization she  waged relentless war against fake drug barons. Her elevation to the ministry of information has exposed her to criticisms over   her initiatives like the re-branding Nigeria campaign and her  position on FIFA U-17 broadcast equipment and the cost of the equipment     In this interview she defended herself and said that it is the price she has to pay as a public servant

Do you think the Re_branding Nigeria Campaign is working?

Prof. Dora Akunyili...Whatever happens, FIFA or no FIFA, NTA facilities needed urgent upgrading.
Prof. Dora Akunyili...Whatever happens, FIFA or no FIFA, NTA facilities needed urgent upgrading.

The Re-branding Nigeria Campaign is working.  The awareness has been created in towns, villages and local communities.  The awareness is all over to the extent that Re-branding is a household topic even in the streets, at public places, motor parks, markets and in the media, Re-branding Nigeria is a topic for discussion every where in Nigeria.

It is a fact that many are in support of this programme, some believe it is an impossible task, while others chose to sit on the fence with an attitude of “let’s wait and see”.  Some have even asked publicly, why now?  Many have also responded on our behalf, if not now, when?

But I am delighted by the progress so far. You see, the beginning of solution to a problem is an admission that the problem exists.  I think there is a consensus among Nigerians that we need to change our attitude towards ourselves and our nation, towards governance, towards responsibility to our country, we need to be positive about our country and realistically learn to manage our negatives.

We should begin to ask President Kennedy’s kind of question “what can I do for Nigeria? Not what Nigeria can do for me! Re_branding Nigeria Project is an idea whose time is now. I am encouraged by the response of Nigerians at home and abroad.

For example, it was because of the Re-branding Nigeria Project that our attention was drawn to an infamous advert on Nigeria by Sony in an effort by Sony to market her products.  What about the response of Nigerians over the film District 9.  My phone never stopped ringing.

Many were asking, ‘what are you doing about Sony Advert or District 9 in the spirit of Re-branding?’  My office today is filled with proposals for the Re-branding Project.  It is a demonstration of interest. Again, many schools in Nigeria and abroad discuss and study Re-branding Nigeria Project. In fact, a British Professor in the U.K gave Re-Branding Nigeria as thesis topic to a graduate student.

I am not aware of any other past government intervention on Nigeria’s image that has generated such interest within and outside the country. There is no doubt that, Re_branding Nigeria Campaign is working successfully. The awareness and the consciousness are increasing.  The next stage is to walk the talk.  This is a stage that also involves all Nigerians including the media.

Why is the Ministry not using ICT Practitioners and Sportsmen for the Campaign considering the fact that they are the best Nigerian exports?

Prof. Dora Akunyili
Prof. Dora Akunyili

The Ministry is using everybody – all Nigerian role models irrespective of professional persuasion.  Our sportsmen and women are our Special Brands.  Some of our Brand Ambassadors include Nwankwo Kanu and Philip Emegwali.

These two Nigerians are in sports and ICT respectively.  When the Super Eagles were in Abuja for Nigeria- Tunisia World Cup qualifying match, I visited and decorated the team and officials as “Re-branding Nigeria Ambassadors”.  In fact all Nigerians with competence and integrity in their various professions are regarded as Special Brands which we are marketing.

We have too many great Nigerian brands not just in the areas of sports and IT but in other professions. We intend to be showcasing them in phases over the years.

You came under fire lately over the broadcast equipment for Under_17 World Cup, has the dispute being resolved.

There is no dispute actually that requires any resolution.  What we had unfortunately was a misconception, misinterpretation of my role in that very important procurement.  But this is the price we have to pay for being in public service.

Did you actually over value the equipment?  Please tell us the difference between refurbishment and what it would have cost to buy new equipment.

The procurement experts in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) would know better. The Office prescribes standards, rules and procedure for such procurement. I am aware that the BPP subjected the NTA contract to all the stringent processes, and standards required, and issued NTA with a “certificate of no objection”. This was why NTA was able to request me as the Minister to present the contract to Federal Executive Council for approval.

If there is any issue about the process, the contract, the quality and pricing, I am sure BPP is very open for more information. However, I wish to state that procurement history of the project is older than Akunyili as Minister. The process actually began two years before I became Minister.

It was alleged that the equipment you paid such hefty sum for has not arrived a week into the tournament, it was supposed to be used for. Is it true?  If not please tell us where the equipment is now?

I am not Minister of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). I am Minister of Information and Communications overseeing 14 Parastatals including the NTA.  After the Federal Executive Council approval of any project, implementation is monitored by the parastatal involved. It will not be possible for the Minister to monitor contracts in all the parastatals under the ministry.

What I am saying is that roles are clearly defined in what you might call division of labour. But I must say this, during the U-17 FIFA World Cup competition, I deliberately visited the National Stadium to see the media centre and broadcast centers for NTA and other organizations.

Now that the competition is over, I intend to call for comprehensive Report of the Broadcast of that tournament.  What was used?  What was not used and why?  I also expect the Report to contain information on certain challenges which the organizations faced in the discharge of that assignment.  Until I get that Report, it would be unfair to draw any conclusion.

But latest information at my disposal point to the fact that some have arrived while others are expected. Whatever happens, FIFA or no FIFA, NTA facilities needed urgent upgrading. I recall the day, the project was deliberated at the Federal Executive Council, there was the question, what if the equipment did not arrive before the tournament, and most of us agreed that what was paramount was that NTA was long overdue for upgrading. What I am saying is that the equipment is for NTA forever not just for that competition.

It was alleged that you usurped the Powers of your Minister of State when you Overruled Ernest Ndukwe over the auction of 2.3GHz Frequency.  Is it  true?  If not what happened.  Why are you at loggerheads with your Minister of State.

How are you going to achieve the three cardinal policy objectives you identified to sustain telecom development
I enjoy very cordial working relationship with the Minister of State, Alhaji Aliyu Ikra Bilbis.  He is a gentleman and a very respectful person anybody would like to work with. I just spoke to him on phone a while ago.  In fact, I see him as a younger brother. The Minister of State defers to me a great deal even in matters he could have easily taken a decision.

I sincerely appreciate working with him. What happened on the 2.3GHz was largely a breakdown of communication at some levels.  There was also the overriding need to ensure that 2.3GHz bidding rounds do not spoil the wonderful job NCC under Ndukwe had done in the past.  So we needed to be sure that the process was competitive, fair and transparent. The fact that I made this point and brought it to the attention of NCC did not amount to disagreement in my view.

However, I was surprised over the heat it generated in the media.  But it is all over. Mr. President has already laid the matter to rest. Ernest Ndukwe has done well in NCC, the heat generated by 2.3GHz not withstanding. We are working together with all stakeholders to ensure an error_free process in the next exercise.  For the telecomm sector, I am certain that Nigeria will meet global expectations.

I led the Federal Government delegation to the just concluded ITU Conference in Geneva. I was satisfied that all the ICT community in Nigeria that were represented at the global forum saw where we are, where we intend to be and has commenced plans, on how we can get there.  In Nigeria, ICT has a bright future.

As the Information Minister, you are supposed to speak for the government on all matters, but you hardly speak why is that so?

As the Information Minister, I speak for the Federal Government of Nigeria.  As a journalist, I believe you should know this.  I am doing my best to meet this expectation.  I need your support, the support of the media and all Nigerians.

Information management is easier if and when the society, individuals and groups make constructive contributions.
Take the case of Nigerian languishing in Libyan prisons, Nigerians expected you to comment on the situation at least to explain what the federal government is doing about it

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made official clarification and followed it up with action supported by the Nigerian Embassy in Tripoli. There was no need to duplicate functions.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.