Akunyili: An amazon goes into the night

Chiedu Okoye Okoyechiedu8@yahoo.com 08062220654

A British historian once said “death is the consequence of birth.” We are born to die. In fact, our shrouds were sown for us while we were in our mothers’ wombs. Death is an inescapable reality that will befall every human being. It is the lot that awaits us all.

Dora-Akunyili smilesDeath plants grief and sorrow in any house it visits but death cannot obliterate the memories of our heroes and heroines. The memories of Nigeria’s past leaders who had uncommon touches are evergreen in our minds. Their names and memories are forever etched and inscribed in our collective consciousness. How we remember them with fondness.

So, unsurprisingly, grief seized us following the death of Professor Dora Akunyili, the erstwhile Nigeria’s minister of information and former NAFDAC boss. Her untimely death has thrown the entire nation into mourning. Professor Akunyili died when we were looking up to her for guidance and counsel regarding our vexed national issues. We should remember that she was a delegate to the ongoing National Conference.

We have taken solace and comfort in the fact that her legacies would endure for indefinite time, and would become the roadmap and compass that will guide us in our quest for national renewal and unity. Akunyili lived a life of service that is worthy of emulation. Who does not know Professor Akunyili the erudite scholar and island of integrity? She achieved fame while heading NAFDAC. Her sterling performance as NAFDAC boss made her become popular with millions of Nigerians.

What recommended her for the job and greatly contributed to her securing the NAFDAC top-most job was her honesty. She had a health condition and the federal government gave her money for treatment in a hospital in a foreign country. While in hospital, she was diagnosed as not having the ailment that necessitated her to travel to that country. Instead of pocketing the money she received from government for treatment, as millions of Nigerians would do, she returned the money to the government. That was the chief reason she was head-hunted for the NAFDAC job as the then President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted an honest Nigerian to lead the organisation.

Professor Akunyili did not let us down while she was in the saddle of NAFDAC leadership. She sanitised our drug markets. She was the nemesis of fake drug manufacturers, and importers of noxious and substandard health products. A fearless woman, she risked her life to rid Nigeria of fake and injurious drugs. She suffered two assassination attempts, but that didn’t deter her from waging a relentless war against merchants of death. Akunyili could be likened to Lady Nightingale. Her patriotism was obvious and indisputable. Her selflessness was beyond question.

As Nigeria’s information minister, she demonstrated her unalloyed love for the country when she asked members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to do the right thing regarding the political impasse and leadership vacuum created by the now late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s health predicament. Her patriotic action kept Nigeria from falling over the precipice. The doctrine of necessity was eventually invoked to install Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s President following Akunyili’s bold and assertive action. We partly owe our continued existence as one country to her timely intervention in the vexed issue of leadership succession, then.

Professor Akunyili Later relinquished her post as minister of information in Dr. Jonathan’s led government to contest in the Anambra Central senatorial election. She was robbed of victory by the veteran of election rigging in Anambra State, so she sought for electoral redress at the Awka election tribunal. The electoral case, which was a cause célèbre, swung between the Appeal Court and the Awka election tribunal. Her political foes employed delay tactics to ensure that the matter was not concluded within the 180 days stipulated by the electoral law. Their strategy paid off and the case was struck out at the tribunal on technical grounds. Akunyili lost the case, but was not humiliated.

Professor Akunyili, who was a precocious kid, was born in July 1954. Her exceptional brilliance earned her a scholarship that saw her through secondary school and the university. She studied Pharmacology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and become a lecturer there. She would later attain the position of a professor.

The death of Professor Dora Akunyili has robbed Nigeria of a great and detribalised leader. She would be greatly remembered for her forthrightness, courage and integrity.

When I had a bus accident that scarred and gored my upper bicep muscles that required urgent medical attention, she came to my aid and paid the medical expenses. Without her financial help, I would have lost my right hand. I am still grieving and mourning.

Professor Akunyili, the Island of integrity, exemplification of fearlessness, and embodiment of beauty, has ascended into the glorious realm of spiritual existence. Watch over us from yonder.

May her soul rest in peace. Au revoir Akunyili; requiescat in pace Akunyili.

  • Okoye, a poet, wrote from Anambra State