Akunyili’s Unfulfilled Dreams

Akunyili’s Unfulfilled Dreams

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 12:06 pm

Nnamdi Felix/Abuja

Before her death on 7 June, former minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had consistently displayed an uncommon patriotism to Nigeria. She lived and died in the struggle for the progress and development of a nation she loved dearly.

Dora Akunyili

Dora Akunyili

Her uncommon patriotism shone like stars in a dark sky when she took up the fight against counterfeit and adulterated drugs and unwholesome foods as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC. An agency whose functions before her appointment were hardly known to those outside the employment of that establishment.

Her passion and zeal brought about a total transformation of NAFDAC and the strengthening of the battle against adulterated and counterfeit drugs, which had been prevalent in the country without any form of restraint.

As Director-General of NAFDAC, Dora recorded outstanding success as she managed to streamline and tame the then chaotic situation in the area of food and drug regulation. Before her assumption of office at NAFDAC, over 60 per cent of drugs were in circulation in Nigeria were fake, with unscrupulous individuals making fortunes from the unwholesome practice. She heralded a new culture of excellence and honesty within drug and food regulation and control, thus pushing down the level of counterfeit and adultrated drugs in circulation to as low as 16 per cent.

Her coming into office at NAFDAC in 2001, on its own was as dramatic as it was insightful. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo had sought for an honest Nigerian pharmacist for the job and Dora’s name popped up due to an uncommon act of integrity and honesty she displayed during her stint at the Petroleum Trust Fund, where she was the then Zonal Secretary in charge of inspecting, monitoring, assessing and co-ordinating all PTF projects, such as construction and renovation of roads, schools, hospitals, provision of potable water and various other projects within the zone.

While at PTF in 1998 under the leadership of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Dora was diagnosed of a cancerous growth and thus required surgery. During pre-surgery check-up in the United States of America, the doctors told her the diagnosis was wrong and that she did not need any surgery. She came back home and returned the money meant for the surgery to the PTF. Such act of integrity and honesty was rare then and more so presently.

Despite a wave of objection owing to the then Minister of Health, Prof. ABC Nwosu being an Igbo from Anambra State as well as the argument that the market for fake and substandard products was controlled by the Igbo, with Onitsha, in Anambra, Dora’s home state, being a major centre for the illicit business, making her more likely to be disposed to protecting her people, Obasanjo ignored the observations and appointed her to the NAFDAC job. She went on to do a credible job and ended up as one of the most outstanding public officers in Nigeria’s history, celebrated locally and globally.

The loss of a sister to fake drugs, many believe, was perhaps the impetus that drove her to go on the offensive against those involved in the illicit trade of adulterated and counterfeit drugs.

As a seasoned pharmacist administrator, Dora served her country in numerous strategic positions and displayed a rare dedication to duty and transparency in the discharge of her responsibilities. She was honoured with over 600 global and national awards in her lifetime. Dora Akunyili was conferred with the National Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, with recognition as an Icon of Hope for Nigerians by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002; and also received recognition as Nigerian Woman of Distinction during the Nigeria @ 50 Independence Anniversary celebration in September 2010. But her dream to witness a Nigeria free from the vices of fake and adulterated drugs, which she assiduously struggled for, went unrealised.

Her patriotic zeal was further displayed at a critical point in Nigeria’s democratic experience in February 2010, when a bunch of power-hungry politicians led by former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Kaase Aondokaa; then Agric minister, Abba Ruma, and former President Yar’Adua’s Special Adviser, Tanimu Kurfi, held the nation to ransom while Yar’Adua lay comatose.

Against all odds and out of patriotism, Dora stuck out her neck to be slaughtered by her colleagues at the Federal Executive Council when she called on them to declare Yar’Adua unfit to rule.

For her patriotic efforts, insults were hauled at her by those who were more interested in stifling the nation’s democratic growth to retain their hold on the commonwealth of Nigerians. She was called an ingrate for daring to ask them to do what was ethically and judicially right, but Dora was not cowed; she stuck to her guns and ignored all such calls.

