With the demise on June 7, 2014, of former Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dorothy (Dora) Nkem Akunyili, the country lost one of its finest examples of the patriotic Nigerian.
Mrs Akunyili will be remembered for her selfless dedication to the service of the nation. Her doggedness in the commitment to a better society was exemplified in her previous position, as Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which she used in an effective internationally-acclaimed battle against fake and counterfeit drugs and the barons behind them. This she accomplished, with considerable risks to her personal safety.
Akunyili, pharmacist, pharmacologist, scholar, public administrator, politician, and lately a member of the ongoing National Conference, died of ovarian cancer at an Indian hospital; she was 59 years old.
Born in Makurdi on July 14, 1954, she grew up in Nanka in Anambra State. Akunyili's educational career started with her obtaining the First School Leaving Certificate with distinction at St. Patrick's Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra State in 1966, and the Grade 1 of the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1973 from Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka.
These results impressed the Eastern Nigerian Government, which gave her post-primary school scholarship, and the Federal Government, which awarded her an undergraduate scholarship. She got a Pharmacy degree in 1978 and a PhD in 1985 from University of Nigeria (UNN). Akunyili was a Post-Doctorate Fellow of University of London and a Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists. To prepare her for managerial positions, she was trained on senior management skills in RIPA, London (1998) and Computer Education sponsored by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank in Enugu in 1994. Akunyili got many academic awards and professional recognitions from Nigerian and international organisations.
After graduation, she took appointment as a hospital pharmacist between 1978 and1981.While studying for a doctorate, she was a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of her alma mater from 1982-1985, and upon award of a doctorate she was promoted Lecturer I in 1986 and later made Senior Lecturer in 1990. In 1992, she transferred her services to the College of Medicine, UNN, where she was made a Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996, a position she held until April, 2001 when she became NAFDAC's DG..
It was while working as a zonal secretary for the now-rested Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), that its chairman, Muhammadu Buhari, noticed her administrative skills and personal integrity, and noted these qualities when he made recommendations on her behalf for higher office. The rest is now history. Her persistent quest for such integrity in the public domain was also at play when she became a member of the Federal Executive Council in the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yaradua, but it was her performance at NAFDAC, where she worked relentlessly to end the fake drug syndrome in the health care delivery system, that thrust her into national and international reckoning. She took that fight to the drug cartels and known fake and counterfeit drug centres of the world, particularly China, Malaysia and India. She galvanized the global community to wage war against counterfeit and fake drugs.
She faced harassment and narrowly escaped two assassination attempts as a result. In spite of the difficulties she encountered, Mrs Akunyili remained uncompromising and left her duty post with her integrity intact in an environment where corruption is rampant in public office. She has fortunately documented her experience in a book she penned: The War Against Counterfeit Medicines, in which she recounted some of her challenges: "Too many people tried to use my relationship with them to get me to compromise in the process of taking tough decisions. Sometimes it was difficult for me, because most of the counterfeiters came from the South Eastern part of Nigeria where I come from. But l was able to remain unwavering in all my regulatory responsibilities".
The tributes that have poured in since news of her passage broke attest to the high esteem she was held in. She is survived by her husband and children. Perhaps the biggest tribute the country would pay to her memory is to continue the fight she so much devoted her energy to wage, the fight against fake drugs.