By Sola Ogundipe, Ben Agande, Chioma Obinna, Victoria Ojeme, Tony Edike, Daud Olatunji, Joseph Erunke and Johnbosco Agakwuru
After surviving several rumours of her death, a former Minister of Information and Communication and erstwhile Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, bowed to ovarian cancer early yesterday.
Meanwhile, her death was blamed on misdiagnosis by some doctors in the United States (US). The doctors were said to have claimed she did not have cancer after her Nigerian doctor’s diagnosis to the effect she had the sickness.
News of her death was officially announced by a former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, on the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS. Obi said Akunyili died after a protracted battle with cancer.
Obi, in the statement, said: “On behalf of the Akunyili family, I wish to officially confirm the death of Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Nkem Akunyili, OFR, in a Specialist Cancer Hospital in India today at 10 am, Nigerian time, after a two-year battle with cancer. In spite her illness, Prof. 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 statement continued: “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 and for God to help President Goodluck Jonathan to overcome all the challenges facing the nation.
“She therefore urged all Nigerians to remain prayerful and committed to building a better society for our children. We all prayed together and I promised to be visiting her every month. “We thank all those who remain fervent in prayers for her recovery and urge them to remain prayerful for the peaceful repose of her soul.”
Concern about Akunyili, who had been on admission in hospital for an undisclosed ailment, had made the rounds in recent times.
For several weeks, rumours of her battle with ovarian cancer dominated the social media. Although family sources debunked the stories, the rumours got stronger.
Her public appearance at the National Conference heightened anxiety about her well-being as she looked frail and a shadow of her old self.
Sunday Vanguard findings showed that the former Minister’s ill health first came to the fore a couple of years ago while on a trip abroad. A medical check up showed she had cancer.
The Cable, an online medium quoting a family source, yesterday, blamed misdiagnosis for Akunyili’s death.
According to the source, when in 1998, the former Minister was the Zonal Secretary (South-east) of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, Nigerian doctors gave her what many of her family members considered to be a health scare. They said she had a growth and needed surgery.
The source narrated: “Akunyili, then 44, decided to travel to the United States, first to get a second opinion and then undergo the prescribed surgery. The bill for the medical trip was $17,000, including $12,000 for the surgery. During pre-surgery check-up in the US, the doctors told her the Nigerian doctors had made a wrong diagnosis and that she did not need any surgery.
“It was said to be a minor issue that medication would solve. She thanked the doctors and, to their surprise, said she was going to return the money meant for the surgery to PTF. That was strange. Nigerian government officials had devised a way of making sure such monies were not returned to the treasury.
“The hospital informed the PTF, under the leadership of Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, about one honest Nigerian they had found. Buhari, himself a straightforward person, was very impressed. He wrote a letter to Akunyili commending her honesty. NAFDAC Then came 2001. President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint a director-general for the National Agency for Drug and Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and asked for the recommendation of an honest Nigerian pharmacist. Akunyili’s name promptly came up.
“Someone who had heard about her PTF record recommended her. There was a little problem, a Nigerian problem. Objections were raised that the minister of health, Prof. ABC Nwosu, was an Igbo from Anambra State and NAFDAC, being a powerful agency under the ministry, should not be headed by another Igbo from Anambra. It was also argued that the market for fake and substandard products were controlled by the Igbo, with Onitsha – also in Anambra State – a major centre for the illicit business. She was going to protect “her people”, the antagonists said.
“Obasanjo, stubborn to the cause, ignored the observations and appointed her. She went on to do a credible job and ended up as one of the most outstanding public officers in Nigeria’s history, celebrated locally and globally. She had lost a sister to fake drugs, and that was perhaps the impetus she needed to go on the offensive. Misdiagnosis Meanwhile, Akunyili always went abroad for check-ups and she was always given an all-clear. She continued to look robust and energetic, and took up another government job as minister of information and communications.
“But on July 13, 2013, something strange happened to her. She was preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award. The following day was her birthday. Her 59th, precisely. Then she fell ill. She was physically weak and having pains. She decided to go ahead with her trip and attend to her health in the United States. It was while she was there that new checks were carried out.
“Alas, she had cancer. The original diagnosis in 1998 was right. But the diagnosis at the point of surgery was wrong. She became seriously ill and there were fears she could lose her life. She was in the hospital for months and only returned to Nigeria this year when the doctors said she was improving. Her last public appearance was at the National Conference in Abuja, where she was a delegate. Pictures of a frail-looking Akumyili soon went viral on the internet”.
In a tribute, the Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Professor Akin Osibogun, described the news as shocking.
“It is indeed sad. I am just hearing the news from you now. Professor Dora Akunyili was a personal friend apart from working together during her days at NAFDAC.
The National President, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Pharm Femi Adebayo, stated: “My eyes were filled with tears when I heard about the death of a faithful and brave Nigerian,
Pharmacist par excellence. Dora rode where men trembled, especially her fight against fake counterfeit and adulterated drugs”.
Dora Akunyili, a distinguished citizen and patriot – President Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan has described late Dora Akunyili as a distinguished Nigerian and Patriotic citizen who would be sorely missed by all those who came in contact with her.
In a statement yesterday, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati quoted the President as saying he ‘ received with shock and sadness, news of the sudden and untimely death of Professor Dora Akunyili, former Minister of Information and Communications.
