“If we fail to act now, history will not forgive us. I rest my case.” Prof. Dora Akunyili
In his book, “The Heart of America: Ten Core Values That Make Our Country Great”, Bill Halamandaris listed ten core values that built America. Ten values with proven ability to build a world superpower:
Compassion Opportunity Responsibility Equality
Valour Ambition Liberty Unity Enterprise Spirituality
In this case study of the value Valour, we look at an individual who provides an excellent example of what it means and what it does for a nation.
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR) was born in Makurdi, Benue State on the 14th of July, 1954 to Chief & Mrs. Paul Young Edemobi. She was a devout Catholic and was happily married to Dr. J.C. Akunyili, a Medical Practitioner; they were blessed with six children and three grandchildren. She died in an Indian hospital on 7 June 2014 after a battle with cancer.
Prof. Akunyili’s educational career started with her passing the First School Leaving Certificate with Distinction at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, in 1966, and the West African School Certificate (W.A.S.C.) with Grade I Distinction in 1973 from Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka, both in Anambra State. She got her First Degree in Pharmacy – B.Pharm (Hons) – in 1978 and her PhD in 1985 from University of Nigeria, Nsukka (U.N.N.).
Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist from 1978–1981, in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (U.N.T.H) Enugu, after which she ventured into academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, U.N.N. from 1982–1986. In the university system, she made a steady progress from Lecturer I in 1986 until she was promoted to the rank of Professor of Pharmacology in October, 2000. Due to her love for teaching and nurturing young ones, she was also a part-time lecturer of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists Lagos, Nigeria from 1992–1995.
From 1992 to 1994, Akunyili served as a member of State Hospitals Management Board and State Advisory Council for Women Commission both in Anambra State of Nigeria. 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 1997-2000, Prof. Akunyili served as the Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), where she coordinated all projects in the five South Eastern States of Nigeria.
From April 2001 – 2008, Prof. Akunyili served as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Here she recorded outstanding success. Prior to her appointment, food and drug regulation in Nigeria was chaotic. All manner of adulterated, fake and substandard food and drugs were dumped into Nigeria resulting in over 60 percent of fake drugs in circulation. Unscrupulous individuals made fortunes from such unwholesome practices.
When she assumed office, she brought in a new culture of excellence and honesty to NAFDAC. As a result, the level of fake and counterfeit drugs in circulation dropped to 16.7 percent with vast improvement in the food and other regulated sectors. As a commentator in a national newspaper once wrote, “The NAFDAC Director-General is a revolutionary. She has not only changed NAFDAC, she has also changed the pharmaceutical industry in the country.”
From December 2008 – December 2010, she served as the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications. During her tenure, Prof. Akunyili anchored the Re-branding Nigeria Project driven by the slogan ‘Nigeria Good People Great Nation’. The programme was conceived as an internal process to address Nigeria’s negative image both at home and abroad.
To serve her people in the political sphere, she contested for the Anambra Central Senatorial District seat as the APGA candidate but lost to Senator Chris Ngige of then ACN. In March 2014 and three months to her death, she was appointed an Anambra State delegate to the National Conference. She served Nigeria till the end.
Prof. Akunyili served the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (P.S.N.) in various capacities, notably as National Vice President of the Association of Lady Pharmacists (1992-1995) and President of the Enugu State Branch from 1992 – 1998. Internationally, as Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Akunyili was appointed Chairman of West African Drug Regulatory Agencies Network (WADRAN) in March 2006 and as Vice Chairman of the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT) in November 2006.
As a Scientist and a Scholar, she presented over 600 papers in various local and International Conferences, published 4 books and wrote scientific articles published in 37 local and international journals. She was a Post Doctorate Fellow of the University of London, Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists, Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and member of other learned societies.
For her valour, industry and commitment to the values of honesty, transparency and selfless service, Prof. Akunyili received over six hundred Awards and Recognitions locally and internationally.
What can we learn about Valour from life of this great citizen?
Valour expressed her compassion and responsibility: She used her time at NAFDAC to address the problem of counterfeit drugs and unsafe food, and left a huge mark. It was also through valour, in 1998, that she took responsibility to refund $12,000 approved for medical treatment overseas back to PTF after the surgery was no longer required.
Valour sought and harnessed opportunities: Whether during her time as a lecturer, in the her professional association, in university ASUU activities, in State and Local Governments Health management, at the Federal Government level and in politics, she bravely sought and harnessed opportunities to serve Nigerians and make a difference in society.
Valour inspired enterprise: Prof. Akunyili, through courage, launched new initiatives (like the Federal Government rebranding exercise), showcased deep and infectious passion, exhibited a high level of excellence and delivered results with a strong work ethics. It didn’t matter that she was a woman in a male-dominated country. She pushed boundaries and brought down barriers through her valour.
Valour inspired voice: At any given occasion, Prof. Akunyili spoke with much courage and passion that inspired and motivated many citizens to a life of excellence. During her NAFDAC days, she regularly making daring threats to counterfeit drug barons and then went after them. We may also recall her public call for the late President Yar’Adua to handover to his deputy because of his (Yar’Adua’s) ill health. She was the only Cabinet Minister who made this call and was seriously opposed by her colleagues. It was a voice inspired by valour.
Valour confronted risk to her life and to the task to fight injustice: During her time as Director-General of NAFDAC, there were two noted attempts on her life but she passionately pressed on with doggedness that drew the admiration of most Nigerians because her display of valour was (and still is) a rare quality in our nation.
The late Prof. Akunyili was a great showcase of valour as a nation-building core value. She is no longer with us and even if she was, she alone can’t build Nigeria. Therefore, our nation’s urgent need is for a critical mass of citizens who will step out with valour and confront the forces that have kept us in bondage for too long, break their grip and establish systems, products, processes and excellence that will build our nation.
This challenge is to you, would you rise up with valour?