Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Challenges before Dora Akunyili

The excitement surrounding the appointment of Prof. (Mrs) Dora Akunyili as the new helmsman in the Information and Communications Ministry stand as hurdle for her success in the portfolio, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Since the announcement and swearing-in into office of the latest ministerial appointees, last December, especially that of Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Akunyili, as the new Minister of Information and Communications, has been creating some excitement among industry stakeholders.

ITRealms Online recalls that Prof. Akunyili, was until her latest appointment, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) after serving in that capacity since 2001, most of which marked part of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

Initially, most Nigerians were taken aback as they expected her to be posted to health, a ministry under which she presided over the affairs of NAFDAC, yet others saw her coming to Information and Communications as a tool to diminish her rising profile within the Nigerian politicians, professionals and international community; given anticipation that she may broker the jinx of being the best presidential candidate from the South East come 2011, especially as the Minister of Information; which in the past left it’s occupants bitter in the sight of the people due to avalanche of lies and cover-ups they have to do in the name of protecting national interest, even when the populace know the truth.

However, another group of stakeholders saw her stepping into the latest appointment as God’s sent with the optimism that she would perform more than ever anticipated.

Those who spoke in variance of opinions included the president, Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NiRA), Mr. Ndukwe Kalu, Secretary General of a non-governmental organisation, Joint Action Committee on ICT Awareness and Development (JACITAD), Prince Osuagwu among other notable stakeholders.

Commenting on Prof. Akunyili’s appointment, stakeholders were divided along the line of a professional techie person and on the side of the natural ability to deliver. For Ndukwe Kalu, it was applause for President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for finding it worthy to appoint Prof. Akunyili to serve in this ‘all important’ sector.

He hinged his reasons on a tripod of the Ministry involved, Minister and President, saying that Nigerians are watching to see Prof. Akunyili repeat her magic in NAFDAC in the Ministry of Information and Communications within the shortest possible time.

As said by him, the Ministry is an entity that could advance solutions for Nigeria economically through ICT. Citing an example of India and Asia Pacific nations, Kalu said that today they make more money than Nigeria makes in oil.

“Look at India and Asia for ready examples. India today makes much more money than Nigeria would make even if oil was $300 per barrel,” he declared, noting that their revenue have not crashed with oil price falling in recent times.

“We need to position our nation for the future of ICT,” he said, expressing optimism that in no time, the Ministry would transform to the much expected Ministry of Information and Communications. “We still expect the reform to make it ICT Ministry; representing the most important ministry in these very trying times, globally.”

The second, according to his theory is the personality of Prof. Dora Akunyili, who presently needs no introduction in Nigeria, saying that when she came into NAFDAC Nigeria was in a sad state.

“I, for one only bought drugs from one location for fear of fake drugs that was killing us heavily. Today, we’re at a critical moment that if nothing is done to reposition Nigeria in ICT, we may go into recession that is unprecedented,” he said, stressing that he had explicit confidence in Prof. Akunyili to make it happen once more for Nigeria and deliver, maintaining that she got what it takes and with God on her side, she will make it.

The third aspect of his position was President Yar’Adua, pointing out that one thing he has going well for him, is that he means well.

“We may quarrel with his speed or choice of intervention but we agree he means well. So, for him to make this posting we would rightly assume that Mr. President means well and has a plan, an ace up his sleeve,” he said.

As said by him, when these three are combined, “I tell you that the minister and ministry to look out for is Prof Akunyili and Ministry of Information and Communications,” advising her to study critically the dynamics of this sector and how critical it is, and avoid sycophants and negative politicians but reach out to the professionals in this sector.

Another highly placed stakeholder, who spoke on annomity, told ITRealms Online that the day she was nominated, “I said she might be coming to Information.” Describing Prof. Akunyili as a versatile person, our source beliefs she would bring life to the Ministry due to her honesty and ever willing to learn, “so, she will be amenable to change.” Expressing the belief that what Nigeria needs now, especially in ICT sector as the mover is the zeal and strength with which Akunyili used to work while in NAFDAC.

“I personally trust God to use her to straighten a number of issues in the Ministry. I wish her all the best,” our source said.

A member of the Nigerian IT Professionals in the Diaspora, who described himself as Mr. Dele, noted though he hates predicting failure, but this was the same position he held when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss was appointed and months after it is no longer hidden that “EFCC has gone to the dogs.”

Welcoming Prof. Akunyili, Mr. Dele also noted that she did well at NAFDAC and became a doyen of the international community, but wondered if her administration at NAFDAC was a one-man show.

“If it was a one man show, then Nigerians are back to square one of using tainted drugs,” he said, expressing doubt on how far she could go, especially because the Ministry is saddled with lack of infrastructure and needs proactive approach to move the nation towards digital age.

“Wishing her all the best at the same time; her failure will not be because she lacks the will, but because of the situation on the ground and the people she might surround herself with,” Mr. Dele cautioned.

For another member of IT professionals in diaspora and chief executive officer of San Jose-based Learning Right Technologies LLC, Ms Mary (Molly) Uzoh, who pointed out that Prof. Mrs. Akunyili does not have to be a ‘techie’ to be an efficient Federal Minister of Information and Communication.

Although she said that Akunyili is not the Minister of Science and Technology, but its necessary that technology be fused into all Federal Ministries.

“However, if the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is not tech savvy enough to drive the infusion of technology into all the federal ministries through its tons of agencies, including the National IT Development Agency (NITDA), any extraordinary effort by any ‘techie’ minister in Nigeria will just be a struggle,” she said.

Uzoh was very optimistic that Akunyili’s track record speaks for itself, declaring “.... No, we should not predict failure for her before she fails. Her previous assignment was not an easy one at all. In fact, she has a whole lot of ‘non-techie’ broken Information and Communication issues to fix in that ministry and I’m sure she is equal to the task.”

