Dora Akunyili: Crass Opportunism or Heroism?


If Nigerians despise Mrs Turai Yar'Adua, wife of Nigeria's gravely ill president, for her love and manipulation of power, they ain't seen anything yet. They should watch out for the present Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili. Power is her goddess, and she worships it with her whole body, her whole heart, her whole spirit and, in fact, her whole being. For her, nothing is too small or too great to do to acquire power and flaunt it. Her love of publicity, which is legendary, is part of her endless scheming for power. Once she grabs it, Mrs Akunyili immediately and unceremoniously abandons all who helped her. Our Dora at every turn reminds us of the proverbial man who on using a ladder to climb to the top quickly destroyed it so that no other person could benefit from it. In State House, Yar'Adua loyalists refer to her as “Lady Use & Dump”.

Mrs Yar'Adua is these days not troubled as much by her husband's health as by what she calls her betrayal by the Information and Communication Minister. She was the person who nominated Akunyili to be a minister when Yar'Adua reconstituted his cabinet in December, 2008. Before then she had failed to make Yar'adua's first ministerial list, despite all manner of effort she made, which included pleading ceaselessly with “the strong man of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Adedibu, a barely literate tout who was for inexplicable reasons very close to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when the latter was the president from 1999 to 2007. Truth be told, sources close to Yar'Adua say Akunyili was the first person on his original ministerial list in consideration of the passion with which she was doing her work at NAFDAC, but he dropped her based on reports we need not disclose here.

A very smart lady, Dora soon realised Mrs Yar'Adua was incredibly powerful and her influence on the husband total. She consequently set her sights on the First Lady. She courted the First Lady's friendship in a most aggressive manner, grovelling and calling her “Mummy,” “Our Mummy”, “Mother of the Nation”, etc. As the joke in State House goes, Mrs Akunyili became almost Mrs Yar'Adua's orderly. If Mrs Yar'Adua had a headache, Akunyili, according to the joke in the Villa, would fall on the floor before the First Lady, screaming and wailing: “Let this headache troubling our very dear Mother of the Nation kill me, rather than harass our great Mummy for even a minute!” Aware of her acute sense of drama and her way with the media, Mrs Ya'Adua convinced the husband to send her to the Information Ministry. Having become a minister, she now elevated her status from being an orderly to the First Lady to her Aide De camp (ADC). Meanwhile, she engaged the Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehene, in a fierce fight over who would be closer to Mrs Yar'Adua's heart.

About two weeks ago, Professor Akunyili wrote a memo to her cabinet colleagues asking them to make Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the Acting President in accordance with Section 145 of the Constitution. It was a dramatic volte face for someone who had on two previous occasions after the Executive Council meetings addressed the press where she strongly defended Yar'Adua's fitness for the country's leadership. Many impreesed Nigerians automatically assumed it was another case of Biblical Saul seeing the light and thus converting to St Paul . How wrong! There was no conviction in her letter. Former President Obasanjo informed her to write the letter because President Yar'Adua, already in her second month in a Saudi hospital for a severe heart problem and a kidney condition, stood no chance of returning to office; his health was further debilitating alarmingly. She complied promptly, and leaked it to the press even before submitting the memo to the Council Chamber!.

This must be the first time in our history a Council Memo became public knowledge no sooner than it was written, let alone submitted. Even directors in the Ministries who normally prepare such memos swear to an oath of secrecy before working on them. Dora's reasons for sending hers to every media were two: to be seen as a fanatical supporter of Dr Jonathan—the new kid on the block-- so that she could retain her cabinet membership, and to regain her public image which has been declining disastrously since she became the Minister of Information. Not satisfied with the plethora of articles she and her numerous aides have been churning out under all kinds of names every second eulogising her for her so-called courage in breaking ranks with her colleagues over Yar'Adua's health status, Mrs Akunyili went on a whistle-stop campaign of media interviews castigating her colleagues dubbed by the press as the cabal for hiding the president from everyone. This public relations blitz, which resonates with public sentiments against the cabal and probably reinforces her case for retention in the Jonathan government, is at a cost: it makes the government look absolutely ridiculous.

