The Making Of A Legend: Peter Obi Speaks At The Memorial Anniversary Of The Death Of Prof. Dora Akunyili







Late Prof. Dora Akunyili

Mr. Peter Obi's speech, but as usual, he kept the speech away, and spoke extempore.
Courage, Integrity and Passion in Public Service: The making of a Legend, a Keynote Address presented at Nike Lake Hotel on the 4th of September, 2015 during the one year Memorial Anniversary of the death of Prof. Dora Akunyili by Mr. Peter Obi, CON 


To be successful, a woman has to be better at her job than a man.
Golda Meir was the Founding Mother of the Republic of Israel; and its 4th Prime Minister.



His Keynote Address reads:
Mr Peter Obi, presenting his Keynote Address


All Protocols Observed!

It was with some anxiety that I accepted the invitation to speak at the First Memorial of our dearly-beloved sister and icon, Professor Mrs. Dora Nkem Akunyili. The first time it was mentioned to me, I wondered while I was considered fit for the lecture. Could it be that coming from the same town, I am considered as knowing her very well? Could it be because I was one of the last persons that saw her before she died? Could it be because she was close to me when she was alive? Could it be because I share her belief that we must re-build our society for posterity? I wondered if I should adopt the general trend of picking an independent, rather academic subject-matter, or dwell primarily on the distinguished lady we are here to honour. Speaking or writing on Big Aunty as I fondly called her can only be difficult for a foreigner, who did not witness her life of service to humanity, aided by unusual courage and passion for excellence.


Though a lot has been written and said about this remarkable Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, but one thing likable about her is that he represents what the Germans call “the Spirit of the time”, he always remind us of what we need to do at any particular time, especially when we are facing challenges as a nation.
All through human history, women have been critical to the development of their immediate and extended environments. They are not only Bastions of the Home Front, but have played active roles in the polity, economy and wider society – now and then as prime movers.
 

In the experience of Nigeria as a geo-political entity, women have given decent accounts of themselves. From the colonial era to date, we cannot gloss over the contributions of the likes of Margaret Ekpo, Gambo Sawaba [of the NEPU fame], Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the women who protested against illegal taxation in Aba, among others. Quite a number of women have also made significant impacts in the executive, legislative & judicial branches of government, the civil services, academia, commerce & industry, the disciplined services, entertainment, and other professions. Whenever they are afforded the platform, they have in the main not been found wanting. Indeed, they have recorded impressive attainments in spite of the constraints inherent in our male-dominated society.
 


I became aware of Dora Nkem Akunyili before she came to national limelight through many encounters.
Once, I was discussing with her husband, Dr. Chike Akunyili and he told me his own experience being Dora’s husband. Being a very good cook, when Chief Daniel Ogbuefi lost her father, Ogbuefi, as the husband told me, appealed to Dora to help her prepare special pepper soup for his important guests. When she finished, her husband asked to be given some, but all Dora did was to park them in the car with food flask to Ogbuefi’s house. After handing over the delicacies to the wife, she asked her to put some for her, which she brought home for her husband. For Dora, trust should not be betrayed in any way.
 

Since then, I followed her career progress with much admiration and respect. Over my two terms as Governor of Anambra State, we interacted on a range of issues affecting our dear State and country; and with positive outcomes. Her vision, dynamism, competence and dedication took her to great heights locally and internationally.
 

Alas, barely 40 days short of her 60th birthday, she passed on to glory. Today, some 12 months after her sad demise, we have gathered here to pay tribute to her memory and recall some of the hallmarks of her labour of love for her beloved country and people.
 

Although Dora was born into an upper middle class family, part of her early years took her through harsh conditions. At the age of 9, she was taken from the comforts of her father’s city home, to live with her grandmother and uncle in the village. She went through the mill performing a range of chores; trekking long distances to fetch water & fire-wood, to the farm and to attend school, where she scored the first position in her various classes.
 

Dora’s excellent academic records signified she was destined for greatness and great things. With a Distinction in the First School Leaving Certificate and Grade One in the West African School Certificate, she won a Federal Government scholarship – progressively earning a bachelor’s degree and a straight doctorate in Pharmacy at the famed University of Nigeria, Nsukka [UNN]. Of course, winning prizes were a matter of course. In line with the family tradition, who would be surprised to learn that five of her children obtained their bachelor’s degrees in the First Class division, even as three of them are Medical Doctors like their esteemed & unassuming father? What a blessed union of Vintage Dora and Chike!
 