The Editor, ICT Today Magazine, Mr. Rommy Imah, thinks the appointment of the distinguished scholar, Prof. Akunyili as Information & Communications minister was not a mistake, as she is eminently qualified to occupy any office in this country except perhaps, that of the Attorney-General.

“I see a woman who is coming with great enthusiasm and ready to replicate the wonders she performed at NAFDAC. If assigning Dora the post of Minister of Information & Communications was a ploy by her ‘detractors’ to rubbish her political future, they have miscalculated this time round,” he declared.

Insisting that Dora is going to surprise Nigerians and the world once again as she has done it before and she will do it again. “You don’t need to be told that God has a hand in her life. And she confirmed this much during her maiden press conference as a minister,” he said, wishing her goodluck.

The interim coordinator, ICT Correspondents Association of Nigeria (ICT-CAN), Mr. Emma Eke, said, Nigeria is faced with a serious issue that has nothing to do with gains of ICT. Indeed, the nation stands to miss it again this time around, he said, pointing out that the allotment of portfolio could have put a round peg in a round hole.

“Let’s face it! What a wrong approach to continuity theory, which supports the fact that Dora, who has all these while monitored drugs and foods administration in the country could have been given related job,” he said.

Emphasising that it could have been better having her assume Minister of Health portfolio. “This could have seen her giving a tight supervision on the parastatals under that ministry. But, we have missed the chance!

Yes, ICT will start once again to groom a ‘green horn’ and chances of having her redeployed after is there. When can the country move forward,” he wondered?

The Secretary-General, JACITAD, Prince Osuagwu, said, the Mrs Akunyili is doomed if she does not resign now, maintaining that whichever way, she would lose as Ya’Adua’s spokes person, because she is known for her hard stance on upright ideologies.

“This time around, she has to bend the truth sometimes, and reduce the level of trust and confidence people repose on her or stand by what she believes in, and get kicked out easily. Now is the only time for her to leave and hear the ovation loud and clear. Any delay would be disastrous for her. I hope she understands,” he prayed.

Telecom expert and chief executive officer, The Executive Cyberschuul (TEC) Lagos, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu tasked the new administration of Prof. Akunyili, to reform the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector.

For him, one of the key subject proposal, is the Ministry of ICT, noting that stakeholders expected her to throw more lights on the position of the government, which he described as the “unfinished business of industry restructuring of technology.”

He said, government under the leadership of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has taken nonchallant posture as far as this restructuring is concerned, which commenced during Chief Obasanjo’s tenure and precisely in 2006 with a Committee established to that effect.

“There is unfinished business of industry restructuring of technology, information and communications apparatus of government; roadmap to achieve improved quality of service in the telephone system; and strategies for upgrading broadband access to Nigerians,” he said.

Omo-Ettu also advised that several questions are begging for answers and if not brought to the fore, could be swept under the carpet, which has been the hallmark since Yar’Adua’s administration.

He recalled that government in 2006 commenced a desire to restructure the information and communications industries when it set up a Committee to examine the wherewithal of a converged industry.

Restructuring of the ministry in its present state, he said, goes beyond mere change of name, lamenting that though the government after setting up the committee to this effect surprisingly went on to create the nomenclature called Ministry of Information and Communications.

“It however impulsively went ahead to create the Ministry of Information and Communications ahead of the work of the Committee only to realize that restructuring in a true sense was more than mere name-changing and merging of Ministerial portfolios,” he said.

The telecom engineer pointed out that the Committee completed its work and advised government on the amount of work required to effect a true change that will take advantage of the march of science and technology in the years ahead, describing it as irresponsible for that process to still be in the coolers after about two years after the committee was inaugurated.

“Work has stalled on the project and the Yar’ Adua government, since he took-over in 2007, operating as if the issue never mattered,” he decried, stressing that stakeholders may spoil for war with the Yar’Adua’s administration as this current position is not acceptable.

“We should not accept this posture and we must call government to account,” he asserted.

ITRealms Online recollects that proponents of a restructured industry had argued that because of the radical changes that the likes of Internet Protocol (IP) introduced into the polity, must be contentious if not totally difficult to determine what is telecommunications, broadcasting, technologies and services, especially in distinguishing between where one stops and the other begins.

This, a school of thought said, would provide a clear view and sharp industry management that could translate to enhanced smooth management, thereby reducing cost of doing business and ultimately cost of service provision.

Also they had argued that a continuous application of legacy systems and management of new systems using the old methods will create confusion, duplicity, legal entanglements, increase cost of doing business and ultimately impose severe cost on consumers.

“Those who are opposed to change argue issues which surround who gains what and who losses what. They talk about persons when the argument is about issues and they particularly make otherwise healthy debates to become unexciting. These are usually enough to confuse a government that has no view of its own,” he warned.

He emphasized that government’s mandate is to resolve these issues or to quit if it lacks the interest and will to apply emerging technologies into governance, which is why government cannot be allowed without taking actions.

Additionally, one critical issue begging for attention is that of infrastructure provisioning, which involves electricity power generation and cost of keeping it running 24 by 7, especially if the dream to reduce call tariff will be actualized in the nearest future.

Just as Akunyili should try to carry stakeholders along, even as was noted recently at the stakeholders meeting in Abuja, till date she is yet to request a memo from industry associations as a way of keeping her abreast. A step that needed urgent attention.

The truth is that she may not make relevant impact without the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), because making the right policy is one thing and its implementation is another, even as she must know where the bounder-line is situated to avoid unnecessary conflicts between the two, especially as she came from a regulator’s background.

However, whether she is a square peg in a round whole or otherwise and a tool for ‘political settlement’ as being feared by some of her supporters will manifest in a matter of time.

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