Dora Akunyili as Information Minister
By Francis Adejumobi
Among the recently appointed ministers, one whose appointment has attracted perhaps the greatest comments from commentators and pundits is Professor Mrs. Dora Akunyili, former Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drugs Control (NAFDAC) and now minister of Information and Communications. While her selection as minister has been nationally and internationally hailed because of her track record of performance in NAFDAC, many can not understand the rationale for her posting to head the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications. Some consider it as placing a round technocrat in a square hold. We will critically examine this charge later.
Some commentators have also questioned the reason in taking her away from NAFDAC where she was so effective and earned a lot of accolades for battling spiritedly against fake, substandard and adulterated drugs and foods. One online news site Pointblanknews.com even described her appointment as information minister as a blunder on the part of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. Is her appointment a blunder as claimed by Pointblanknews.com and other commentators? I do not think so. I even think that it was an act of political smartness on the part of Yar’Adua. And why do I say so?
The job of information minister is to sell the policies, programmes and projects of government to both domestic and international “markets”. The question to ask therefore is, does Akunyili possess the qualities of a good saleswoman? The answer is yes with a capital Y.
She is intelligent, charismatic, eloquent, and aggressive in her pursuit of her set goals. Above all, she has credibility. And in her tenure as NAFDAC Director-General, she has cultivated the media and made media men and women become partners in the war against fake drugs. Any one with these social capital or positive attributes is surely a very good candidate for marketing the government.
Dora Akunyili has good name recognition both locally and internationally. She is known both here and abroad as a woman of integrity who can not be compromised. When she is called upon to speak on behalf of the Nigerian government, many are likely to believe her. If you have a candidate like her that can sell Nigeria effectively with ease, why grumble that she is not properly posted and why call it a blunder on the part of Yar’Adua?
Another issue we need to carefully examine is: is it wrong for her to have been taken away from NAFDAC? Every one obviously loves the quality of service that Akunyili offered in NAFDAC and to my mind, it is a salute to this remarkable woman that many prefer that she had been kept in NAFDAC. But the truth of the matter is that even if she is not appointed minister, Mrs. Akunyili will not remain in NAFDAC for ever. One day, she will necessarily have to leave the place for some one else to occupy it no matter how much all of us hate to see her leave.
We all agree that Akunyili is some one who lives a mark where she works. She has shown that in NAFDAC. Why then do we not want her to leave another mark in another place? And if in the wisdom of Mr. President he feels that Akunyili should be given a chance to make a mark in another sphere of our national life and she agrees with him, do we need to lament too much about that?
I also think that those who are saying that Mrs. Akunyili should not have left NAFDAC are not being fair to her. She as a person has her own ambitions and motivations in life. She has dreams of new challenges she must face and conquer. She was certainly not created to come to this world and fight only drug fakers and adulterators. She was not also created to begin her public career and end it with a department of a federal ministry. A woman of immense abilities and immense goodwill like Akunyili may have her eyes set on higher goals in life, more so as she has convincingly shown every one that she is a person of great substance who can serve this nation in any capacity.
Let us be frank about it. How many of us do not wish to serve our nation at one of the high levels of government as minister of the Federal Republic? If it is the dream of millions of us to serve at this enviable level is it fair of us to then think that Akunyili should have consigned herself to the level of the Director-General of a parastatal under the Ministry of Health?
I suspect that those who think it is not a very good idea to have removed Akunyili from NAFDAC where her efforts have saved millions of precious human lives grumble because they think there may not be somebody good enough like her who can do what she did in the place. The job of being a good regulator of drugs and foods requires someone who is not greedy to accept compromise from manufacturers and producers.
That is the basic requirement. There are of course other attributes found in Akunyili which I have already enumerated but the basic one is the strength of character and the love for humanity to be able to say no to desperate businessmen and organisations who do not mind making blood money. I believe that with careful check a Nigerian like Mrs. Akunyili can be found to take over from her in NAFDAC.
NAFDAC existed in some form before the coming of Akunyili to the place. She breathed life into the organisation with her sense of mission and ability to mobilize relevant stakeholders to help her achieve her goals. The Nigerian society has been sufficiently sensitized by Akunyili’s astute saleswomanship to know the havoc which fake, substandard and adulterated drugs wreak on the society. They have seen what a NAFDAC D-G should be doing to protect society from the menace of drug counterfeiters and adulterators. Any one who takes over from Akunyili and does not live up to her standards will meet an angry boo from Nigerians. I sincerely believe that any other person with Akunyili’s level of integrity, commitment to duty and love for the nation and humanity can equally handle the job.
Lastly, we now come to the issue of whether Akunyili, a technocrat in the health sector is a suitable enough person to man the ministry of information and communications which should be held by a journalist or public relations expert. This brings us to the persistent debate in the field of management as to whether or not certain public offices should be manned by specialists (technocrats) or generalists (versatile individuals with above average intelligence and demonstrable track record of performance in earlier similar or not even necessarily positions). The finding is that what matters really is the ability and disposition of individuals. Some generalists have been known to out-perform specialists in certain positions that require specialists, provide of course that such individuals have the disposition of open mind to get advise and harness such advise for the good of the set up they are leading.
With the attributes of saleswomanship which Akunyili has shown she possesses, my guess is that it will only be a question of time before she proves herself as an effective spokeswoman of the Yar’Adua government.
Mr. Adejumobi, a public affairs analyst, lives at 12, Safi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.