From a Hospital Pharmacist at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital [UNTH], through a Graduate Assistant & Consultant Pharmacologist to a Professor at the UNN, Dora continued on her path of excellence. Along the line, her home State, Anambra, pressed her into further service. Successively, she served with the State Hospitals Management Board, as Co-ordinator of the Better Life Programme, on the State Advisory Council for Women, and as a Supervisory Councillor for Agriculture in Anaocha Local Government.

 
Death Memory Anniversary of Dora Akunyili

In all the places she worked, she proved himself as a highly principled officer, showing that being principled is one quality needed by those Public offices to succeed. As the Supervisory Councillor on Agriculture, away from the fraud associated with sharing of fertilizer, she invited all the towns in Anambra State upon arrivals of trucks carrying fertilizer and shared it straight from the truck. In appreciation, all communities offered to give her one bag each but she refused: While everybody rejoiced, her co-workers knowing the loss occasioned by her straightforwardness, mourned.
 

Her profile and visibility continue to rise as she beat other applicants to secure the position of South-East Zonal Secretary for the Petroleum [Special] Trust Fund [PTF], where she had about three eventful years overseeing the Fund’s projects in the five States of the Zone.
 

In 2001, Dora’s career received a tremendous fillip when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her the Director-General of the National Agency for Food & Drugs Administration and Control [NAFDAC]. It was clearly on the highest recommendations, and testimony to her integrity, competence and verve.
 

Dora’s assignment was complicated and herculean. She was to tackle the embarrassing prevalence of fake & adulterated drugs and regulated foods across the country. These facilitators of death and deformity were literally available on the streets, in commercial buses, at motor parks, cigarette stands, and open markets. Virtually every family in Nigeria had been adversely affected – one way or the other – by the menace of those products. Even those who could afford the best medical attention have on occasion purchased an analgesic or some other over-the-counter product from a so-called Patent Medicine Store. The Merchants of Death did not only undercut the genuine drug manufacturers, threatening the livelihoods of their combined millions of direct and subsidiary employees. The predators also sabotaged the Nigerian economy, and exposed the country and its people to international opprobrium.
 

Her attainments as D-G of DAFDAC have been amply documented, but it will be worthwhile to ponder the following hard facts:
 

Prior to her appointment, NAFDAC had the image of one of a plethora of public sector organizations providing “jobs for the boys [& girls]”. The agency was literally occupying space as its name and activities hardly excited more-than-passing interest. From various acts of omission and commission, it had not come to terms with the harsh realities of the prevalence and debilitating impacts of fake and sub-standard drugs & regulated foods in the country.
 

Dora’s appointment to head NAFDAC was ultra-sensitive; given that quite a number of the Merchants of Death she had to confront were highly connected – with all its ramifications and implications.
 

Dora’s assignment was high-risk – the kind no insurance company would be happy to cover. Aside from several death-threats to her, her family and some of her staff, she escaped assassins’ bullets – simply by the Grace of God. Such was the scary overcast on her family that one of her sons had to deny she was his mother so that he would be spared by a gang of kidnappers. The fire-bombing and vandalization of NAFDAC’s facilities across the country are among many other acts of sabotage to truncate her crusade.
Threats to, and attempts on, one’s life would naturally scare and discourage most people – male and female alike. It was really a marvel that a “mere” woman, a wife and a mother would be undaunted and unbowed. But, Dora was not a “mere” woman and refused to be distracted from her avowed mission to sanitize the foods and drugs sector. That was Vintage Dora for you!
 

Dora instituted Enforcement and Ports Inspection structures and generated standard operating procedures that yielded positive results. With large volumes of drugs and foods being imported into the country, it beats the imagination that no firm provisions were in place for inspections at ports of entry before her time. It is also open to question that there were no clear enforcement & sanctions regimes prior to her tenure. One might dare say: “Yes, the management styles of chief executives are different”, but we should add: “To what effect?”
 

