Dora Nkem Akunyili: Exit of a rare patriot, national icon

The death of Nigeria’s former Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Mrs Dora Nkem Akunyili, OFR, last Saturday June 7 of cancer in an Indian specialist hospital came to Nigerians as a rude shock throwing the nation into mourning. Not many Nigerians were aware of the sickness that claimed her life until she turned up as a delegate at the ongoing National Conference in Abuja, looking unwell and a shadow of her usual beautiful and vibrant self.

Professor Akunyili burst into national limelight as the courageous and incorruptible Director- General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), a position she was appointed into by the former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001. She courageously and successfully fought the scourge of fake and counterfeit drugs which was very rampant in the country and had been responsible for the death of thousands of Nigerians from treatable diseases. This she did despite threat to her life having survived two assassination attempts, and pressure to compromise for fear of her life and pecuniary gains from close associates,  friends and the dreaded drug counterfeiting cabal  mostly from her Igbo ethnic  group.

Coming at a time that most government establishments were reeking with corruption and Nigeria’s corruption rating in the world murky, a grateful nation, nay the world, appreciated her integrity and passionate service to humanity with over 600 awards, including the National Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the Nigerian government.

A seasoned scholar, pharmacist, pharmacologist, astute administrator and visionary leader, Mrs Akunyili was versatile in all her endeavours and committed to the values of integrity, transparency and selfless service. She was a quintessence of selfless and patriotic service in a country where most of the political leaders are preoccupied with self aggrandizement and less concerned about the wellbeing of the people. In a country grossly short of genuine heroes in contemporary leadership, Professor Akunyili stood out as a model, a shinning light and a symbol of the exemplary leadership Nigerians desire but rarely get.

Professor Akunyili loved and served the nation until the end of her life, courageously defying cancer to serve as a member of the National Confab from where she took a break to travel for medical treatment in India, but never made it back alive. We urge the federal government to immortalize Professor Dora Akunyili, even as we aver that the best gift Nigerians can give the departed national heroine is to emulate her legacies of honesty, integrity, love for the people, and patriotism.

The sad truth is that the nation may have been spared the tragic loss of Professor Akunyili  to ovarian cancer in far away India which boasts better medical facilities, if our leaders had done enough to reposition the nation’s health institutions to deliver world class health services to our people. May her brave and pious soul rest in peace.

Culled from editorial of Daily Independent.

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