My whole life I have enjoyed watching a good fight. Be it in boxing when two athletes take to the ring, or even market women who in traditional Yoruba style remove their headtie and tie it around their waist in preparation to duke it out. Although I am generally anti-violence, I have learned that in some cases, a good slug fest is necessary to bring certain matters to a conclusive end. However, while I might entertain such petty brawls, the ongoing feud between Nigeria's Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili and the demoted, former Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, is anything but. The very public fallout between the two is not only embarrassing but an unnecessary distraction that leaves one main loser - Nigerians. As such, it is time for one party, Dora Akunyili, to bring it to an end.
WHO IS DORA AKUNYILI?
Dora Akunyili rose to fame as the head of the National Agency For Food, Drug Administration & Control (NAFDAC). During that time, she faced life threats and had to stare down some very powerful figures such as late Ibadan political godfather Adedibu. She was later made Minister of Information, and in that capacity she became the nation's re-branding czar. Since announcing the rebranding project, her popularity took a noticeable dive. Critics accused her of trying to use the rebranding project to line her pockets and others criticized the less than perfect manner in which the project was unveiled. Nevertheless, as Minister of Information, Akunyili has gone on to demand and receive an apology from Sony for an offensive commercial that used Nigeria as a punchline. In a move considered by some to be a tad overdone, she had the highly derogatory 'District 9' movie taken off Nigerian movie screens after an apology was not forthcoming from the film's makers. Unfortunately, in the days after the Abdulmutallab suicide bomb attempt, an ill-advised statement by Akunyili added to the already tense diplomatic relations between the United States and the country.
THE SOURCE OF THE CURRENT FEUD
During the recent political confusion resulting from the President's prolonged absence, Akunyili managed to re-claim public goodwill and respect. A leaked memo (later publicly resubmitted) showed that she encouraged Nigeria's Federal Executive Council (FEC) to publicly admit that Yar'Adua is incapacitated. This revelation, at the height of the national discourse on the issue, led to many Nigerians applauding Akunyili's frankness, even though the initial memo was rejected by the FEC. In fact, shortly thereafter, various groups warned other politicians to not consider any retaliation against Akunyili. She received the support of several ministers and the governor of Niger State even went as far as publicly encouraging others to emulate her.
In reaction to Akunyili's position on the President, his staunch supporter, Michael Aondoakaa, who not too long ago said Nigerians had no right to know about the President's condition, criticized Akunyili. He said,
"What she is trying to do is self-seeking. Let her go and confront herself with what happened in NAFDAC."He is also quoted as saying of Akunyili that she is a "a self-seeking office holder who wants to make herself a cheap heroin."
The NAFDAC comment was interpreted by Akunyili and others as an affront on her reputation and history as a former NAFDAC chief. Akunyili, enraged, immediately demanded an apology. After being removed from his position as Minister of Justice by acting President Goodluck Jonathan, Aondoakaa issued an apology letter in which he called her his "sister" and asserted that his comment about NAFDAC was intended to be read in the positive. He explained,
"The correct import of the above quoted words is that the Hon. Minister had already earned a reputation for herself while at NAFDAC and need not seek to do more by embarking on the present course of action to the detriment of a resolution already adopted unanimously by members of the FEC. Accept the assurances of my highest regards and consideration."AKUNYILI AIN'T HAVING IT...
Unfortunately for Aondoakaa, Akunyili rejected the apology. Instead she gave him 7 days issue to issue a much clearer apology, that must be published it in the media, including The Nation newspaper, in which he made the original statement. If Aondoakaa fails to honor these terms, Akunyili has threatened to take him to court. Additionally, Akunyili submitted a petition in the House of Representatives against Aondoakaa for raising doubts about her tenure as NAFDAC chair.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
One must understand where Akunyili is coming from. Nigeria is the sort of place where corruption is pervasive and accusations of corrupt practices have been used to bring down many a rising star. Currently, the very popular governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, has been accused of corruption and already, it has become a distraction from the good work his government has done. Consequently, it is crucial to not allow allegations of corruption linger unanswered.
Despite that, Akunyili's reaction to Aondoakaa is a little overdone especially since she refused his original 'apology' and has already made this a formal issue before the House of Representatives. Considering that Aondoakaa is known for his support of corrupt figures such as James Ibori, it must have been a double insult for him to suggest that she is anything similar to Aondoakaa and his ilk. Nevertheless, there are more tactful means of dealing with the likes of Aondoakaa who have used their bully pulpit to, as WoleAkunyili needs to realize that she can win this feud quickly and with much less theatrics than are currently being displayed.
Akunyili should simply have issued a coy, yet strong letter restating her accomplishments and whatever support she has received over the years. She could have ended such a letter by denouncing any and all claims that she took public money, something she has done in prior interviews, and then gone on to invite Aondoakaa in revealing an unadulterated copy of their assets for public consideration. A simple, yet powerful challenge like that would have shut Aondoakaa down and further endeared the public to her. This tactic would have been much preferable to her current approach, which I believe is making her look like a shrew. It is hard to imagine that Aondoakaa would take her up on the challenge, and if he did, the matter could be carefully transformed to culminate in two public officials coming together in support of anti-corruption.
At the end of the day, Akunyili cannot forget that as Minister of Information and rebranding czar, the eyes of Nigerians and the world, are on her. Consequently, every step she makes must be calculated to improve her stock in order to give her leverage for future projects, particularly those that will be reflective on Nigeria and its people. Appearing to be over-litigious, as is the case with her threat to sue Aondoakaa and the fact that she previously sued Adedibu, does her no favors, in general. As such, it is time for her to find a delicate way to resolve the hatchet. The options are numerous. It is simply on her to chose not to descend into the mud with Aondoakaa, and instead take the high road. I particularly hope that she will do so, not just for her sake, but for the sake of Nigeria and the example she could set.
Michael Aondoakaa was the Nigerian Curiosity of 2007, while Babatunde Fashola was the Nigerian Curiosity of 2008. Although 2010 is already off to a fast start, it is not too late to reflect on who or what had the most impact on Nigeria and Nigerians in 2007. So, who or what would you nominate to be the Nigerian Curiosity of 2009? Yar'Adua? Abdulmutallab? The EFCC? Nuhu Ribadu? Shaibu Amodu? Please make all suggestions in the comments section.
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- Rebranding Nigeria: Success Is The Key
- Using Nigerians to Re-Brand Nigeria
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