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Akunyili is playing the game

By Ochereome Nnanna

WITH a lady like Professor Dora Akunyili, there is no dull moment. It is either hot or cold, but mostly hot. She is an interesting personality and public figure to watch. People are either mostly good or mostly bad. But in the case of Dora Akunyili, she is mostly good and sometimes doubtful.

When she decides to be good, she is the exciting, bubbly, kindly and generous woman; the sister you wished you had. She is also mischievous (like calling someone on the telephone and making faces to let people around know she does not mean what she is telling the person at the other end of the line).

As a public officer, the average Nigerian on the street can vouch for Dora’s effectiveness, patriotism and boldness that is uncommon in women. She understands the fact that a man cannot really engage a woman in a public brawl and win if the woman knows how to fight the woman kind of fight, which Dora sure is an expert at. This was what former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa did not understand and hence that rather low-ball comment about Dora and her tenure at NAFDAC.

I have been a witness to Professor Dora Akunyili’s ability to effectively and selflessly discharge her functions without seeking personal gain. A friend once had hundreds of millions worth of container loads of his goods detained at the ports as a result of the usual bureaucratic bottleneck, which in Nigeria is only loosened when appropriately priced graft comes to play. His case was reported to the then Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Akunyili. She requested the chap to come to her office with his documents. After leafing through the file containing the documents and confirming that everything was in order, Akunyili simply minuted her instructions and summoned the relevant director. She ordered that those containers be out of the ports within three days once the relevant NAFDAC fees were paid.

As we left her office, my friend did not believe a process that could have taken three more months and millions of naira bribe was cut down to just three days and no strings attached! Sure enough, within a week all his woes were over, never to return. As a witness to this story, I owe it a duty to give the testimony because this was the manner we all knew she approached her job at NAFDAC. So, for Aondoakaa, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to advise her to “go and confront herself with what happened at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) or face prosecution”, that is a surprise.

It is satisfying to know that Professor Akunyili has given him an ultimatum to substantiate his insinuations and the House of Reps has already fixed a date for Aondoakaa to come and explain more about what he knows on the matter. He should also explain why he withheld the prosecution of Akunyili. Ministers, like Professor Adenike Grange, were accused of involvement in graft and were not only dropped but also prosecuted by this Yar’ Adua regime. Aondoakaa should tell us if he has been presiding over selective justice, because that is what his nasty jab at his colleague minister implies.

There is the doubtful part of Prof. Akunyili (by which I mean she leaves you unsure as to whether she is a patriot or “self-seeking” and “trying to make herself an angel and a cheap hero”) as Aondoakaa put it. Her memo on Yar’ Adua’s absence apart, she has taken a number of steps that left one thinking that, maybe the lady likes to stay in power, public glare and public office. Perhaps she has become addicted to the armed-to-the teeth mobile policemen around her and riding in official convoys.

Not long ago, Prof. Akunyili went out of her way to cultivate the good graces of ambitious and powerful Turai Yar’Adua. Sidling up to the President’s wife is a step public appointees take when they know she is influential. It is a ploy of survivalists. Some of us expressed our reservations over the viability of the Nigeria re-branding campaign which appears to be Akunyili’s personal pet project as few of her colleagues have shown the slightest interest in it. She dabbled into politics headlong and was given the Information portfolio as if she was being shoved in to have her fill of publicity. She has defended many unpopular decisions of the regime, especially the watering down of the Uwais panel report by reinstating the President’s power to appoint INEC’s helmsmen. This was perpetrated by a three-man panel headed by this same Aondoakaa. She played along. As the spokesman of the administration, its rising unpopularity rubbed off on her and she was to become the butt of snide comments.

At a point it seemed that she was looking for ways to reclaim some of her past glory. Articles praising her against the run of play started appearing on opinion pages. Suddenly, Akunyili, who had emerged sixth in the Living Legends poll of last year, made it to the fifth when the man who won the fifth position, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, died. The invitation cards had her re-branding insignia embossed on it. Following a public outcry, the award event was postponed.

It is against this background that one is left to wonder if the Akunyili memo was not one of those gambits to re-launch her? Perhaps, in an effort to stage a “come-back” and to plant herself firmly at the centre of a Goodluck Jonathan presidency, she took this dare-devil chance? Perhaps Akunyili is now convinced that the Yar’ Adua era is over? Is Jonathan’s bold redeployment of the erstwhile most powerful Yar’Adua Minister, who relished being seen as the regime’s “Bad Man”, a further confirmation of this? If this is so, Akunyili is like the shrewd chess master who decides to sacrifice a rook to save a pawn knowing it is the only way she can avoid a checkmate.

Whatever it is, long after her days in public office, Akunyili will be remembered as a woman who was capable of pulling off hair-raising stunts that got her talked about.


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