“The President believes that Professor Akunyili will live long in the memories of those who were privileged to know her as a diligent professional, a public-spirited and forthright public officer, and as a person of great convictions.
The First Lady, Dame Patience Faka Jonathan, described Akunyili as a “titan,” who left an indelible mark with the passion and conviction with which she served the nation. Dame Jonathan described the late Akunyili’s departure as “a great loss to the nation and the womenfolk.”
Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State expressed profound shock and sadness over the death of f Professor Akunyili, describing it as a serious blow to the nation. Chime in a reaction signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Chukwudi Achife, said her death has robbed the nation of one of her finest breed of patriots.
Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Paul Orhii, described late Dora Akunyili as a patriot and a woman of great virtue.
According to Orhii: “It is with great shock but with total submission to the will of God that I received the sad news of the death of Prof. Dora Akunyili. She was a woman who loved Nigeria deeply and dedicated her entire life up till the very last minute to the service of this great nation”.
National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, said the death of Professor Akunyili was very saddening, adding that it was a huge loss to Nigeria and the womenfolk.
Aka Ikenga also mourned this lady of substance for among other things, she was a titanic Amazon, according to Chief Goddy Uwazurike, the President of Aka Ikenga.
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in his own reaction, described the late former Information Minister, as an amazon.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on media, Mrs Olufunmilayo Wakama, Amosun, who expressed shock and disbelief at the news of the demise of the one time Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), at the age of 59, said she deserves Special mention among nation builders in Nigeria.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu expressed grief and shock over the death of Akunyili.
He said her death was not just a colossal loss to the entire country but also an exit of an uncommon role model.
Ekweremadu, in a statement through his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, described the late Pharmacist as a “woman of substance, unequaled character, and courage who brought respect and glory to the nation.”
The Campaign for Democracy, CD, described her as strong and brave woman fought her last battle with cancer which she has just lost at the age of 59.
She will always be remembered for her doggedness,tenacity and courageous pursuit of ideals both as Director General of NAFDAC and Minister of Information
Also reacting to the death of Prof. Akunyili, Chairman, Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Senator Andy Uba, said that the late Prof. Akunyili dedicated her life to the service of her fatherland and waged great war against fake and counterfeit drugs in the country.
Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, has described as shocking, painful and saddening, the death of former Information and Communication Minister, Professor (Mrs.) Dora Akunyili, lamenting that Nigeria has once again lost one of her gems.
Governor Imoke in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Christian Ita, said: “I received with a heavy heart, news of the death of our dear Dora Akunyili, who was one of the few Amazons of our time.”
Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger state has described the death of Akunyili as a big blow to the country whose intellectual competence and patriotic citizenship cannot be equaled.
He also described her as a fountain of knowledge, professional expert who exuded servant leadership during her national service.
According to Joseph Evah, national coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, IMG, Nigerians will miss Prof. Dora Akunyili. She was the first person to risk her life for President Goodluck Jonathan during the period the late President Musa Yar’Adua became sick before he died. Then, the Yar’Adua cabal, was determined to deny Jonathan his constitutional right as Vice-President to succeed the late President. The people of Niger Delta are grateful to her and are mourning her passing.
‘Adorable Dora’ (1954 – 2014)
Prof. Dora Akunyili, a recipient of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, resigned her appointment as Minister of Information on December 16, 2010, after two years of service to pursue her political ambition of representing Anambra Central in the National Assembly as a senator.
Fondly known as “Adorable Dora”, the internationally renowned pharmacist, pharmacologist, erudite scholar, administrator, and visionary leader, would, perhaps, be best remembered as the no-nonsense
Director General of the National Agency for Foods, Drugs and Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
Born in Makurdi, Benue State, on July 14, 1954, the deceased hailed from Nanka, Anambra State. The deceased always had a knack to be marked for distinction.
A post-doctorate Fellow of University of London and a Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists, it was NAFDAC, Director General that Akunyili proved her mettle as a leader and visionary.
She took on the hydra-headed problem of fake, spurious, unwholesome and substandard drugs, turning fortunes around for the nation’s lopsided drug distribution system and quickly gaining international recognition as a true advocate for public health and human rights protection.
A multiple award- winner for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights, Akunyili was an embodiment of excellence academically – passing the First School Leaving Certificate Examination with distinction at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra State, in 1966.
To prove her prowess, she went on to emerge with Grade I Distinction in the West African School Certificate Examination of 1973 from Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka.
This superlative performance earned her the Eastern Nigerian Government Post-Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship. In 1978, Akunyili bagged her first
degree in pharmacy, and her Ph.D in 1985 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Among her outstanding awards were the Time Magazine Award 2006 ( One of the 18 Heroes of our Time) – Time Magazine Inc.; Person of the Year 2005 Award by Silverbird Communications Ltd; Award of Excellence by Integrated World Services (IWS), Dec. 2005; Award of Excellence –
Advocacy for Democracy Dividends International, Lagos; Meritorious Award 2005; An Icon of Excellence Award by the African Cultural Institute and Zenith Bank Plc; 2005 Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award London Based Human Rights Defense Organization, 2005; Most Innovative Director Award Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos, 2005 and Integrity Award 2003 winner given by Transparency International.