Dora and her team waged an unrelenting war against the Merchants of Death over nearly eight terrifying years. Like the Amazon she was, she organized some 800 raids on production, storage and marketing facilities of the merchants of death – shutting down major fake/sub-standard drugs markets in Onitsha, Aba and Kano for a number of months. Significantly, she enjoyed the concrete support of President Olusegun Obasanjo and majority of the Agency’s personnel.
 

Dora was even-handed in her enforcement of the regulations against fake and sub-standard drugs and foods. On several occasions, she stoutly resisted attempts to compromise her. Interestingly, some of those attempts came from people she knew.
 

Dora’s leadership drastically reduced the production & marketing of fake & adulterated drugs and regulated foods in the country. In the process, NAFDAC saved millions of lives and rescued many other people from the risks of various forms of health disorders, physical disabilities and related complications.
Under Dora’s tenure, UNICEF declared Nigeria the 1st Developing Country to Achieve Universal Salt Iodization.
 

Dora’s successful tenure at NAFDAC has been implanted in the psyche of millions of appreciative Nigerians. She set the tone for high regulatory standards in the sector, which subsists today. Years after she left the Agency, buyers of packaged drugs and regulated foods would instinctively inquire: “Does it have NAFDAC Number?” and “Where is the NAFDAC Number?” Or, should we talk about ‘Pharmaco-Vigilance’ platforms, that enable members of the public confirm the integrity of drugs they want to purchase? Such is the impression left by Vintage Dora.
 

With Dora’s attainments at NAFDAC, our international credibility rating soared as several countries and international agencies explored relevant areas of mutual co-operation with Nigeria.
 

Dora was not afraid to speak to power once she is convinced on the rightness of her deeds. Her driving passion was best captured in small events about her that were even unreported. As President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo once gave her a name of somebody for employment in NAFDAC. She politely informed Obasanjo that his candidate would be sent to the Examination Board like others, Obasanjo enjoined her to follow all due process. The end of the story was that he informed the President that his candidate did not pass and was not taken. Till today, Obasanjo uses it as an example on how to follow due process.
 

Dora’s appointment as a Minister of the Federal Republic and assignment to the strategic Ministry of Information & Communications, were not just for the status and cameras. As the country’s principal image maker, she brought to bear on her new posting the intense passion she exhibited at NAFDAC. In her firm belief in the Nigeria Project, she utilized the ministerial platform to actively promote the goodness and greatness of the country and its people. Among other creative initiatives, her ‘Re-Branding Nigeria Campaign” is focused on “change, about all Nigerians working together with government at all levels to effect a change of attitudes, behaviour and re-orientation and bring about cultural revival”. The central message was very succinct: “Let us be positive about our country, Nigeria. We seek to promote tourism, showcase and celebrate excellence, highlight the many things that underline the goodness of our people and the greatness of our nation”. I dare say it would be difficult for millions of Nigerians and Nigeria-watchers to forget the novel Pay-Off: “NIGERIA! GOOD PEOPLE, GREAT NATION!
 

Significantly, the Re-Branding project was home-grown and focused principally on Nigerians. Unlike many other public office holders, she could have simply rendered it foreign-oriented. That would have taken her and her team to several countries of the world; incurring huge bills at public expense.
 

Again, her rationale is revealing of the loopholes in the management of public affairs: “If money was my goal ... I would have planned trips to countries I have not visited before, pick my allowances, have few hours meetings with Nigerians and a few foreigners that the embassy can assemble, pay a courtesy call to the Minister of that country, create photo ops., take some rest and maybe do a little shopping...”.
 

As has been attested to by many people across the world, Dora’s foci as Minister of Information & Communications were not only her employers – the Federal Government – but also the States and Local Government Areas of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In the Ministry’s publications, for instance, one would read about the development projects undertaken by States run by opposition parties. Vintage Dora was easily one of Nigeria’s most impressive Chief Image Makers!
 

Sadly, the Re-Branding project was not followed through after her tenure. The slogan has since been adopted by a few other countries, and to great effect.
 

It was inspired ambition that made Dora to resign her plum appointment as a Minister of the Federal Republic to fulfil other goals in the service of her fatherland. She contested in an election to represent Anambra Central Senatorial District; was unsuccessful, but not discouraged. In the meantime, she directed her boundless energy to community service and philanthropy. Dora was very active in the Committee on Handover of Government from my administration to my successor.
 

