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Akunyili : Toast of Diaspora Nigerians

By Chukwudi Nwabuko

LAST  month, at a social gathering in London, to which I was invited by some acquaintances  who got to know I was in the United Kingdom, where I had travelled on a private visit, issues of diverse interest dominated our animated discourse.

As is usual in such informal gathering, after the normal exchange of banters and felicitations, the discussion shifted to the state of affairs in our dear country Nigeria. As one who had just left the shores of the country few days earlier, they sought to hear my informed opinion about the state of things back home, particularly the outlook in the run up to the 2011 elections, and its 2010 precursor in Anambra state.

I tried as much as possible to be analytical and objective in my views, particularly as regards the political barometer in the country vis-a-vis  the backdrop of recent developments in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as regards the modus operandi in its choice of gubernatorial candidate in next year’s governorship election in Anambra.

After making my presentation and a situation analysis of events in and around the country, other issues were laid on the discussion table, prominent among which was the perceived state of health of President Umaru Yar’Adua and related matters. Although I made it clear that I did not have any more information as regards his health than what had already been officially released by the presidency, I excused myself from further discussion on the matter, since the president, being a mortal, has the right to be sick and seek cure anywhere in the world.

Not long after I opted out of discussing the President’s health than the discussion shifted to the coterie of ministers appointed by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to help  him pilot affairs of the country at the federal level. Opinions were divided as to whether some of these ministers have truly lived up to expectation; or acquitted themselves creditably or really understood the role they were expected to play in policy making and implementation.

It is interesting to note that while the discussion lasted, there was not a blanket condemnation of all the ministers. While majority of the discussants were unsparing of many of the ministers who they described with some unprintable names, almost all who spoke identified the Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili as the ‘silver lining’ and the ‘star’ in the crowded ministerial council.

There was convergence of opinion among most people at the gathering that Yar’Adua’s choice of Akunyili may turn out to be the redeeming face of an administration in need of honest and hardworking men and women who the masses can trust when it matters most.

First of all, they pointed out that Akunyili was about the only minister who has come out with a programme of her own  encapsulated in the ‘Re-branding Nigeria Project’ which seeks to change the way others see and perceive Nigerians. At a time many people had given up on Nigeria and Nigerians as ‘irredeemable’ she came out boldly to sell the country by pointing out the positive values of Nigerians, using the personalities that have made the country proud in international circles.

That is not all. Akunyili got their endorsement unsolicited, because they believed that she meant well when she decided to stand for transparency and the rule of law by cancelling the contract for the sale of the 2.3GHz spectrum by the National Communications Commission (NCC) for not meeting the criteria of due process and transparency-which action also received presidential endorsement.

Furthermore, they equally pointed out the relentless battles she has had to wage with GSM operators in the country and who have been in the habit of providing unsatisfactory telecommunication services and ripping off subscribers, but for which  the regulatory body-NCC- seems incapable of addressing.

More importantly, Akunyili’s years as Director General of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was recalled nostalgically by the discussants as epochal which may yet be unequalled in the annals of war against fake drug anywhere else. That she fought fake drug manufacturers to a standstill until they stopped seeing the country as a safe haven for their unpatriotic and lethal act also drew their attention and commendation.

Overall, they described her as unassailable, dogged, relentless crusader and a shining star who has excelled in every assignment given her.

It was indeed very interesting listening to a cross section of Nigerians who  may not have seen the minister-as in our parlance-Live.

All that they may have known or heard or seen about her may be appearances on television, mention in the newspapers or perhaps from the radio. They could relate with her because of what they have seen her do in the few institutions she served. But for those of us  who have had the privilege of relating closely with her and seen her work at close range, we can only concur that this Amazon of a woman is a rare specie indeed.

Mr.   Nwabuko, a public affairs commentator, writes  from London.


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