TODAY and the whole of this weekend will witness the funeral obsequies of a great Nigerian, an amazon and uncommon public servant, whose exploits in the past fourteen years were unlike any other ever witnessed in our shores. Professor Dorothy Nkem Akunyili, within this span of time, became a household name not only in Nigeria but also in the wider world where her war against fake food and drugs was acclaimed, with many awards and honours.
Even before she was appointed as the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Akunyili, a pharmacist and academic, made the news when she returned unspent funds to the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), where she served as the South East Zonal Secretary. On assumption of office at NAFDAC, Akunyili confronted the entrenched mafia of fake drug importers and miraculously escaped assassination on two occasions. Her eight-year tenure in the Agency made Nigeria a reference point in the global war against fake drugs, for which she missed being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize very narrowly in 2007.
When she was appointed Minister for Information and National Orientation, Dora Akunyili launched a campaign to rebrand Nigeria and Nigerians and soldiered on with it even in the face of fierce criticisms. It is to her credit that Nigeria is now sloganeered as "Good People, Great Nation".
One of the most profound contributions of this great woman was her brave clamour for the right things to be done when a pall of secrecy was cast over the true situation of the health of former President Umaru Yar' Adua. She insisted on full disclosure, and courted the displeasure of Yar' Adua's inner cabinet. She was one of those whose actions moved the hands of the establishment to allow then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan assume full power and save the nation from an impasse that could have triggered another military intervention.
Even when she was already ill, Dora Akunyili still answered the call to serve Nigeria as a Delegate to the defunct National Conference, until she had to be flown abroad for medical attention where she gave up.
In her 59 years of action-packed life of service and exemplary leadership, Dora Akunyili demonstrated great leadership skills and showed that women, when given towering challenges, have the capacity to produce results. She was very visible and audible, and left bold footprints of achievement wherever she went.
As the nation joins her family, friends and associates to mourn this woman of substance, we join in celebrating her and holding her up as a shining example, especially for the women and youth, with the lesson that gender is never a barrier to greatness.
We pray for her eternal rest in the Lord.