When Professor Dora Akunyili, the former Director-General of National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) was appointed to head the Ministry of Information and Communications, there were different reactions over the choice of a pharmacist by President Yar’ Adua to helm the affairs of the Information and Communications Ministry. Many commentators were of the opinion that Akunyili has been taken out of her area of competence. But unfortunately, the onus is on the President to allocate portfolios after the Senate screening and ratification of those the President choose to steer the nation’s economy. This makes the opinion of many concerned Nigerians count less thereby accepting the President’s decision.
Professor Akunyili might be an expert but certainly not in communications. The resolve to justify her membership of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as expressed by President Yar’ Adua during the first executive council meeting of the newly appointed ministers probably led to the initiation of a programme tagged “Re-branding Nigeria Project” which is aimed at improving the image of Nigeria. It would be recalled that a similar programme branded the “Heart of Africa Project” was launched during the Obasanjo administration all in a bid to project a positive image of Nigeria but this programme failed woefully in addition to making Nigeria lose billions of Naira through former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s countless trips abroad among other activities.
I guess this is why the Information and Communications Ministry under the leadership of Professor Dora Akunyili has decided to drop the overseas-driven project for a home-based re-branding Nigeria campaign. But come to think of it, is the creation of a new image for Nigeria what we need at this point in our national life? Although some people might disagree with my line of thought but I feel there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed before the image of the country can be improved. There is no doubt that image is very important but I do not think an initiative on projecting a positive image of Nigeria is enough to change people’s perception of Nigeria– I stand to be corrected!
Even though Professor Akunyili’s programme intends to start with raising a patriotic spirit in Nigerians at home by selling logo and slogan to them, the re-branding Nigeria project in my own opinion would not achieve the aim for which it was set up because the image of the country can only be improved when both the leaders and followers begin to do the right things. But until then, any campaign aimed at improving Nigeria’s image would be an exercise in futility and a sheer waste of human and material resources. Embarking on an image project at this point will be tantamount to telling lies about who we really are.
Though yet to take off, Professor Dora Akunyili’s project was reported to have suffered a setback. The project was also subjected to a barrage of attack by President Yar’ Adua besides not all government officials share Akunyili’s passion for the project. This show how important it is for the President to ensure that people that are put in positions of policy formulation and implementation are individuals with pedigree and experience in the areas they are assigned to work.
During the recently concluded budget defence with the different Committees of the House of Representatives, the budget offer in the Ministry of Information and Communications brought shame to Professor Akunyili. The statement of the Chairman, House committee on Information during the Ministry’s defence of the 2009 budget proposal confirmed many people’s belief that Professor Akunyili is ill-fitted for the job. The chairman was also quoted as saying “I am sure the civil servants in the Ministry did not guide you properly on how to defend budget.” Perhaps she is a new minister.
The meeting between the House of Representatives committee on Information and the Ministry of Information and Communications was stalled due to the inability of the ministry officials led by Professor Dora Akunyili to provide details of the budget estimate. Reportedly, what the officials of the ministry tendered to the lawmakers was described as a sketchy details. The documents’ detailing the 2008 expenditure of the Ministry of Information and Communications was rejected for inaccuracy on two occasions. This led to the advise of one of the members of the House committee, Hon. Dino Melaye saying “so madam Minister replace him as the budget officer in the interest of this country please, please.”
One wonders why a woman of integrity like Professor Akunyili would accept a ministerial appointment just to be rubbished. But again, everyone has a right to aspire to become whatever. Had she been given something in the area of her core competence, the former NAFDAC boss would probably not have problems trying to design a programme for her ministry. And contrary to the President spokeman’s defense of Akunyili’s transformation from a pharmacist to Nigeria’s information Minister, all is not well because her incompetence is beginning to show. Taking a bow when the ovation is loud seem to be the best thing to do but now that Professor Akunyili is involved in the Yar’ Adua administration, one can only wish her the best and hope she is given a standing ovation at the end of her tenure as the Minister of Information and Communications.