A Prayer For Aunty Dora

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Make no mistake about it. I am a great fan of Dr. Dora Akunyili. It is impossible not to love this exceptional Nigerian who took on the murderers among us who usually travel all the way to Asia to import fake and extremely dangerous drugs, all in the name of making money by any means possible. It is doubtful if any Nigerian woman, dead or alive, is more popular with the ordinary and not so ordinary Nigerians. The passion with which she has fought the demons among us has been acknowledged and appreciated by most of us. Even the Columbians would be grateful to have a Dr. Akunyili to tackle the drug warlords who have turned their country and beyond into a land of misery.

Dr. Dora Akunyili has since become an accomplished bullet dodger in the process of executing her crusade. Her life has been critically threatened. Her brother was only recently abducted by God-knows-who. Thank God nothing untoward happened to him. There is no limit to what evil people can get up to. The case of Aunty Dora, as many admirers fondly call her, is like that of someone riding the tiger. How do you climb down without being devoured by the wild animal?

I met this highly emotional lady several years ago and I instantly fell in love with her great aura. In her simplicity, Aunty Dora is a very natural woman. She radiates undiluted beauty in her mostly traditional dresses. She’s a roaring lioness who screams her self hoarse when confronted by evil. She’s a devout Catholic who believes in the service of her creator. Her daughter was getting married in Cote D’ivore and we had offered to cover it free of charge. It was our modest contribution to a woman who had worked tirelessly at protecting our lives. She never forgot the simple favour. I was so moved to tears when she turned up at my mum’s funeral last year, all the way in our little town of Gbongan in Osun State. She stood by us like an Iroko tree as if the dead was her mum.

Most of her critics have always alleged that Dora Akunyili is a media creation. My defence has always been that the media is always a much-needed tool for any crusade. All the powerful and largely successful members of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s kitchen cabinet were close to the press. Nasir El Rufai had the media in tow as he waged a physical and metaphysical war against very powerful landlords in Abuja. God had to intercede on his behalf to survive the virulent attacks against his person. His good friend, the demoted police officer, Nuhu Ribadu, has not been that lucky. But the media has remained so loyal, despite the fact that Obasanjo went overboard in the powers of life and death given to Ribadu and the supersonic promotions he got as reward for his effort.

The World Bank expert, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed a whirlwind romance with the media. So did her hardworking colleague, Oby Ezekwesili. Sometimes too they suffered some media bashing. But they were the authentic gladiators who could never be ignored. Dora Akunyili was primus inter pare in that league. You must get the flow of my preamble by now.

The recent appointment of Aunty Dora as Minister of Information and Communications caught many of us unawares. I’m sure it must have hit her like a thunderbolt. Everyone had hoped that she would be posted to the health ministry, where she’s expected to perform wonders again. Our health sector has been comatose for decades and we are desperately in need of a magician like Dora Akunyili. But most of the appointments in Nigeria always numb our senses. There are two theories in the case of Aunty Dora. One is that the Yar’Adua government perceives her as a media-friendly woman, and would love to tap into her goodwill. The other is that some fifth columnists want to rubbish her integrity by inviting her to sell a difficult product.

That is why I believe Aunty Dora deserves our prayers. The fears of most of us are not misplaced. This government is slower than a snail. The taciturnity of this government is legendary. The president of Africa’s most populous nation vanished into thin air without a trace for nearly three weeks. He simply vamoosed without any of the geniuses in power thinking that he owes the nation an explanation. A simple matter of appointing ministers became a matter that dragged on for eternity. And if the new ministers were expected to rejuvenate the ailing government, we were soon deflated by the sheer irrationality of the appointments. All manner of over-recycled people were dumped on us in a country of over 140 million people. Unfortunately for us, ours is not a place where people can reject appointments. Even those who have achieved or acquired everything in life still crave appointments. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac in Nigeria.

It is under this complex condition that a wonderful lady like Aunty Dora is expected to operate. It is certainly a tough job. What makes the job tougher is that I know that terrain a bit. The civil servants are going to give her plenty of grief. There is no escape. They have been around for a long time, and have perfected the art of perfidy. My files in the ministry have developed wings on several occasions. And most people tend to be experts at dodging responsibilities. Nothing moves them. Everyone has one godfather or the other who can protect him on the day of reckoning. They can turn a man into a goat and a dog into a woman. There is nothing like the fear of God. I have tried to preach to a few friends around that money can never solve all problems but goodwill can take care of most needs.

Aunty Dora would also have to contend with the impatience of our people. Nigerians have been so badly battered and are tired of the insensitivity of the men and women in power who only see government as an invitation to treat, and never as service to the people. The people are not interested in propaganda and falsehood. They want food and shelter. They want good healthcare. Whosoever can make that happen is their friend. He would always occupy a special space in their hearts.I believe Aunty Dora will try her best. We hope her bosses will make the job easier for her by doing what is right most of the time. She must also restructure her ministry by attracting the kind of people who understand modern techniques of communications and have the tools to work with. The era of pushing files up and down at ministries should be a thing of the past by now. Files would stop disappearing when the right structures are erected. Training of personnel is also very important, and those not trainable, should be phased out gradually. Nigeria can not continue to function as if we live in a jungle. We are well-endowed and should make the best of all that we’ve been blessed with.

