Nigerians greeted Dora Akunyili’s appointment as information minister with an admixture of surprise and angst. Surprise because appointing the former NAFDAC amazon as a manager of information for a government that recently subjected its key officials to the laws of Omerta, and which is not really interested in the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, FOI, contrasted very negatively with her previous national assignment under the kampe president. But come, let’s reason together about one woman who put her life on the line to pursue the manufacturers and importers of fake and substandard foods and drugs to Nigeria and succeeded. Here was one woman whose stellar performance in safeguarding the health of the nation, brought attention to Nigeria as a nation really interested in being taken seriously in mainstream 21st Century. Here was one woman, even before she became what she has become became a Nigerian touchstone. And everybody thought that if there was any other assignment that Nigerians desperately needed Akunyili to handle, it could have been as health minister, mostly because of the relationship that NAFDAC had with the health of the nation. But that was not to be, and the angst people are angstier than ever. Most of them complain that this is the quintessential Nigerian way of employing square pegs to work in round holes.
Well, the amazon has already jumped in the fray, what with her Nigeria: great nation, good people slogan, which does not sound like anything near Frank Nweke’s Welcome to Nigeria!, that is, until Olusegun Obasanjo messed things up completely on CNN with his baritone W-E-L-I-C-O-M-E TO N-A-J-I-R-IA! With the tragedy that befell her predecessor’s ‘Heart of Africa’ campaign, the wish across the land for Akunyuli is that God help her succeed in re-positioning Nigeria, just so the same way she succeeded with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC. ‘Hear’ her passion in a recent interview: ‘I am shocked that a Nigerian is saying that the biggest democracy in Africa, the largest populated African country is not a brand. If Nigeria is not a brand, then what is a brand? We are a brand, but unfortunately, we are a corruption brand. A brand where nothing works, a brand where there’s a lot of confusion’. Akunyuli said she believes that Nigerians are regarded as fraudsters and criminals who are not given the benefit of the doubt because of that perception of Nigerians as fraudsters.
But even though Akunyili is right, Nigeria should not be a hard sell, should it? Nigerians are the best re-branders in the world. In Lagos and in most parts of our country, Nigerians can package anything, including shit, which customers ready to pay princely sums for. The caveat in most cases is that the shit must be properly branded and packaged. However, there are some questions that the Nigeria: great nation, good people mantra of the re-branding crusade throws up. Is Nigeria really a great nation? What makes a nation great? Are Nigerians really good people? Why do we want to be known as good people, especially as nobody in the international community today wants to be seen as good? Do you think we will be accepted as such just because we insist that we are great and good and want to be branded as such?
Madam Akunyili would do well to realize, as she goes on to re-brand Nigeria that every nation on the face of the earth has potentials for greatness, goodness and badness. Every nation has another name, a sobriquet apart from the one she picked up when asserting her independence. That name sticks, and usually comes from what the people do or not do. That name comes from what the leadership does with the human as well as material potential at its disposal. It is not something you force down everybody’s throat just because you want to re-position your country, and like the Augean stable, it takes time for the shit to accumulate. Take the case of the Italians, known for their mafia, the Germans whom Hitler unfortunately branded as racists, the French known for their wine and the Eiffel Tower, the English for their conservatism and the Nigerian for 419 and bad leadership. Most nations have a name and today, nobody cares a hoot about being good. They do whatever it takes to increase their people’s chances of living the good life and living it great. They put their lives down, like Akunyuli, so that there is electricity, that the trains are working, that the roads are motor-able and they try to do whatever it takes for their people to breathe clean air. Take the example of the little country in the European Union, EU, called Liechtenstein. That country, in 2050, will have less that 40million people. It has no records of having planned a national budget, has no data on her gross domestic product, but she has 100 per cent literacy for both male and female. Liechtenstein does not have a standing army. In spite of this however, decisions made at the highest levels of the EU will remain null and void if that little country is not consulted before decisions are taken at by the EU.
Nigeria has picked up a nasty reputation over the years. Among African nations, she cuts a pitiable sight as the giant that cannot provide electricity, cannot provide the simple basics despite the fabulous wealth at her disposal. Among countries of the world, Nigerian leaders are seen as common rogues. Imagine what transpired with the Halliburton deal to construct the $6billion liquefied natural gas plant in Bonny, Rivers State. While the United States, US, authorities have prosecuted, jailed and fined their people $579million for offering more than N27billion bribes to three former heads of state – Olusegun Obasanjo, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalam Abubakar, those allegedly involved are still gallivanting around like heroes. This is the kind of thing that has made Nigerians, being pushed to the wall by a lack of basic infrastructure, now push walls down by engaging in those notorious little schemes called 419 that our leaders are good at.
That is why Akunyuli must realize today that greatness or goodness has little to do with size or the crude oil deposits Nigeria sits on or on morality. It is beyond that. Akunyuli must realize that she take practical steps to haul these people to jail first of all before fighting to paint a Nigerian Opel car which has an engine that has rusted beyond recognition. She must. If she cannot do that, she would just be echoing Bertrand de Jouvenel, that ‘man has a capacity for changing himself and his environment, but this capacity tends to conflict with his need for physical and psychological stability’.