There is no serious government anywhere in the world where cabinet members attack themselves in the open. The doctrine of collective responsibility, for instance, makes it mandatory that ministers defend government policies in public, including those they may have opposed strongly as individuals during cabinet discussions. George Bush's first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and his colleague in the Defence Department, Donald Rumsfield, were known to disagree sharply over the Iraqi invasion in 2003, but, far from going to the press directly to castigate each other, they actually displayed huge respect for themselves in public. There are always channels and opportunities for cabinet members to express their reservations and grievances. Therefore, some members of the House of Representatives led by Mayor Eze, a PDP member from the Southeast, were right by tabling a motion on the legislative floor on March 3, 2010, calling Mrs Akunyili to order. The State Governors Forum was also absolutely in order by passing a resolution the same day asking the Acting President to direct Dora to stop heating up the polity in this era of national uncertainty. But you can trust Dora to mobilise the media and all manner of hack writers against both thoughtful actions.

Akunyili is driven by crass opportunism and greed for power, not courage or altruism. She is a first class schemer. I would be surprised if she has yet cast a spell on Mrs Patience Jonathan, the way she did to Mrs Stella Obasanjo and Mrs Yar'Adua. Do not be surprised if she has in the last few days become the best friend of Mrs Dezien Alison-Madueke, the Minister of Mines, an indigene of Bayelsa State like the acting President and the only minister nominated by Dr Jonathan to the present cabinet. They now probably go to work and return in the same vehicle.

But Mrs Madueke must watch it. Dora believes the sky is not big enough for two stars. She is convinced there will be only one star, and the star must be her. That was why she spent so much time fighting Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili and Professor Charles Soludo during Obasanjo's second term. Immediately she was appointed the Information and Communication Minister, she went after the executive Vice Chairman of the National Communications Commission, Engineer Ernest Ndukwe. His offence? He enjoys both local and international acclaim for repositioning the Nigerian telecommunications industry, he received the Order of the Federal Republic honour as Dora the same day, and both hail from the same state. Engineer Ndukwe had an excellent case in her fight with Dora, supported by the law and tradition, yet Yar'Adua ruled in Akunyili's favour. She lobbied Mrs Turai Yar'Adua heavily to get her husband to give her a favourable decision.

Believing she is already close enough to Acting President Jonathan, Akunyili has set her sights on controlling Anambra State . She called an Anambra PDP stakeholders meeting in Abuja —not Awka, mark you—which was a resounding failure. Two weeks later, she called another one in the state where she was booed ceaselessly, pelted with stones and spirited out of the venue by security agents. She did everything possible to block the story from getting to the press. In spite of the fiasco that was the meeting she called, Dora went ahead to unilaterally set up a caretaker committee without any reference to the party national leadership. Talk of narcissism. Need it be added here that she worked relentlessly for Gov Peter Obi's re-election against her own party so that she would have a chance of contesting for the governorship soon on the PDP platform?

Prof Akunyili loves to get away with blue murder. Some years ago, the nation was treated to a phantasmagoria of how she escaped the bullets of assassins near her village in Agulu, Anambra State , during Christmas celebrations. She at once alleged that the purported assassination was directed by one Chief Marcel Nnakwe, a well known, wealthy but illiterate Onitsha-based fake drugs merchant. The then Inspector General of Police set up a committee which looked into the so-called assassination attempt and dismissed it as a ruse. But Mrs Akunili used her relationship with Obasanjo to get the State Security Service to arrest and keep Nnakwe incommunicado endlessly. Smelling a rat, the indefatigable social crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, took up the matter. It is a pity that Chief Fawehinmi is no more.The new police leadership needs to revisit the alleged assassination attempt on Prof Akunyili, and interrogate the police officers on her entourage when the so-called assassination attempt occurred. She likes peddling of story of her close shave with death everywhere and every time because it makes her look really like a hero, perhaps a candidate for a great global prize.

If Mrs Turai Yar'Adua is power crazy, Prof Dora Akunyili is Nigeria 's Jezebel. Ask the Minister of State in charge of Communications or her directors at NAFDAC. She will certainly make a most rewarding study in crass opportunism and manipulation of the public space. Not courage or heroism.

Mrs Ibekeme is the pen name of a former senior intelligence analyst in State House, Abuja .

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