“Nigerians in the Diaspora are the worst when it comes to bad mouthing Nigeria,” Mrs. Dora Akunyil said in an interview published in The Sun last Sunday. “When you hear Nigerians overseas talk about Nigeria, you will weep for this country.”
When the Minister first indicated she would not be content with being Minister of Information, but would rather rebrand our country, I thought she was just being dishonourable. It seems we must take her a little more seriously because her methods are more vicious than her mission. The truth is that if the Akunyili that insists she will rebrand Nigeria in a vacuum is the real Akunyili, this Akunyili is more bogus than the drugs she tried to rid the country of in her previous reincarnation.
As the Minister will find, it is a philosophical, logical and tactical error to try to separate Nigerians abroad from their kin in the homeland. I believe that the only division that is realistic and honest is that between those who suffer from Nigeria’s poor image, and those that are responsible for it.
If Mrs. Akunyili cannot understand or accept this distinction, she is just another political jobber and sycophant: another overzealous Information Minister that, like a bug, is dancing too close to the flame. There have been many Ministers like that since 1960: men who schemed and lied against their country in favour of their government.
Why is Mrs. Akunyili’s money-spinning scheme doomed for a resounding failure? Let me restate some of the ways:
• She is part of a government that does not know whether it is coming or going. This government has all kinds of proclamations, including the seven-point agenda, Vision 2020, rule of law, anti-corruption. But they are all empty, self-serving clichés with no respectable or identifiable content, and no traceable value. In any self-respecting society, that would be called fraud.
• In Akunyili’s Nigeria, the surest way for people to “make it” is to beg, buy or burrow their way into a government. In the federal government, there is a pretentious anti-corruption framework, but Nigerians—particularly those in authority—know that it is the most hilarious joke in the world. You lose neither status nor liberty in Nigeria if you take the treasury home with you. The President will not care, and the Minister of Information will look the other way because she is busy painting over a broken wall in order to make the building look strong.
• In Akunyili’s Nigeria, our novel contribution to democratic practice is that the federal legislature can rework the budget and share billions of Naira into so-called “constituency” allocations.
• A story published by NEXT in February clarified how members of the National Assembly rape the nation in the open. Each quarter, members of the House of Representatives--360 of them—pick up "constituency allowances" of ₦35 million each; that is N140 million per year. Senators collect ₦48 million per quarter, or N192 million per year. This means that a one-term Senator will be N768 million richer in four years. These numbers do not include salaries, allowances, allocations or other kill-and-divide sums! Professor Sola Adeyeye, a former Representative, has said that if Nigerians truly knew what legislators take away from the Assembly, they would stone the legislators. One example: in his four year of being in the Assembly, they were being paid a stationery allowance every other month, amounting to about N12 million during that term alone!
• In Akunyili’s Nigeria, history is unimportant. That is why even the Minister cannot remember a word of what her principal said at the United Nations General Assembly last September. Among other things, Yar’Adua said Nigeria would implement the Millennium Declaration Goals (MDGs). But I know that Nigeria does not really care about those dated development targets that many other nations are pursuing zealously.
• The MDGs are expected to be achieved by 2015; that is, nations are supposed to work hard to complete them all by that date. But in Akunyili’s Nigeria, leaders worry not about the common interest, but about their greedy individual pockets. That is why the MDGs, which will move Nigeria ahead by several kilometers, is a concept that is rarely referred to by Nigeria’s leaders. The most important MDG is the offensive against poverty. That must be a joke in the governmentbecause Nigerian leaders like Nigerians to be poor.
• In Akunyili’s Nigeria, human life is a gamble. High crime and road accident levels mean nothing to the government or their officials. Human security is of critical importance to the rest of the world, including tourists. It is the number one reason tourists avoid Nigeria.
I could write for days about how Mrs. Akunyili is heading for infamy. But I am sure that deep down, she knows it already. What we need is not to make Nigeria look great, but to make her great.
But Mrs. Akunyili’s worst offence is the effort to divide Nigerians. I do not see how she can blame Nigerians in the Diaspora for speaking out against the nation’s ills. Our journalists speak persistently against these ills. Nigerians in the East and the North and the West are hurting, and speaking. Tall Nigerians are calling this government names, as are short Nigerians. Men are criticizing, as are women. Professors are speaking, as are plumbers. Why are Nigerians in the Diaspora being isolated? Why is the truth suddenly becoming optional to Mrs. Akunyili?
Nigerians outside the center-circle of power and influence in Nigeria are tired of being divided by governments and their officials because that is easier to achieve than to fulfill the substantial and constitutional responsibilities of office.
Most Nigerians abroad are often people who were forced out because they lacked the stomach for the kind of malfeasance that the current government wears like a badge.
Most Nigerians left Nigeria because they were denied fair or professional opportunity by the kinds of manipulative, double-talking and irresponsible governments that Mrs. Akunyili has served. No matter what they achieve abroad, however, they are seen as “Nigerians,” to be held in suspicion. Are they also to be denied the opportunity to speak out? When government officials steal, or ignore the most reprehensible cases of official misconduct and corruption, it is Nigerians abroad who suffer the greater embarrassment and rejection. Is it wrong of them to point this out? Who gave Mrs. Akunyili the authority to define patriotism?
In recognition of the failure of governance, she did tell her interviewers: “If you are a leader, you lead well; if you are an ordinary citizen, be a good follower…government is doing its own bit for the people (and) at the same time fighting corruption.”
Where is her government leading “well”? If she knows, it is her job to inform the world about it. And “doing its bit” is neither a job description nor an achievement for a government. Does that mean we have water to drink, or peace in which to drink it?
The Minister claims the government is “fighting corruption.” Where, and how is this taking place? Outside the government, I know nobody: in the North or the South, at home and abroad, who agrees with the Minister. On the contrary, the corrupt and fraudulent are thriving openly, while the rest of us suffer the consequences of national, continental and international disrespect.
The Rebrand Nigeria scheme is an acknowledgement that something is seriously wrong with us. But it is diagnosis that is followed by the wrong prescription, and that puts the patient in mortal danger.
If Mrs. Akunyil ever read Greek mythology, she will remember the sixth labour of Heracles: to clean the Augean stables. Augeas, the King of Elis, not only owned legions of cattle, the stables had never been cleaned, and cleaning the mountains of manure appeared to be an impossible task. But that was precisely why he gave the task to Heracles.
In Dr. Akunyili’s schema, Heracles should have found a can of paint and painted over the cow dung. He should have found a can of air freshener and simply sprayed the air.
But Heracles used his remarkable strength to break down he wall at the rear of the stables. He the dug a canal into the stables, and diverted the nearby Alpheus and the Peneus rivers into it. When they merged, they became a powerful force that tore through the stables, completely cleaning what had been thought to be a permanent condition. The water and the manure also went on to fertilize barren fields below, making them once again available for farming, nourishment and renewal.
This is the challenge before Nigeria. Unless we clean our Augean stables, there is no way of getting rid of the stench let alone of fertilizing the soil for growth. We cannot wish this away. We cannot paint this over.
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