Churchill Okonkwo’s unwarranted attack on Prof. Dora Akunyili in his article “Southeast Governors, Dora Akunyili and Ohanaeze: The Scavengers That Will Destroy Ndigbo” published January 31 by Sahara Reporters would ordinarily not have elicited a response if not for the need to set the records straight.
Though the article was ostensibly meant as a commentary on the declining relevance of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s political equation, the writer chose to isolate Prof. Akunyili for attack just to capitalise on the Amazon’s popularity to attract attention to himself.
And what offence, if one may ask, has Akunyili committed to deserve the attack? By Okonkwo’s admission, the offence of the immediate past Minister of Information and Communications is her boldness in speaking up for Ndigbo when every other person has chosen to be silent. As was confirmed by Okonkwo in his article, he decided to take on Akunyili because she was recently quoted as saying about the purported zoning of the Senate Presidency to the South-West by PDP: “I want to believe that what was said in the media was not correct. But if it is correct, it is going to be really painful because it means that the Igbo are no longer in Nigeria’s equation. If we are not President, we are not Vice-President, we are not Senate President and we are not Speaker, where are we? . . . It has happened before and I believe this time around, it should not if we really believe in one Nigeria.”
That such a robust defence of the interest of Ndigbo should anger a man who from his names is an Igbo man (and who admits not being a PDP member!) is indeed strange. Okonkwo expressed displeasure that Akunyili, having resigned from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and decamped to the All Progressives Grand Alliance still had the guts to comment on things pertaining to her former party. “If my professor is so much interested in PDP and their zoning wahala, I wonder what she is doing in APGA,” he wrote.
In other words, Okonkwo is saying that by virtue of her having left the PDP, Akunyili has forfeited her fundamental human right to comment on issues of interest to her—in this case, the Igbo political future—just because the party in question is her former party. What a puerile argument!
The author’s attempt to strip Akunyili of her right to free speech and to champion the Igbo cause just because her new party, APGA, does not zone political offices is equally illogical. Akunyili believes that no one should be stripped of the right to vote or be voted for on account of where a person comes from or on the basis of a person’s religion. She has never at any time said anything to the contrary, so it would be mischievous to accuse her of hypocrisy. She only pointed out that since the ruling party in Nigeria has chosen to zone offices, it would be wrong and unjust to overlook the Igbo, one of the three major ethnic groups in the country. Surely, no right-thinking person would fault such a sound argument.
Contrary to Okonkwo’s claims, there is nothing hypocritical or selfish about Prof. Akunyili’s past or present. In case Okonkwo has forgotten so soon, Akunyili as Directory General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) bravely battled counterfeit food and drugs at great personal risk—even the risk of death. And as Minister of Information and Communications before her resignation last December 15, she once more lived up to expectation, speaking out at great personal risk when men were afraid to talk as the nation burned. It is regrettable that instead of joining millions of other Nigerians in appreciating Akunyili’s role in rescuing Nigeria through her patriotic outspokenness, Okonkwo chooses to interpret it as ‘stabbing Yar’Adua in the back’.
Of course, the truth is that Akunyili never at any time stabbed Yar’Adua, or any other person for that matter, in the back. Akunyili’s reputation as a loyal woman of high integrity is well known even if Okonkwo chooses to pretend to the contrary. However, while Akunyili seeks to be loyal to groups and individuals, her first loyalty is to God and to Nigeria/Nigerians. The reason is simple: Akunyili recognises God as the architect of her achievements and feels indebted to Nigeria for all that the country has done for her. As she has often said, “I believe in Nigeria almost in a fanatical manner, because this is a country that has made me who I am today. All through my life, from secondary school to university to post-graduate and even at post-doctorate level, I enjoyed full scholarships because I am a Nigerian. I therefore always have that strong feeling that I can never sacrifice enough for this great country.”
People like Okonkwo who seek to make a big deal of Akunyili’s exercise of her constitutional right in leaving PDP for APGA are merely crying more than the bereaved. People change parties everyday, so what is special about Akunyili leaving PDP? Her loyalty to the party was never in doubt after she joined at the instance of the Northern Women Political Forum led by Dr. Hajiya Rabi which, without any prior information to Akunyili, contributed money across the 19 northern states and then pressured her to run for the 2007 presidential election. In keeping with her modest nature, Akunyili had resisted the pressure, telling the women that she was not yet ready for that level of political project. Perhaps unknown to Okonkwo, it was members of the Northern Women Political Forum who in 2007 registered Akunyili as a PDP member in her ward and she only collected her PDP membership card about one year after.
As a loyal and committed party member for the period she belonged to the PDP, Akunyili tried her best to rescue an Anambra PDP that has been afflicted with intractable crisis which has had serious and negative consequences on the party. Her personal efforts to find a solution to this deep-seated crisis were repeatedly frustrated by entrenched interests determined to control Anambra PDP at all costs. The first of her reconciliation attempts was made at Hilton Hotel, Abuja, and the second at Awka. Those attempts were met with violence. People who did not want the reconciliation sent thugs to the venue, one of whom released tear gas right inside the hall. There were even placards by rented young boys who chanted war songs and solidarity songs for some politicians. At that point, Prof. Akunyili decided that further moves at peace could lead to more unpleasant consequences.
Right now the situation has not improved. With Akunyili’s sincere attempts at genuine reconciliation being consistently met with resistance and hostility, she had to sit back and reflect on her journey into PDP and the aftermath. After much reflection and consultations, Akunyili came to the conclusion that what is more important is rendering service to the people—not necessarily the party platform; hence her decision to leave PDP for APGA.
As she announced to the world while leaving the government and PDP on December 15, “Having reflected over the years about events in Nigeria and in particular my state, Anambra, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed a defining moment in my life when I should make the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable place to go to a difficult terrain in order to build a better place for our children. I have, therefore, decided to join my Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, who is doing a great job in continuing to build Anambra State as an APGA Senator.” Yet another proof of Akunyili’s readiness to always put—not her personal interests but the interests of Ndi Anambra, Ndigbo and Nigeria—first.
*Umunna is Special Assistant on Media to Prof. Dora Akunyili. He can be reached through [email protected]