Honouring The Trailblazing Legacy Of Dora Akunyili – The Indomitable NAFDAC Boss Who Fought Tirelessly Against Counterfeit Drugs

“The evil of fake drugs is worse than the combined scourge of malaria, HIV/Aids, armed robbery and illicit drugs. This is because malaria can be prevented or treated, HIV/Aids can be avoided, armed robbers may or may not kill, cocaine and similar drugs are taken out of choice and by those that can afford them, but fake drugs are taken by all, and anybody can be a victim.”

The scourge of counterfeit medication, a market worth up to $200bn, known to contain doses of toxic, dangerous ingredients such as mercury, arsenic, rat poison…causing poisoning and even millions of death have been a plague most especially in the African continent.

Fake drugs, deliberately mislabeled, counterfeit, expired, rid of testing and regulation to ensure authenticity or safety for consumption can be detrimental to health, knowing the devastating impact from a personal experience,- the avoidable death of her sister from fake drugs – fake insulin for diabetes, Dora Akunyili, director-general of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), during her lifetime tirelessly lent her voice, giving her voice in the fight towards combating and protecting consumers from illegal and illicit drugs, thereby preserving health and lives.

A dogged boss, full of bravery and spirit, refusing to be intimidated, for fighting for the voiceless even through countless death threats, assassination attempts on her person and family, the inspirational Dora Akunyili, a mother of six whose children had to relocate to the US in 1996 for safety reasons, waged an unforgettable war against the market endangering lives of her fellow citizens, through raising awareness, beefing drug checks as well as implementing dire consequences via legal action on perpetrators of the heinous crime, her relentless approach leading to a remarkable decline percentage.

Although determined to put an end to the menace, the power woman was not oblivious to the constant threat to her life and loved ones:

“They [the counterfeiters] keep swearing that no matter how long it takes them, they will get me. I pray, because I don’t want to die. I want to see my children — I want to see my grandchildren.”

Born July 1954, in Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria to a renowned businessman and politician, Chief Paul Young Edemobi, right from childhood she showed great prospects. Dora got a scholarship to the university to study Pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (B. Pharm., 1978); going ahead to attain a Ph.D at the same institution, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Ph.D., 1985).

Her professional career saw her rise through the ranks from 1981 as a graduate assistant in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN to a senior lecturer in 1990 and consultant pharmacologist at the College of Medicine in 1996. In 1996, Akunyili became zonal secretary of the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (P.T.F). In 2001, Dora Akunyili was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo the director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

A man’s world: Her appointment was met with stiff opposition:

“I was not a card-carrying politician, I did not belong to the ruling party, I did not have a political godfather and gender was also an issue. Above all, I am Igbo, from the Igbo tribe. The then health minister was Igbo, and a lot of the drug counterfeiters are Igbos.”

“People there did not believe that I could confront the mafia, who had been unchallenged for almost three decades. It was a rude shock to the counterfeiters that we refused any discussion or negotiation for business to continue as usual.” She recalled.

An indelible legacy, together with her formidable team, comprising mostly female pharmacists and inspectors the war against counterfeit drugs saw the confiscation of countless drugs, as well as perpetrators, being brought to book, her passion and uncommon strength bringing her national and international recognition.

Dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’, Dora Akunyili’s tireless, unwavering service to safeguarding humanity
well deservedly ushered almost 1000 awards -the highest number of awards ever received by any Nigerian living or dead.

Some of the awards and accolades Akunyili received were:

Order of the Federal Republic, OFR
Time magazine award 2006 (“One of the eighteen heroes of our time”)

Time magazine award 2006 (“One of the eighteen heroes of our time”)

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 etwork, December, 2005, etc.

Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Akunyili died at a specialist cancer hospital in India on 7 June 2014, after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 59.

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