WHO IS A NIGERIAN BRAND?
It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the man who made America stronger by making America freer who said: “Occasionally in life there are moments which cannot be explained by words. Their meaning can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.” Today is such a moment for me and perhaps for Real Nigerians. My heart is filled with pride as I read in the newspapers and saw for my self what a great job, done by this great woman of our time.
I read the book: "War Against Counterfeit Medicine, My Story" and could not drop it until I finished reading it. I am short of words in describing the book. I am proud to be a woman. Professor Dora Akunyili, a woman who built her reputation as a fearless bureaucrat, has indeed showed her real self. I have waited for this day. The day that someone will finish serving and put down his or her experience in a book for all to read and learn from. It happened in my time and by Dora, the fake drug Czar who did creditably well in NAFDAC, not deterred by the assassins’ bullet. I asked a series of questions last year in my piece, "National Icons As Nigerian Brands" I asked the following questions; When you want to select a football team, say a national football team for a very important tournament such as the FIFA World Cup, who do you select? When you want to send a proxy to represent you in a very important meeting, or a crucial negotiation, who do you send? And when you are selecting a queen amongst a bevy of beauties to crown in a beauty pageant, who do you select? The answer to the three questions above is that you will select the best, the very best. You will select the person, the team or the queen who will best represent you and what you want to be identified with. The one you select, that very best, is your brand. Take it, or leave it! Dora Akunyili has indeed made her mark. An uncommon and audacious one laced with life-threatening risks. A dogged legacy appreciated by the small and mighty; unschooled and learned; Nigerians and the international community at large. For seven and a half years, the one-time anti-fake drug czar wrested-wrestled with the merchants of death at the detriment of her life and that of her team. Good work attracts praises, so all through these years, specifically 2001 to 2008, there were songs and praises worldwide for Akunyili’s unprecedented campaign and victorious war to save the lives of Nigerians against fake, counterfeit, substandard medicine, food and chemicals. The immediate past Director General of National Agency for Foods and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Minister of Information and Communications recently shared her experience of stewardship at NAFDAC encapsulated in a book titled: The War against counterfeit medicine-My Story. It is not a sweet tale after-all. “To say that the war against counterfeit drugs, unwholesome food and other fake health-sensitive productions was both very demanding and dangerous is an understatement. What happened during the assassination attempt on me in 2003 was indeed stranger than fiction. My heart bleeds as I remember Mr. Emeka Onuekutu, the bus driver, who was killed during the attempt on my life,” Professor Akunyili recalled as she welcomed guests to her book launch held on October 7 at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. “The young man took some of the bullets intended for Akunyili and died on the spot. Emeka’s bus was overtaking the car she was riding in at the very point when the gunmen opened fire. Like every field General, Akunyili had a great team. These team players had their share of undeserved tears in the fight against counterfeit drugs. The former NAFDAC Director General vowed that she will forever be indebted to the great team for their support, sweat and tears during that fight to safeguard the health of our nation. “My heart goes out to all of them for the physical and emotional trauma that they went through in the cause of the war. When we refused to be compromised, drug counterfeiters fought back with intimidation, harassment, blackmail and threats. When all of that failed, they resorted to physical attack, vandalism and arson against NAFDAC staff and facilities,” she related in a sombre voice.
The book launch brought back memories of Akunyili’s achievements at NAFDAC and was once again eulogized. The event will be better described as a talk festival than a book launch. Like majority of leaders, who crave for reconciliation at the end of the tunnel, Akunyili did the obvious. At the close of her welcome address, she solicited for forgiveness from those who are unwilling to forgive her for destroying their property in the course of her job as NAFDAC DG. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan disagreed with her. He didn’t see a need for apologies. He nullified the apologies on the spot, saying dealers in counterfeit drugs whose factories, warehouses and products were destroyed do not deserve any apology. He told Akunyili: “You don’t need to ask for forgiveness, you don’t need to apologise to any of them. Within them, they know you have done the right thing.”
Elated at Akunyili’s impressive performance at NAFDAC, the President noted that occasionally, he still has the urge to redeploy her to the food and drugs regulatory agency. “When I see Dora at council meetings, I always feel guilty that we pulled her out from NAFDAC. I sometimes think we should take her back to NAFDAC,” he revealed. The book launch renewed the need for the President to intensify the war against fake and counterfeit drugs. He promised, “I assure you that my administration will do everything within its powers to support NAFDAC to win this noble war that seeks to protect the health of our people.”
“There is need to compare the statistics of the prevalence of fake and counterfeit food and drugs while Dora was there and now.” Jonathan extolled the minister for her achievements at NAFDAC. According to him, as the boss of NAFDAC, Prof. Akunyili executed her job with passion and zeal that earned her names like Amazon or the Brand. “Her achievements at that post are well documented in the minds of many of our country men and women who till this day praise her for her outstanding contributions to the efforts to eradicate the menace of food and drugs adulteration,” he stated.
