When a Woman is Man of the Year

Dora is 'man' of the year! (c) Google Images

Dora Akunyili has been voted Nigeria’s “Man of the Year” for 2005! In a contest put together by the Silverbird Group, and with Nigerians voting by SMS and email, she emerged the winner of the title (along with one million naira prize, which she has since donated to civil war amputees and lepers). While receiving the award, she hinted that it was “entertaining” for her to note that a woman has been voted “man” of the year. According to her, “I have received over 300 awards in various places across the globe, but this means a lot to me. It is an award decided by Nigerians — the Nigerian people — by text messaging and eMails, and this means a lot to me”.

Anytime she’s mentioned, accolades follow — but what many of us seem to ignore is the thought around her emergence. Before Dora, there was NAFDAC. After Dora, there would be NAFDAC. But what makes all the difference, so much that everyone (including those who would rather plant a bullet in her skull since she’s brought their illegal business to a stand-still) considers her an obvious example of “light in darkness”. These days that the most popular stories about Nigeria seem to be around a rumoured sit-tight President, an he-she governor, self-imposed god-fathers and so much talk about “rotating the Precidency”, it is relaxing to note that the likes of Dora — and of course Ernest Ndukwe, El-Rufai, Okonjo-Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu, Obi “Due Process”, etc — are examples of qualitative leadership in the face of an unpredictable system.

I will be glad to read the personal memoirs of these few examples that remind me of the phrase, “square pegs in square holes”, but have noticed a repeating theme in the few materials (mostly media interviews) that I have had access to. They all had the option of giving the usual excuse – “nothing works in Nigeria”. But they chose to stand out from the lot. Each one of them focused on developing their competencies and have gone ahead to grow personal development into nation building, and of course, global impact. Their leadership styles show that they seem to understand the principle of reproducing themselves in their followers so as to ensure sustainability — and avoid the “I’m the messiah” attitude (which is a popular poor excuse for the third term unspoken debate, anyway).

Many people have said that Dora is lucky — she is not! She was prepared for the opportunity of the office that has given her a platform to express the virtues that she has acquired over the years. When I remember my first opportunity to speak at a United Nations plenary, I smile. I remember that everyone was trying to make me comfortable. “‘Gbenga Sesan, we know you can do it”; “You will be great”; “You look so nice”; and so on. But deep within my skull and frame, I knew I was ready. I had been “addressing the UN” since I was in the university: I would face the mirror and tell myself, “one day, you will speak to the world and they will listen to you. Don’t despise the days when you are the speaker and the mirror (plus your image) represent the audience”. And then, the mirror grew into birthday parties, and then student group meetings… and then, the stage was set for the days of opportunity.

Dora’s announcement as the “Man of the Year” says a lot about what will happen to Nigeria in the next few years. In the secrecy of their abode, some young Nigerians are busy preparing themselves for the day of opportunity. Before you go to the press and label them “lucky”, remember the new equation for the New Nigeria, “Perceived Luck = Preparation + Opportunity”. I see a New Nigeria emerging, and you (yes, you) and I are the ones laying the building blocks. It won’t take a few days, maybe not weeks, and it might extend into years, but just like it is said of Rome, it will be said that, “the New Nigeria was not built in a day”! Congratulations Dora… thank you, angels of the present-day Nigeria. But beyond celebrating the visible ones in governance, I await the next few days with hope. “What about the next few days,” you may ask. On February 6, 2005, one of Nigeria’s best will be 50. I will write more about Pat Utomi in the next few days: the man, his role as a mentor to many, and some of the events in his honour — including a seminar for young Nigerians, and a TV show (featuring young Nigerians) for the entire nation.

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