When the Federal Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan approved the organization of a National Conference, Dora was a natural choice as one of the three delegates to represent Anambra State at that historic forum. Her last address, even in ill-health, to the Conference is revealing. He spoke about the Nigerian of our dreams and concluded by quoting the Chinese saying: that “a society grows when old men plat trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”
For many people, appointments to positions of trust are ends in themselves; but not Dora. A woman of Vision, Mission and Clear Purpose, she would articulate her thoughts, sound them out with like minds and generate a practicable programme of action.

Integrity was one of the cardinal guides to Dora’s conduct. As a staff of the then Petroleum Trust Fund [PTF], she returned a whopping sum of some 12,000 Pounds Sterling of her unutilized medical funds to the Treasury. In line with the usual practice, all she needed to do was “retire” the monies approved for her trip and even brazenly make claims for re-imbursement of extra expenses. Interestingly, her overall boss at the PTF was Major-General Muhammadu Buhari [Rtd.], Nigeria’s current President. I dare say Vintage Dora would have made President Buhari’s nomination list for Ministers or Special Advisers!
 

At NAFDAC, she never compromised in spite of several offers of huge inducements to her, to ‘take it easy’ on her assignment. As a matter of fact, she attended a meeting with representatives of the Merchants of Death, and had them arrested and prosecuted. She maintained her integrity all the way. But, then, Vintage Dora was not a ‘usual’ Nigerian!
 

Going through her profile, it is obvious that Dora’s life’s sojourn had not been plain-sailing. She was a visionary inspired by strong convictions, unclouded purpose and tenacity. She neither sought for nor was she assigned soft, simplistic tasks. She rose to each occasion with amazing zeal, doggedness and sense of mission.
 

This unambiguously dignified woman, Dora, received acclaim from discerning people and grudging respect from her detractors. Several of the honours accorded her were not for sale, and the samplers are instructive. What else but her labours could have earned her the Nigerian Woman of Distinction at the nation’s 50th Independence anniversary; Integrity Award from Transparency International; Amazon of Integrity by the National Council of Women’s Societies; Pharmacist of the Year 2005 by the International Pharmaceutical Federation; Honorary Member of the The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain; one of TIME magazine’s 18 Heroes [Health] of Our Time; One of Four Top World-Class Women Achievers by the Italian Government; and a Chair endowed in her name at the UNN? Shouldn’t we also marvel at her Post-Doctoral Fellowship of University of London as well as her Fellowship of the West African Post-Graduate College of Pharmacists, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, and Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy? And, how about her active membership of such distinguished bodies as the New York Academy of Science, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Association for African Medicinal Plant Standards, International Narcotics Control Board, International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, and US Pharmacopeia Expert Committee?
 

Dora went beyond the call of duty – at great risk to her health and life. In all her appointments and assignments, she did not only make a difference, but a great difference, with far-reaching positive implications for the Nigerian society at large. She made tremendous impact with the opportunities she had; reminding us that we pass through this world only once. Indeed, she raised the bar for public service in our great country. She could have run through her schedules routinely like millions of her compatriots, but not so for Vintage Dora.
 

All the way, she never gave up – except to the inevitable end of all humanity; and I had the unnerving task of announcing her death on behalf of the Akunyili Family. Though widely publicized, permit me to re-enact my remarks on that sad occasion: “In spite of her illness, Professor Akunyili was unwavering in her belief in a better Nigeria. That was why she defied her condition and was part of Anambra State Handover Committee and the National Conference ... 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”.
 

Dora was not a ‘Super-Woman’ in the classical form, and it was by no means easy to juggle the competing demands of matrimony, motherhood and career. Clearly, a major basis of her attainments was the unalloyed support of her family, particularly her husband Dr. Chike Akunyili and their children.
Dora lives on because her legacies are enduring. We do not owe her encomiums as much as we need to sustain those legacies. We must strive to uphold her bar of public service, even if we cannot raise it. Let us ponder these issues.
 

May Almighty God continue to bless the soul of this remarkable woman!

Peter Obi, CON