NIGERIANS don’t read. That is a criticism one gets to hear often. Especially by self-righteous lecturers who want  to  condemn  the  poor standard  of education.

That may be true, but a more serious problem is that Nigerians don’t write too. I mean books. This  is especially true of our political and business leaders.

Many of  whom  retire from high positions in government  and  business,  and simply pack their bags and go home.  No memoir, no autobiography.  Whatever unique experience they might have had or  great challenge they conquered in office is theirs and theirs alone.

Or with small a clique of friends and family members, who they regale with their super stories.

That is not the case in  Western societies. Most of the leading political and business  leaders in the US have written books about their experiences, visions and dreams.

Obama’s latest book, Audacity of Hope is  a political biography and captures the President’s views on many of the challenges facing America. It is instructive that he wrote that book as a serving senator.

How many Nigerian lawmakers have  written books about their time in the National Assembly, or their vision on how to make Nigeria better ? Few, if any. But in the West it is almost unthinkable that a leader would rise to the highest echelons of power without comprehensively capturing his thoughts and ideas on paper  –   in a book form.

But even here, there are exceptions.  Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, is one of such. He never leaves a post without a tome. My Command, Nzeogwu, and The Animal Called Man are  some of his books.  Now there is another notable exception.

Her name is Dora Akunyili. Akunyili had an illustrious career as the Director General of Nigeria’s food and drug regulatory agency, NAFDAC. It was eight years  of remarkable achievements  which saw the rate of fake and substandard drugs in Nigeria tumble from its scary heights in the 1990s to a more tolerable  single digit.

It was eight years of dogged fight against the merchants of death, both foreign and native,  who milled  fake tablets and deadly syrups.  So committed was Akunyili  that she became synonymous with a Nigeria that is possible  – a new Nigeria  where diligence, honesty and integrity thrive.

A Nigeria we didn’t know was possible until Akunyili redefined  the word public service by shunning corruption, nepotism and tribalism.

It is a story that  you may be familiar with. So there is no need to bore you  with the tale of how Akunyili’s  honesty ‘recommended’  her for the NAFDAC  job, or how  she sacked a brother–in-law for not being transparent enough on his job, or refused  to register the medicine of another family member for improper documentation. Or that  her actions probably saved thousands of lives who may have fallen prey to the then  prevalent fake drug syndrome.

But there are questions that still beg for answers. For instance, what was Akunyili’s motivation?  Why did she not slow down or stop even after an attempt was made on her life by a fake drug merchant?

What was her strategies? How did she push the fight against fake drugs to the front burner of national discourse, considering that until her tenure  NAFDAC was backwater government  agency with little reckoning? Who were her mentors? And who  were those who  secretly tried to sway her from her convictions?

In short, what is the story behind  Akunyili’s great achievements as DG of NAFDAC? It is a question, I suspect,  many Nigerians want an answer to.   The wait is over. Akunyili has captured her thoughts, ideas and experiences of the NAFDAC years in a book.

Titled, The War Against Counterfeit Medicine : My Story, the book is a 442 page thriller that provides answers  to most, if not, all of the salient questions about the Akunyili  years in NAFDAC.  It is written in simple,  flowing English and  illuminates  her actions, motivations, strategies and even her pain and trauma  at NAFDAC.

One critical factor of Akunyili’s success was her approach to the job immediately she assumed office. She writes:  “One of the first things I did on assumption of duty was make a note of  the things  that  needed to be changed in order to achieve a complete turn-around of NAFDAC.

These included people, processes and systems. To me people  was the most important of these elements”.  She adds:  “ After consultations with the staff, we agreed on the following:   to conduct NAFDAC activities in a professional  and business manner and… see ourselves  as being  in the business of safe-guarding public health. Secondly ours is a special call and, indeed, a life- saving mission.

Thirdly, fraudulent practice such as over-sampling  of products for analysis, unnecessary delays in inspection and registration and aiding and abetting corruption in any form must stop, and fourthly all hands must be on deck to stop counterfeit drugs, tainted food products and other regulatory lapses”.

It is interesting what this  passage reveals:  Akunyili hit the ground running, with a clear idea of what she wanted to achieve. She rolled up her sleeves and got down to the work of ensuring sanitation of  the drug and food products industry.

She didn’t throw a party,  inviting friends and family to an owambe because of ‘free’ government money. She soiled her hands  in work, the work of ensuring  that mass murderers who faked drugs had no breathing space here. It was  only after this that the accolade, media adulation  and awards followed.

She is still receiving accolades for the great work at NAFDAC. At the launch of My Fight against Counterfeit Medicine in Abuja a few weeks ago, it was commendations galore as men of ‘timber and calibre’, from the President to captains of industries, praised Akunyili for her rare courage and doggedness.

The book was reviewed by Ms Arunma  Oteh, DG of the Security and Exchange Commission, who described it as “ … a call to transformative duty for every public servant.

It is a book about uncommon leadership and the possibilities for our nation if we can raise up leaders of integrity like Professor Akunyili. This book is recommended reading for all who care about life and the common good”.

Well said. But those accolades apart, Akunyili  has achieved  another significant milestone. Narrating her NAFDAC experience in a book means she has a permanent legacy, a solid foot print in the sand of time.   The book is also a clarion call and challenge to other public servants: write!

By Julius OGUNRO, a commentator on national issues, writes from Abuja.


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