A Leader Par Excellence; a Pharmacist and an Administrator, an Academic and an Educator, a Politician etc. All these fit into the name Dora Nkem Akuniyili. A native of Anambra, born in Makurdi, Benue state, Nigeria on July 14, 1954, to the family of Chief and Mrs Paul Young Edemobi. Born into a childhood filled with fond memories, which was tainted by the loss of her diabetic sister Vivian, from fake insulin medication. This was a turning point for Dora.
Early Days and Education
She started her Primary education at St Patricks Primary School Isuofa, Nsukka in 1966 and obtained her West African School Certificate (W.A.S.C.) with a Grade I Distinction from the Queen of Rosary Secondary School in Enugu state in 1973. She obtained the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship which enabled her to study Pharmacy at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Akunyili was always top of her class – a record that has never been broken in the school to date. She got her B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and PhD in 1985, both at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), winning the best student award in the school of Pharmacy in her very first year in the school and the Vice Chancellor’s Postgraduate and Research Leadership prize in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences for 1984/85 and 1985/86 academic Sessions.
Akunyili: A Meteoric Rising
Akunyili became a Hospital Pharmacist in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (U.N.T.H), Enugu state. In 1981, she became a Graduate Assistant in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, a Senior Lecturer in 1990 and a Consultant Pharmacologist at the College of Medicine in 1996 until 2001. She was also a part-time lecturer of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists Lagos, Nigeria from 1992–1995 and was promoted to the rank of Professor of Pharmacology in October, 2000 by the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Within that period of academic service, she served as the Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (P.T.F.), coordinating all projects in the five south-eastern states of Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States).
In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her the Director-General, theNational Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC). While at NAFDAC, She emphasized the culture of excellence and honesty to the agency and the entire Nigerian public service. Her impact was so significant that she put the name of the agency on the lips of many; there was a sharp decline in the fake drugs industry.
In 2008, she assumed the position of Minister of Information and Communication and kicked off the ReBrand campaign that had the slogan ‘Good People, Great Nation’. A few years later, she went full throttle into politics and contested for the Senatorial seat of Anambra central in Anambra State under the flag of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the April 2011 elections; she lost however.
Akunyili: Medals, Awards, Trophies…Cabinet Full of Recognitions
Akunyili was one of the most recognized and awarded women in Nigerian history. She received over six hundred Awards and Recognitions locally and internationally. Some of these include:
- Time Magazine Award 2006 (“One of the eighteen heroes of our time”), Time Magazine Inc.
- Person of the Year 2005 Award – Silverbird Communications Ltd, Lagos, 5 January 2006
- Award of Excellence – Integrated World Services (IWS), December 2005
- Award of Excellence – Advocacy for Democracy Dividends International, Lagos, 17 December 2005
- Meritorious Award 2005 – St. Michael’s Military Catholic Church, Apapa, Lagos, 4 December 2005
- African Virtuous and Entrepreneurial Women Merit Award 2005 – African Biographical Network, December, 2005
- Award for the Best Government Parastatal – National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), December, 2005
- An Icon of Excellence Award – The African Cultural Institute and Zenith Bank Plc, 8 December 2005
- 2005 Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award London-based Human Rights Defense Organization, 8 December 2005
- Most Innovative Director Award Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos, October, 2005.
- Integrity Award 2003 – Transparency International.
- Conferment with the National Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Recognition as an Icon of Hope for Nigerians by President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, 2002.
- Nigeria’s Five Greatest Living Legends Award by Silverbird Group and Vanguard Media, Dec. 2009.
- Recognition as Nigerian Woman of Distinction during the Nigeria @50 Independence Anniversary Celebration, Sept. 2010.
- Minister of the Year 2010 by Nigeria Royalty Award, Dec. 2010.
- Integrity Award by Transparency International in South Korea 2003.
- Special Award for Combating Economic Crime by International Chamber of Commerce-Commercial Crime Services London, 2004.
- Amazon of Integrity by National Council of Women Society, 2004.
- Pharmacist of the Year Medal Award by International Pharmaceutical Federation, FIP, 2005.
- Honourary Degree of Doctor of Laws by University of Bristol, London, 2006.
- Honorary Georgia Citizen by The State of Georgia, USA, 2006.
- Agribusiness, International Euro Market and Transbusiness Awards respectively for 2003, 2005 and 2006 by European Marketing Research Centre (EMRC), Brussels.
- Elected Honourary Member of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London, by The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London, 2008.
- Conferred with the prestigious Harmony Tribute Award by Planet Africa Television Canada, 2010.
During her service years in the academia, she served in the following committees in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences Committees (UNN), 1986–92:
- Medicinal Plant Committee
- Examination Committee
- Continuing Education Committee
- Publications and Colloquial Committee
- Committee on Specialization Courses for Pharmacists
- Consultancy Management Board.
In 2012, she published the award-winning book, The War Against Counterfeit Medicine: My Story.
Akuniyili: The Bowing Out of a Gem
Akunyili died in 2014 from cancer and she was laid to rest at Agulu in Anambra state. Nigeria’s health sector has become better because of her; a feat worth a thanksgiving.
Featured image source: Pulse.ng