Upon the death of Yar’Adua and Jonathan’s assumption of office as President of Nigeria, an angry Senator Kanti Bello from Katsina State fought against the confirmation of Dora by the Senate as a fallout of her role during the nation’s trying period but the Amazon still came out tops following the Senate’s confirmation of her nomination as minister and was subsequently returned to the Ministry of Information and Communication, the same office she served under the late President.

As Information minister, Dora anchored the Re-branding Nigeria Project driven by the slogan, Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation. The programme was conceived as an internal process to address Nigeria’s negative image both at home and abroad. She continued in that office until 16 December 2010, when she resigned to pursue her ambition to represent Anambra Central at the Senate. Her senatorial dreams however remained a dream as she was trounced in the contest by former Anambra governor, Chris Ngige.

Things took a turn for the worse for Dora in July 2013, when she fell ill. She became physically weak and suffered agonising pains in her body. She decided to attend to her health in the United States, where new checks were carried out and she was diagnosed of cancer. The original 1998 diagnosis was found to be correct, making the pre-surgery diagnosis that handed her a clean bill of heath, wrong.

She became seriously ill and there were fears she could lose her life. She was in the hospital for months and only returned to Nigeria early 2014 when her doctors said she was improving.

Her last public appearance was at the National Conference in Abuja, where she was a delegate. Pictures of a frail-looking Dora went viral on the internet. Before her passing on Saturday, 7 June, Dora had survived many death rumours.

Between 14 and 20 May, Dora’s media advisor, Mr. Isaac Umunna, issued more than three press statements dispelling rumours of Dora’s death. In one of such press releases, Mr. Umunna confirmed that the former minister was still alive then. “I had before now been speaking with her husband, Dr. Chike Akunyili, and her brother, Dr. Francis Anayo Edemobi, both of whom are with her in the hospital. The fact that Dora spoke by herself this afternoon confirms earlier reports that she is making appreciable recovery.”

Similarly, Umunna’s press release dated 20 May also dispelled rumours of Dora death. “Dr. Akunyili, who spoke on phone from India this night (exactly at 8:45 p.m. Nigerian time), once more thanked Nigerians for their prayers for his beloved wife, urging them to continue praying for her full recovery. Prof. Akunyili herself had on Sunday afternoon expressed her appreciation to Nigerians, saying that their prayers on her behalf are working.

“According to her, ‘I am comforted by the fact that prayers are going on for me in churches and mosques as well as in private homes. God is answering the prayers. He has already healed me. I am only waiting for the physical manifestation of the healing. I am grateful to all Nigerians. I look forward to recovering and coming back home to rejoice with you all.’”

Alas! Dora never made it back to Nigeria alive.

Her Unfulfilled Dreams

Late former minister of Information and Communication, Prof Dora Akunyili led a fulfilled and dedicated life of service to her fatherland. She was outstanding both in her academic pursuits and public service career. However, she died without achieving some of her dreams.

Top of Dora’s unfulfilled dreams’ list was her ambition to represent the Anambra state Central senatorial district at the National Assembly. To actualize this dream, Dora resigned her appointment as minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and pitched her tent with the ruling party in Anambra state, the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.

After the election, where a re run was announced by the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, Chris Ngige of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, defeated Dora at the polls. It was a staggering defeat in the face of all the material and logistic support which then governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, provided for Dora.

After disappearing from public view following her ailment, Dora reappeared at the ongoing National Constitutionl conference where she was until her death on Saturday, 7th June, a delegate. In consistence with her patriotism and unwavering belief in Nigeria, Dora expressed concern for the abducted Chibok girls as well as other security challenges facing the country and consistently prayed for the release of the abducted school girls.

In a statement issued on behalf of Dora’s family to announce her death, former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi, stated, “In spite of her illness, Prof. Akunyili was unwavering in her belief in a better Nigeria. The last time I visited her in India, even when she needed all the prayers herself, she was full of concern for the abducted Chibok girls, security and other challenges facing the country and told me that she remained prayerful for the release of those girls and for God to help President Goodluck Jonathan to overcome all the challenges facing the nation. She therefore urged all Nigerians to remain prayerful and committed to building a better society for our children. We all prayed together and I promised to be visiting her every month”

Her dream for the release of the abducted Chibok girls never materialized in her lifetime, neither has the security situation improved in any way.

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