The resignation of Professor Dora Akunyili as Information and Communication minister last week provoked all manner of comments from Nigerians with quite a number seeing it all as another deft move by her to continue to reap where she has actually not sown. She chose to contest for a Senate seat under the All Progressives Grand Alliance [APGA] platform instead of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] which honoured her with a ministerial appointment after her widely acclaimed performance as the head of National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC].
Many have reasoned that being the opportunist that she has always been, she chose to capitalize on the popularity of APGA in the South East to attain her goal instead of staying the course and testing her popularity with the PDP.
Her resignation actually got me thinking in a different direction entirely: Of what relevance is the information ministry in this day and age? I may be wrong but I just cannot think of any critical role the ministry is playing in national development. All its so called functions, as far as I am concerned, can be effectively carried out by agencies under it if they are fully empowered to carry out their statutory functions without undue meddling by the so called supervising ministry. The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria [BON], for instance can effectively regulate the broadcasting industry in the country just as the Nigerian Press Council can do same for the newspaper industry. The federal government could, if it so wishes, merge the two bodies and streamline their functions such they can adequately regulate the media industry as is the case in Britain which has a body called Ofcom that carries out that function. If the Nigerian Communications Commission is made independent and very effective, it need not be under the supervision of the information ministry to regulate the communication sector.
The information minister is regarded as the spokesperson of the government but that too is duplicitous as every president appoints a special adviser on media who everyone recognizes as the ofiicial spokesman of not only the president but of the government as a whole. This is the case in most developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom whose administrative systems we try to ape. Beside the White House spokesman, there is no other designated minister or secretary who speaks for the president or government of the United States. The same also applies to the United Kingdom and indeed many other countries around the world. Even South Africa does not have a ministry of information and I am sure many will agree with me that it is doing far better in projecting a positive image of that country than our own information ministry. Part of the functions of the ministry which has to do with projecting a good image of the country could be effectively handled by a vibrant tourism ministry whose main objective has always been to tap the enormous tourism potentials of the country in order to attract not only tourists but also investments into the country. South Africa – as we saw prior to the World Cup – and many other countries are doing that successfully.
Historically, information ministries were mostly set up as propaganda agencies of governments to indoctrinate the policies – mostly dubious – of governments in the minds of the people. The most prominent perhaps was the ministry of public enlightenment and propaganda set up by the Nazi government in Germany under the dictator, Adolf Hitler. The ministry was founded in 1933 under the headship of the renown Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Its main objective was to implement and enforce the Nazi party ideology which it successfully did in the lead up to the Second World War and the eventual mass execution of jaws living in Germany. The Germans have long discovered such a ministry has outlived its usefulness and has since abolished it.
The United Kingdom also created an information ministry to serve a purpose during the first and second world wars under the leadership of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Downham respectively. During the Second World War specifically, the main objectives of the ministry were threefold: press censorship, provision of adequate publicity at home about the war and provision of publicity abroad in allied and neutral countries. Like Germany, the UK also dissolved the ministry way back in 1946.
Iraq, with the prompting of the United States, has also dissolved its information ministry which served as a propaganda machine for the Saddam Hussain government during the Gulf War and the its invasion by the allied forces led by the United States. Many of us remember the then Iraqi information minister, Mohammad Saeed al Sahaf, who was in office at the time of the invasion in 2003. He caught the world’s attention with his determined effort to present to the world a different picture to what everyone else knew about how the war was unfolding; which was the impending fall of the Saddam government. Before him, the Saddam government also provided the world with another prominent propagandist minister, Latif Jassim, who was at the helm during the Gulf War after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. His famous words before the war were that “we will show the world that America is a paper tiger”. The outcome of that war is of course well documented.
Like these countries that have gone through periods of war, the Nigerian government may be excused for setting up the information ministry after independence to garner support for the new indigenous government and also during the civil war to win the propaganda war against the renegade Biafran army, but in my opinion, the ministry has now become obsolete and should be done away with. Dora made all that noise about rebranding Nigeria with the attendant waste of resources when there is a National Orientation Agency in place that could have taken up that responsibility if indeed it was found to be that necessary. The point is: every function the ministry performs can be effectively done by one agency or the other if they are empowered to do so.
In these harsh economic times that require the federal government to check excessive spending and save money to finance developmental projects that will make a difference in the lives of people, perhaps it will do well to scrap the information ministry and channel all that money wasted on financing the ministry, its two ministers an a whole lot of other baggage to better use.