Monday, April 06, 2009


“The members of the committee are not on salary. They are all volunteers. They are ONLY collecting a sitting allowance. They are not collecting any allowance.” (Emphasis mine.)
– Professor Dora Akunyili, Minister of Information & Communication, Federal Republic of Nigeria

“Blue Magic – that’s a brand name…”
– Denzel Washington,
American Gangster

There was once a woman named Professor Dora Akunyili, who was revered by Nigerians for her crusade against the importers of fake drugs into the country in her capacity as Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This woman was the lioness protecting her cubs when it came to the keeping fake drugs away from ordinary Nigerians. She fought tooth and nail with the drug barons, some of whom were important contributors to political causes in Nigeria, and she stared them all down. She was so bad for business that they tried to kill her, and only the shooter’s inability to calculate where her gélé ended and her head began saved her life.

That those criminals went so far was proof that she was doing the right thing, and that this woman wasn’t all about sound bites, unlike the vast majority of government appointees. When Dora spoke, we listened, and we believed her. Before Dora, nobody paid any attention to NAFDAC. Under her, it became one of the most effective government agencies in the country, like Voltron, loved by good, feared by evil.

When rumors began surfacing that Dora was being considered for a ministerial post, many hoped she would be given the Health portfolio, which, given her solid background in NAFDAC, meant she would be in a position to oversee not only her former agency, but she would have broad oversight powers, and be able to use her skill and determination to set things to rights in the Health sector. Indeed, many believed that Dora would be key to achieving anything in the Health area of President Yar’Adua’s much advertised 7-Point Agenda.

Alas, it was not to be. When the list of ministers was made public after months of speculation, Dora was on it, but she had been assigned the Ministry of Information and Communication. In other words, instead of giving her a portfolio in which she could make a tangible difference and create a greater positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians, Yar’Adua had decided to make her his mouth piece. And for a President who is notoriously reticent about what he says, and when and how he says it, he might as well have replaced her lips with a zipper and a padlock. I mean, during the whole “the-President-is-dead” fiasco, the same story didn’t come out of Aso Rock two days running. I can only imagine that the publishers of This Day got tired of the “President Returns Tomorrow” headlines they kept getting fed by their former staffer.

Now, the job of being Nigeria’s Information Minister requires an intimate knowledge of the art of double-speak, and an ability to tell lies with the utmost sincerity. One can be sure that when our Minister of Information says, “Good morning” it is actually around 10 p.m. at night. And if the Minister shakes your hand, you should check for your wallet, your watch, and count your fingers immediately afterwards (and not necessarily in that order). To Nigeria’s Minister of Information, up is left, down is right, black is yellow, and the Earth is flat and is the center of the universe. Basically, Nigerians have learned not to believe a damn thing that comes out of the mouth of our Information Minister. We don’t believe a thing that the NTA Network official government bulletin News has to say, hence we gladly watch AIT and Channels News instead.

So, Dora’s appointment as Minister of Information & Communication meant one of two things:
a) She had been given the job so she could use her integrity and honesty to begin giving Nigerians the straight facts for once; or
b) She had been given the job in order to capitalize on her honest image so when she lied to us, we’d believe her.

Well, since this is Nigeria, it is safe to say that had the former occurred, our primitive cerebrums might well have tried to wake up.

Naturally, Dora at first tried to cut the image of the straight shooter she once was, but having started down the rabbit hole, there was no turning back for her, and this has been brought home to us with the whole “Rebranding Nigeria” malarkey.

Dora recently went on air to attack those who called the Rebranding Nigeria campaign a waste of time and scarce resources, and who questioned exactly how the shindig was supposed to be paid for. It was during her response that she provided us with the above gem, one that will surely be entered into the Museum of Doublespeak.

I know I am not a Professor like Dora, and my vocabulary is admittedly limited, and the little English I was taught from before and during Kindergarten up to my University days surely cannot hold a candle to our Minister’s command of the language, but I am having a hard time understanding how “sitting allowance” is not an “allowance” within the definition of “any allowance.”

I do not deny that my country’s image is in need of a lift, that my countrymen have to put up with all kinds of negative stereotypes wherever they find themselves. That Lucky Dube’s killer thought he’d get a sympathetic sentence from the jury because he “thought he (Dube) was a Nigerian” is a case in point. However, it’s not about sending Nigerians text messages saying we are good people in a great nation. Our problems go far beyond a mere perception issue. Look around the world, Nigerians have proven time and time again, their ability to thrive and excel in any field, given the right environment and encouragement. We excel in sports, business, science, medicine, literature, art, music. We’ve got the determination, the drive, the will power, the energy, and the desire to succeed at anything. In short, we need no reminder that we have the potential to be “good” people or a “great” nation. We see the evidence every day.

Our biggest and greatest problem is that our government doesn’t give a rat’s fuck about the “good” people, and in fact does everything in its power to ensure that we become bad people. Our rulers have been desperately trying to remake the ordinary Nigerian in their own image and likeness for decades. Indeed, our image problem stems directly from our rulers treating our country as their personal property, and our common resources as an ATM. Corruption, which is unarguably our greatest negative image generator, has been entrenched solidly in our national fabric by these rulers. They have created and fostered the idea that governmental positions are the quickest (and most sustainable) means to wealth by years of crass theft and slap on the wrist punishments for those of their number stupid or unfortunate enough to get caught up in the anti-corruption crusade of the day, and the result is that there are few Nigerians who see anything in this country worth fighting or dying for.

Instead of wasting our time, our phone message capacities, and our money on this nonsense, the government should concentrate on providing us with constant power supply so that our factories stop moving to Ghana, and depriving our people of work in these economically testing times. The government should concentrate on giving us an electoral system of which we can say “It’s not perfect, but it works.” The government should concentrate on securing the lives and property of its citizens instead of attaching battalions of mobile police men to guard PDP chieftains.

I know it’ll be hard, because our rulers are a bunch of hedonistic, lazy and greedy pendehos, and the above sounds too much like work, which they are allergic to.

But here’s an idea for Dora, instead of Rebranding Nigeria, why don’t you rebrand our government? Try replacing the words “Government Official” with “Greedy A-hole” or “Lying Bastard” or “Corrupt Thief.” This will enable Nigerians know exactly who they’re dealing with, and put an end to all these pesky demands for accountability and (God forbid) actual governance.

That can only be “good” for this “great” nation.

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I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...