THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: DORA AKUNYILI
If the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) ever had a G.O.A.T, it would be Dora Akunyili. Dorothy Nkem Akunliyi (nee Edemobi), popularly known as Dora Akunyili was born on 14th July 1954 in Markudi, the current capital city of Benue state. She hailed from Anambra state and received her Primary School Education at the St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra State. She completed her secondary school education at the Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Enugu state. She finished with Grade 1 Distinction and thus earned herself the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship. She went on to study Pharmacology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu state, earning her B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and her PhD in Ethnopharmacology in1985 from the same University.
Dora Akunyili began her pharmaceutical career as a Hospital Health Care Provider at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu state in 1978 and worked there till 1981. Thereafter, she worked as a Graduate Assistant at the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State from 1982 to 1986. In no time, she advanced in the University system to become a Senior Lecturer in 1990. She was then transferred to the College of Medicine of the institution where she was appointed Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996. She worked as a Consultant Pharmacologist at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu state until 2001. During that period, she also worked as a part-time lecturer at the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists, Lagos State. She published several research papers and presented them at national and international scientific conferences.
In 2001, the then President of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) despite protests about her ethnicity. As the Director-General for NAFDAC, she waged war against counterfeit drugs, sensitizing the public, confiscating counterfeit drugs, closing down several open-air drug markets and ensuring that counterfeiters were prosecuted. She had a personal backstory that may have been a driving force in her war against counterfeit drugs in Nigeria: her sister had died at the age of 21 after being administered fake insulin injections as treatment for diabetes. She was an outstanding Director-General and received several accolades both locally and internationally.
Dora Akunyili was appointed Minister of Information and Communication in 2008. She was the one who coined the phrase, “Good people, Great nation” which she hoped would encourage patriotism among the Nigerian people. She resigned from her appointment as Minister for Information in 2010 to run for a Senatorial office representing the Anambra Central Constituency in the National Assembly. She however lost to Chris Ngige.
As with almost all outspoken leaders, Dora Akunyili faced threats and even survived an assassination attempt made in 2003. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2013 and eventually died of the disease at a hospital in India on 7th June 2014. She was survived by her husband, six children and three grandchildren.
Dora Akunyili received several awards in her lifetime. In fact, with about 930 awards to her name, she is said to be the Nigerian with the highest number of awards.
The name, Dora Akunyili would certainly not be forgotten. She will be mentioned whenever we talk about counterfeit and adulterated drugs. Her awards alone are more than enough proof of how widely she is celebrated.