By John Tosin

The death Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili is a colossal loss not only to her immediate family or the people of Anambra but for the entire nation and for womanhood as a whole.  Prof. Akunyili, an internationally renowned Pharmacist, Pharmacologist, Erudite Scholar, Seasoned Administrator, and a visionary leader was patriotic, faithful, dedicated and fearless.

Born in Makurdi, Benue State (Nigeria) on the 14th of July 1954 to Chief & Mrs. Paul Young Edemobi, Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR) was a devout Catholic and was married to Dr. J.C. Akunyili, a Medical Practitioner and they were blessed with six children and three grandchildren.

The woman whose hobbies were reading, writing, cooking and travelling served her country in numerous strategic positions including as Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), Director-General of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Federal Minister of Information and Communication.

Prof. Akunyili’s educational career started with her passing the First School Leaving Certificate with Distinction in 1966, and the West African School Certificate (W.A.S.C.) with Grade I Distinction in 1973 (both in Nigeria), which earned her the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship respectively. It is remarkable that throughout her high school career, Dora Akunyili who spoke Igbo and English fluently was always top of her class – a record that has not been broken in the school till date.

She got her B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and PhD. in 1985, both at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Prof. Akunyili won the best student award in the school of Pharmacy in her very first year in the school and the Vice Chancellor’s Postgraduate and Research Leadership prize in

Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences for 1984/85 and 1985/86 academic sessions. She was promoted to the rank of Professor of Pharmacology in October, 2000 by the same university.

Prof. Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu in 1978. In 1981, she ventured into Academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN. In the university system, she made a steady progress from lecturer I in 1986 until she was made Senior Lecturer in 1990.

In 1992 she transferred to the College of Medicine, UNN and became a Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996. She also worked as a part time lecturer at the West African College of Pharmacists, Lagos, Nigeria from 1992-1995.

As a Scientist and a Scholar,  has presented over 600 papers delivered in various Local and International Conferences, published 4 books and wrote scientific articles published in 37 local and international journals. She also supervised PhD. and Masters degree candidates.

She was appointed Supervisory Councillor for Agriculture in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 1994 – 1996. Akunyili was also appointed Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), where she coordinated all projects in the five South Eastern States of Nigeria from 1997 – 2000.

Having been faithful in little, much was given to Prof. Dora Akunyili as she was appointed Director General of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigeria from April 2001-2008.

There she recorded outstanding success because prior to her appointment, food and drug regulation in Nigeria was chaotic as all manner of adulterated, fake and substandard food and drugs were dumped in Nigeria resulting in over 60 percent of fake drugs in circulation and unscrupulous and some disgruntled elements were making fortunes from such unwholesome practices.

When she assumed office, she brought in a new culture of excellence and honesty to NAFDAC and the entire Nigerian public service. As a result, the level of fake and counterfeit drugs in circulation dropped to 16.7 percent with vast improvement in the food and other regulated sectors. For this singular patriotic act of hers, she was almost assassinated by fake drug dealers who were profiting from that deadly business. When she also ventured into politics some of her kinsmen also voted against her when she aspired to serve her own people in Anambra State as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The slogan, Nigeria – Good People, Great Nation, was one of her initiatives to make Nigerians imbibe the culture of patriotism when she was the Minister of Information and Communications, from December 2008 – December 2010.

The programme was conceived as an internal process to address Nigeria’s negative image both at home and abroad and it was her desire that the slogan, Nigeria – Good People, Great Nation, will help to inspire patriotism in us all as we collectively tackle the challenges ahead.

According to the outgoing Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, one of the reasons for the failure of rebranding project in Nigeria is value deficit and the inability of successive administrations to articulate a strategic national vision and calibrate institutional realities to match the vision.

Therefore, to keep her memory alive, we must go back to that rebranding project, and there must be continuity of the good master plan she has drawn both at NAFDAC and at Federal Ministry of Information.

Dora Akunyili has come and gone and she has played her part as a patriotic citizen of Nigeria and it is left for us the living to also play well our own role before we leave this planet earth.

According to Gandhi, “we must become the change we want to see. Transformation cannot be imposed from above. It can only be generated by exemplary leadership which not only elicits emulation but inspires the conviction that the proposed path of change is the right road.”

Like Apostle Paul in the Bible, it can be said that Dora Nkem Akunyili fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith and only God knows the type of crown she will be crowned with in heaven.

May God give the family of Akunyili the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss and give Nigeria more patriotic and dedicated leaders like (or/even) more than Dora Nkem Akunyili.

Ajiboye, a public affairs analyst, writes in from Lagos, Nigeria via +2348138966292