Information should be about the nation and not about government events. Most news on government channels are repugnant. On the day Yinka Craig died, I laboured in vain to see how his life and times would be celebrated. Nigerians simply carried on as if nothing happened. Please compare this to how the Americans celebrate their fallen heroes. Nigerians need some respite very desperately. Life is hard and miserable. The roads are bad despite the billions we see in every year’s budget. No water. No electricity. The hospitals are sick to the high heavens. It is bad news everywhere you turn. The Minister of Information should not just inform the people, she should be bold to inform the government about its failings. The feed-back she gives would always keep the government alive to its responsibilities. This she owes her fans like me.

Pendulum By Dele Momodu [Thisday]

Surgeons Detail First U.S. Face Transplant

Surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic today described the marathon, 22-hour procedure they performed to transfer 80 percent of a face -- including eyelids, bone, teeth and a nose -- from a cadaver to a living female patient, giving her a chance at a more normal life.

The surgery, a first for the United States, took place sometime in the past couple of weeks and repaired the face of a female patient using facial tissue from a dead female donor. It is the world's fourth face transplant operation, and it may well be the most extensive such surgery yet to take place.

Hospital officials released scant details on the patient, citing a desire by the patient and her family to remain anonymous.

Reconstructive surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow, who led the team of eight surgeons that performed the operation, indicated at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the operation was intended to correct "major facial trauma" the patient sustained several years ago that left her missing "major parts of her face."

Siemionow revealed that the trauma had caused the patient to be blind in one eye, and she had lost both her sense of smell and sense of taste to the injury. It also caused her trouble in speaking.

"This patient exhausted all conventional means of reconstruction and was the right patient," Siemionow said. "The patient was really suffering whenever she appeared in social situations. She was called names, children were running away from her; they were afraid."

Thus far, doctors said, the patient appears to be recovering smoothly. No experimental drugs were used in the procedure, and there are no signs of rejection.

And though it will take weeks for the patient to complete her recovery, doctors said that the woman has already seen her new face in a mirror. They added that she has also used her hands to gently feel her new face and is excited to have a nose.

The effort itself was years in the making, Siemionow said. It was based on 20 years of research and had actually been approved by the hospital's internal review board in late 2004.

And the surgery was extensive. The operation involved the transfer of nearly all of the front of the face, including the lower eyelids, cheekbones, the entire nose and the upper jaw, including some teeth.

By DAN CHILDS [ ABC News Medical Unit]

Music Industry to Abandon Mass Suits

Friday, December 19, 2008

After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.

The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to take.

Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

The RIAA said it has agreements in principle with some ISPs, but declined to say which ones. But ISPs, which are increasingly cutting content deals of their own with entertainment companies, may have more incentive to work with the music labels now than in previous years.
The new approach dispenses with one of the most contentious parts of the lawsuit strategy, which involved filing lawsuits requiring ISPs to disclose the identities of file sharers. Under the new strategy, the RIAA would forward its emails to the ISPs without demanding to know the customers' identity.

Though the industry group is reserving the right to sue people who are particularly heavy file sharers, or who ignore repeated warnings, it expects its lawsuits to decline to a trickle. The group stopped filing mass lawsuits early this fall.
It isn't clear that the new strategy will work or how effective the collaboration with the ISPs will be. "There isn't any silver-bullet anti-piracy solution," said Eric Garland, president of BigChampagne LLC, a piracy consulting company.

Mr. Garland said he likes the idea of a solution that works more with consumers. In the years since the RIAA began its mass legal action, "It has become abundantly clear that the carrot is far more important than the stick." Indeed, many in the music industry felt the lawsuits had outlived their usefulness. "I'd give them credit for stopping what they've already been doing because it's been so destructive," said Brian Toder, who represents a Minnesota mother involved in a high-profile file-sharing case. But his client isn't off the hook. The RIAA said it plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.

Over the summer, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began brokering an agreement between the recording industry and the ISPs that would address both sides' piracy concerns. "We wanted to end the litigation," said Steven Cohen, Mr. Cuomo's chief of staff. "It's not helpful."

As the RIAA worked to cut deals with individual ISPs, Mr. Cuomo's office started working on a broader plan under which major ISPs would agree to work to prevent illegal file-sharing.
The RIAA believes the new strategy will reach more people, which itself is a deterrent. "Part of the issue with infringement is for people to be aware that their actions are not anonymous," said Mitch Bainwol, the group's chairman.

Mr. Bainwol said that while he thought the litigation had been effective in some regards, new methods were now available to the industry. "Over the course of five years, the marketplace has changed," he said in an interview. Litigation, he said, was successful in raising the public's awareness that file-sharing is illegal, but now he wants to try a strategy he thinks could prove more successful.

The RIAA says piracy would have been even worse without the lawsuits. Citing data from consulting firm NPD Group Inc., the industry says the percentage of Internet users who download music over the Internet has remained fairly constant, hovering around 19% over the past few years. However, the volume of music files shared over the Internet has grown steadily.
Meanwhile, music sales continue to fall. In 2003, the industry sold 656 million albums. In 2007, the number fell to 500 million CDs and digital albums, plus 844 million paid individual song downloads -- hardly enough to make up the decline in album sales.

By SARAH MCBRIDE and ETHAN SMITH [Wall Street Journal]
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