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Published On: Tue, Jun 10th, 2014

Akunyili: More than a handful for drug barons

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dora-akunyili-cancerBy Ola Idowu

My first exposure to Dora was in 2002 when I kept seeing her face on every TV screen. Not a single day went by without you hearing her voice or seeing her ever smiling face in the news, and I said to myself there we go again another ‘billboard leader’ like the usual ones we had and still have all over the country, where all their achievements are on billboards and pages of newspaper and nothing to show on the ground for their fellow country-men on the street. Each time I went past Oshodi, I wanted to book an appointment to see the Director-General of NAFDAC-Dora- and tell her to please shut up and stop doing interviews or seeking publicity but to settle down and do a job for the people, and I was also ready to point her in the directions she should be heading.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I had genuine reasons to be angry. I lived then in a country where I knew people get into public office either elected or appointed, with no acute sense of history, what legacies they were keen to leave behind and how history would remember them, it was more about their stomach and nothing else. So I thought Dora would be the same, she wouldn’t understand the issues and fight the racket and racketeers in that particular sector of our nation who were mainly Nigerians from her tribe. Many years before she busted on the scene, as a young man growing up in Lagos I had the opportunity to come across some of these guys in the drug counterfeiting trade. Then I didn’t understand all of the issues, but I knew something wasn’t right with the way they went about things. For example, there was a popular malaria drug then in the market called Halfan and made by Beechams (now Glaxo-Smithkline). Theses guys would take a sample to India, Indonesia, China or Thailand but usually it was India, and get the same composition of the drug manufactured, then cargo it by air or sea into the country.

On its arrival in sachets they would then go to printers in Mushin or Sango-Otta and print the packs and leaflets for it, package everything together looking like the original and sell it at a slightly cheaper price to the original. There were traders from Onitsha, Aba and Kano waiting on the go at shops in Dosunmu and environs in Lagos Island to ferry these fake drugs across the country. I found the courage one day to ask one of the guys involved and queried him on how they could make a profit selling lesser than the original manufacturer.

I thanked God for the good health he provided me and I still do considering the fact that till this day, last time I ever saw an hospital or clinic bed would be close to two decades. But I couldn’t help imagining the damage these men were causing innocent Nigerians based on their greed and in some cases just a means to survive based on ignorance. Thus you can understand why I was angry when Dora was just granting interviews and I couldn’t see anything been done especially knowing the guys involved were her kinsmen. But not soon after I saw Lagos raided, markets closed in Onitsha, Kano, Aba and Port Harcourt.

I saw foods and drugs start getting classified, testing laboratories upgraded or built in different parts of the country. Pre-shipment inspection of food and drugs before they get into the country especially from India and China, as well as further testing of the same drugs when they arrived in Nigeria. Importers of foods and drugs as well as local manufacturers started knowing they couldn’t do anything in the country without NAFDAC approval. Nigerians became aware of the dangers of fake drugs and foods and how it affects our entire health-care value-chain. I saw drug counterfeiting bosses particularly her tribesmen hurled before the courts and sent to jail and even when they shifted base to other West African countries and were beginning to operate from there she went after them and set-up the West African Drug Regulatory Authority Network (WADRAN). I saw lives of men, women, children, elderly and the vulnerable being saved. I saw confidence return to our health-care system, pride and belief in being a Nigerian. I saw order, organization and a society well enlightened at least about the importance of having genuine food and drugs around us.

Add that to the story of how she got the job as NAFDAC DG and you would know why she was so dogged. Then president Obasanjo, wanted someone to come clear up the racket and mess in NAFDAC and Dr. Onaolapo Soleye through General Buhari recommended Dora to him, a woman whom returned £12,000 pounds back to the treasury in 1997 while she worked with Buhari in PTF. Soleye heard the story through Buhari and told Obasanjo who then contacted Dora to give her the job.

Opposition came in from the Senate led by late Chuba Okadigbo (an Igbo like her) who had his own candidate as well as many other politicians. They tried the tribal card that she is Igbo, the Minister of Health was Igbo and the counterfeiters are Igbos how would she do a good job?. When that didn’t work they told lies that she was never a trained Pharmacist. Soleye had to get all her certificates from her which showed she had trained as a Pharmacist from Bachelors degree to Doctorate level before she was then appointed. According to her, all these helped her motivation while in the job.

She would go on to receive death threats for all her efforts and even escaped an assassination attempt provided in her book “The War Against Counterfeit Medicine: My Story”. By the time she left NAFDAC, the agency was a better shape than she found it.
Her only failing surely was when she accepted the job of an Information Minister and started the whole re-branding exercise but Dora being who she was would never turn Nigeria down and God used her in fighting the so-called cabal in 2010. Dear Dora, I would love to rest my case too but not before praying that God grant your soul repose in his bosom and resurrect it at the end of time. Just as Caesar said after his victory over Pharnaces II, I say to you Dora with my head bowed veni, vidi, vici. You came, you saw and you conquered!!
Ola Idowu via frenchcoast2@gmail.com

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