Dorothy Nkem Akunyili: The Adorable “Dora”

There is no doubt that Professor Dora Akunyili was a woman most to be adored, and rightly so because of her unparalleled achievements as a pharmacist. This is due to the way she brought sanity into the drug manufacturing industry in Nigeria when serving as Director-General of the National Agency for Drug and Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Image of Professor Dorothy "Dora" Akunyili
Professor Dorothy “Dora” Akunyili (1954-2014)

Akunyili earned the respect of many, both at home and abroad and this could be attested by the number of awards she bagged at the national and international levels. It was this great performance that earned her the portfolio as a full cabinet minister in both the Yar’Adu’a and Jonathan administrations.

Early Life and Education

Dora Akunyili was born Dorothy Nkem Edemobi in Makurdi, Benue State, on July 14, 1954 to Chief and Mrs. Paul Young Edemobi, but brought up in Nanka, in Anambra State of Nigeria.

Her educational career started with her passing the First School Leaving Certificate with Distinction at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra State in 1966, and the West African School Certificate (WASC) with Grade I Distinction in 1973 from Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka, both in Nigeria.

Akunyili got her First Degree in Pharmacy B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and her PhD in 1985 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN.

Professor Akunyili enjoyed many academic awards and recognitions during her lifetime.

Educational Career

Akunyili started her pharmaceutical career as a Hospital health care provider from 1978 to 1981, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, after which she ventured into academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) at the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN, from 1982 to 1986.

In the University system, she progressed gradually from Lecturer I in 1986 till she became Senior Lecturer in 1990.

She was transferred to the College of Medicine, UNN in 1992, where she was made a Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996, a position she held until 12 April 2001.

Due to her love for teaching and nurturing young ones, she was also a part-time lecturer of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists Lagos, Nigeria from 1992–1995.

As a Scientist and a Scholar, she presented over 20 research papers in various local and International Scientific Conferences, and published a book and 18 journal articles. She supervised PhD and Masters candidates in Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and U.N.N. respectively both in Nigeria. Even as the Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Akunyili found time to supervise six postgraduate students in the College of Medicine, UNN.

Akunyili was additionally an active member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN).

Political Career

Akunyili ran for election as Senator for Anambra Central for the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in April 2011 but was defeated by Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.

During the dark days of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration, when Mrs. Turai Yar’Adu’a, Michael Aodoakaa, then Attorney-General of the Federation and others held the country to ransom while President Umaru Yar’Adua lied comatose both in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, Akunyili, against all odds and out of a sense of patriotism, stuck out her neck at the Federal Executive Council meetings to call on them to declare Yar’Adua unfit to rule.

Director-General NAFDAC

In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint a Director-General for NAFDAC and asked for the recommendation of an honest Nigerian pharmacist. Akunyili’s name promptly came up.

Opposition and protests were raised against Obasanjo that the minister of health, Professor ABC Nwosu, was from the same Anambra State as Akunyili and NAFDAC, being a powerful agency under the ministry, should not be headed by another Igbo from Anambra.

It was additionally argued that the marketplace for fraud and substandard merchandise were controlled by the Igbo traders, with Onitsha (also in Anambra State) a major centre for the illicit business.

“She will surely defend ‘her people’, the antagonists said.

However, President Obasanjo, stubborn to the cause, ignored the observations and appointed her.

She went on to perform an outstanding job and was recognised all over as one of the most credible public officers in Nigeria’s history, celebrated locally and globally.

Akunyili had lost a sister of hers to a counterfeit insulin injection in 1988, and that probably was the drive she needed to go ruthless against these drug barons.

At her resumption in office as the Director-General of NAFDAC in April 2001, Akunyili established as a top priority the eradication of counterfeit drugs and unsafe food.

Preceding her appointment at NAFDAC, fake and substandard foods and drugs were sold in Nigeria without any form of regulation.

Although Akunyili faced considerable risk to her personal safety in her fight to combat the issue of fake drugs,she danced with danger as she survived some assassination attempts.

Federal Minister for Information

On March 17, 2009, as federal minister for information, Akunyili invented the slogan “Good People, Great Nation” which she said would help to inspire patriotism in Nigerians.

During the dark days of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration, when Mrs. Turai Yar’Adu’a, Michael Aondoakaa, then Attorney-General of the Federation and others held the country to ransom while President Umaru Yar’Adua lied comatose both in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, Akunyili, against all odds and out of a sense of patriotism, stuck out her neck at the Federal Executive Council meetings to call on them to declare Yar’Adua unfit to rule.

All, but Akunyili, felt that the loyalty was to the late president and not Nigeria. They called her a betrayer and an ingrate for daring to ask them to do was ethically and judicially right. She stuck to her guns and ignored all such calls.

Death

On July 13, 2013, a strange occurrence happened to her.

She was preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award, the following day was her 59th birthday when she fell ill. She was physically weak with much pains.

However, she was determined to make trip, where she used the opportunity to attend to her health in America. It was while she was there that new diagnoses were carried out.

Alas, she had cancer.

She became seriously sick and there had been fears she might lose her life.

Her last public appearance was in 2014 at the National Conference in Abuja, where she was a delegate.

Pictures of a frail-looking Akunyili instantly flooded the internet.

On June 7, 2014, she died of uterine cancer after a long battle. She was 59.

Legacy

Akunyili was a devout Catholic and was survived by her husband, Dr. J. Chike Akunyili, six children and three grandchildren.

Akunyili was finally buried in her husband’s hometown, Agulu in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State.

A Pharmacist par excellence, Dora rode where men trembled, especially in her fight against fake, counterfeit and adulterated drugs.

President Goodluck Jonathan succinctly described her as a distinguished Nigerian and a loyal citizen who would be sorely missed by those she had connected with.

Watch Spain vs Nigeria highlights, FIFA World Cup France, 1998

Akunyili was a recipient of many awards. Among them were the Time Magazine Award, 2006; Person of the Year 2005 Award by Silverbird Communications Ltd; Award of Excellence by Integrated World Services (IWS), 2005 and of course the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) of Nigeria.

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Sources

Personality Profile: Dora Nkem Akunyili

The Life and Times of Prof Dora Akunyili (1954–2014)

Discover Nigeria: Prof. Dora Akunyili

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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