Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR) was a former Director General of National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control and former Nigerian Minister of Information and Communications. She was internationally recognized and honoured for her significant contribution to the eradication of fake drugs, development of pharmacology and healthcare in Nigeria. As Minister, she got to be associated with the effort to rebrand Nigeria through media campaigns to promote the Nigeria’s flagging reputation with the well known slogan “Good Nation, Good people”.
She was born in Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria on the 14th of July 1954 to Chief & Mrs Paul Young Edemobi. She attended St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra State in 1966 and Queen of the Rosary Secondary School Nsukka, where she made a Grade 1 distinction in the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1973. This earned her a scholarship to the university from the Federal Government Of Nigeria. She got her first degree in Pharmacy (B.Pharm Hons) in 1978 and her PhD in 1985 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Professor Akunyili was a Post-Doctorate Fellow of the University of London and a Fellow of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists. In preparation for managerial positions, she was trained in Computer Education Programme sponsored by WHO/UNDP/World Bank in1994 and Senior Management skills Course in RIPA, London, in 1998.
Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist from 1978 to 1981, in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, after which she ventured into academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN from 1982 to 1986. In the University system, she made steady progress from Lecturer I in 1986 until she was made Senior Lecturer in 1990. She transferred to 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 youth, she was also a part-time lecturer of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists Lagos, Nigeria from 1992–1995.
Akunyili was also prepared for her administrative position at NAFDAC by her four years stint as Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), co-ordinating all projects in the five south-eastern states of Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States).
She also served as a Supervisor for Agriculture and Member of the Caretaker Committee for her Local Government, Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State from 1994 to 1996. From 1992 to 1994, Akunyili served as a member of State's Hospitals Management Board and State Advisory Council for Women Commission both in Anambra State of Nigeria.
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. She was also Chief Examiner in Pharmacology for the 3rd M.B.B.S College of Medicine, Abia State University Uturu, Nigeria.
DANGERS OF THE FAKE DRUGS INDUSTRY
Professor Akunyili had occupied the position of NAFDAC's director for seven years and, during that time, managed to reduce Nigeria's incidence of fake drugs by about 90%. With a population of 170 million, Professor Akunyili has undoubtedly saved many lives in Nigeria from what she termed a ‘medical mass murder'.
Akunyili's own diabetic sister, Vivian, died in her mid-20s from taking fake insulin. In a 2006 speech entitled, Women Leadership in Emerging Democracy – My NAFDAC Experience, she criticised the fake drug industry, calling it “terrorism” and “mass murder”. To sell chalk in place of antibiotics, powder in place of anti-malaria drugs, or unsterilized water in place of adrenaline is clearly to sell death in return for profit.
Unsurprisingly, during her reign as the director of NAFDAC, Akunyili faced death threats against herself, her family, and her staff. Those operating the fake drug industry later took it a step further and attempted to murder her in 2003."My car was shot from behind on 26 December 2003” she told the BBC.“The bullet went through my headscarf and passed through the windscreen of the car, leaving my hair burnt. When the drug counterfeiters heard I might be quitting the job they started popping champagne in Onitsha market, rejoicing that this wicked woman would soon quit the scene."But I felt if I left the job that would be victory for the drug counterfeiters," she said.
HER LEGACY LIVES ON…
Although she eventually left in 2008 to take up the position of Nigeria's Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, her legacy lives on remarkably not only in Nigeria's (and West Africa's) drug market, but also in the empowerment of women, particularly in Africa. “Women should always work extra hard to be accorded their recognition and to debunk the general feeling by skeptics that some jobs could not be done by women because we are neither strong nor serious minded enough.
Women in leadership positions should first and foremost shun corruption because it engenders compromise and poor performance on the job”, Akunyili said in a speech.
Akunyili was a devout Catholic and was married to Dr J. C. Akunyili, of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu till her death. They had six children together.
On June 7, 2014, former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili died of cancer in India at the age of 59. Her funeral, which took place on 27 and 28 August, was attended by many dignitaries from within Nigeria and beyond, including President Goodluck Jonathan and a former Nigerian military ruler General Yakubu Gowon
She was laid to rest at Agulu in Anambra state.
Prof. Akunyili will be remembered as an internationally renowned Pharmacist, Pharmacologist, Erudite Scholar, Seasoned Administrator, and a visionary leader.