Jonathan further stated that Dora’s exemplary service at NAFDAC and as Minister in his administration testifies that despite the huge challenges, there are still men and women of integrity who could preside over the affairs of the country’s public institutions with same passion, effectiveness and efficiency that they bring to their private businesses. Former Nigerian leaders General Yakubu Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the father of the day’s event and the Executive Governor of Anambra State also poured encomiums on Akunyili. Gowon said Dora deserves to be called a General, considering the eminent role she played in the fight against fake drugs and the uncommon courage with which she chased fake drug dealers through the desert and Atlantic Ocean. Classifying the Information and Communications Minister in the category of people like late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Afro Beat Exponent, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who don’t need a second name to be identified because their track record and firm standing for what they believe in, Gowon observed that the rate of counterfeit trade in the world is alarming. Gowon disclosed that according to the World Health Organisation statistics, seven per cent of world trade was in counterfeit products while counterfeit drugs on a global scale amounts to $10bn. Shagari, while commending Akunyili’s books, described her as a woman who has done well for her country. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole also eulogized Akunyili, but with certain demands and reservations. Soyinka, who described himself as a victim of fake drug observed that Akunyili failed to check the quality of teargas being used on defenseless masses by the Nigeria Police. “15 per cent of toxic medication is in the possession of the police. Any person that has been on the receiving end knows that what we now have as teargas is not what it used to be. It is very poisonous. We need to get rid of teargas from the Nigeria Police. That is the only area Dora left. If that is done, I will score her 150 per cent,” he said. Governor Oshiomhole noted that aside from the war against fake drugs, Nigerians should also wage a war against fake ballot papers and thumb prints. The President urged other public officials to take a clue from Dora’s sterling qualities. “We cannot continue to lament the condition of our country but fail to make a difference in our little corner when given the opportunity. It is the aggregate of our individual thoughts and efforts that determines the destiny of our beloved nation, Nigeria”, he noted.
The book reviewer, who is the Director General, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, said through Akunyili’s leadership and her team’s hard work, NAFDAC reduced the prevalence of fake and counterfeit food and drugs from 70 per cent in 2001 to 12 per cent in 2008 when she assumed office as Honourable Minister of Information and Communications. Oteh described the book as a primer on translating vision to reality through uncommon leadership. She said it is a reference book on far reaching impact of courageous enforcement of the rule of law.
“The book’s central theme is unquestionably that vision, audacity and courage invested in the worthy cause of humanity will overcome all odds and obstacles. The message is one of gutsy optimism about the human condition however adverse and daunting. It is a call for transformative duty for public servant. It is a book of uncommon leadership and the possibilities for our nation if we can raise leaders like Professor Akunyili,” she added.
The President beckoned other public officers to effect quality change and follow the example of Akunyili by writing their memoirs or collaborate with professional writers to document their experiences for posterity. Now, back to my question of last year, who is a Nigeria brand? The answer should be obvious by now from the foregoing discourse. A Nigeria Brand, or Nigerian Brands, is the very best among us in various fields of human endeavour, and within different criteria. A Nigeria brand is the very best of our citizens who are worthy of emulation, whom we want to showcase to the outside world. Nigeria brands are those of our citizens, living or dead, who have achieved positive celebrity status and whom the generality of our people classify as true national heroes and national icons. This august class of Nigerians can be so-acclaimed for having distinguished themselves in various fields and in various challenges in the personal, national and international spheres. Thousands of Nigerians, if not millions, belong in this hall of fame. But for the purpose of this discourse, we can cite a few easily identifiable ones. And to avoid controversy, I shall leave out the political arena, because one man’s political hero may be another man’s villain! As Nigerian icons and Nigeria brands, people like Prof. Wole Soyinka easily comes to mind. Literary giant, Nobel Prize Laureate and internationally acclaimed social activist. You also have Prof. Chinua Achebe, the father of modern African literature. Others are Mr. Philip Emeagwali, Prof. Barth Nnaji, Late Dr. Tai Solarin, Late Dr. Alvan Ikoku, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Obi Ezekwesili, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chimamanda, the young award-winning novelist, and Prof. Dora Akunyili, to mention just a few. Between them, these Nigerian icons have accumulated sufficient international recognition and goodwill to last us a lifetime. These icons are the people this country can always project and present, with consummate pride, as the face of Nigeria, the Nigeria Brand. In their various fields, they are worthy of emulation. They continue to inspire other people, Nigerians and foreigners alike. I believe that if we are to conduct a study today in Nigeria on Brand Icons, Prof. Dora Akunyili will definitely top the chat as a leading Nigerian Brand. She is a very strong brand and if u ask me, she has gotten her Brand equity. Look at her initials the DNA brand, gives rise to all other brands. Honour is given to whom it is due. Dora deserves every bit of the accolades poured out to her on the 7th of October at the Transcorp Hilton, venue of her book launch. Congratulations, Professor Akunyili!