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Published On: Mon, Jun 16th, 2014

Dora Akunyili: Restoration of NAFDAC through fight against fake drugs

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New York Times indicated in a report in 2001, that 109 Nigerian children died after taking medicine contaminated with Diethylene glycol. Other reports talked about ‘Bad syrup killing Nigerian Babies- BBC News; Nigeria: 84 children dead from teething formula- Associated Press. These were the kind of headlines that made late Prof. Dora Akunyili sad to her marrow. So her name became synonymous with The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the agency where she fought the good fight, the fight against circulation of fake and substandard drugs. It was a fight between the forces of darkness and light, writes Adedoyin Ojosipe.

Dora Akunyili when she came on board as NAFDAC, made tremendous impact in curbing the menace of fake and substandard drugs circulating in markets across the country. At a particular instance, she made it clear that fake drugs were killers of Nigerians. Hear her:

“But look at it: what will make the kidneys of a 25 year old fail? Simple: what you eat …, many of our breweries don’t write the alcohol content and best before date on their beer, thereby deceiving the people. Bread manufacturers are aware that potassium bromate causes cancer, loss of hearing, kidney failure and breakdown of vitamins, yet they keep using it. Potassium bromate was banned more than 10 years ago.” Said Dora.

So Madam Dora resigned after serving as Information Minister … perhaps, Federal Government should not have appointed the pharmacist into that position because just because a carpenter uses a scissors does not make him a tailor. Many Nigerians thought, and rightly too that Dora was more productive and energetic doing what she seemed to like most, fighting fake drug producers and merchants, and saving the lives of Nigerians.

Even when she came up with messages to repair the seemingly damaged image of Nigeria with different jingles on air, as Minister for Information, there were just no headlines making waves as to re decorating the Nigerian Image as there were when she sanitized the drug manufacturing system. A particular headline stood out in this stead,-NAFDAC blacklists 22 drug fakers ( in 2008.

That again is a message to the Nigerian Government to stop appointing inappropriate ministers for appropriate positions as it only the course of corrupt practices in Nigeria.

In the history of Nigeria, never has there been a devoted and die hard civil servant as the one that will be greatly missed by Nigerians. One who was able to stand tall against the overwhelming corruption that has so engulfed the Nigerian system.

A minister that was so sure of the task ahead of her while refusing to be the ‘Judas’ in the camp, a selfless mother to the ailing Nigerian patients, and a model for every Nigerian female minister.

Earlier mentioned were just a summary of her work as the NAFDAC Boss of her time. Thank God for journalism and its work of documentation.

Dora Akunyili, a name synonymous with NAFDAC, fought the good fight and will be greatly missed by Nigerians; her fight against circulation of fake drugs could be compared to the fight between forces of darkness and light; forces of good and evil and as it has always turned out, evil never prevails over good; that was the hope and spirit with which she took the bull by the horn. She was mother for all ailing Nigerians, a guiding angel that dared the angel of death, until it was her time.

With Dora Akunyili, finally, there is a NAFDAC: one would wonder, if there was ever a parastatal of that nature before the existence of NAFDAC but there was the Directorate of Food and Drug Administration and Control (DFDAC), which was not effective since there was no clear cut plans on how to combat the crisis.

It was therefore replaced by NAFDAC in 1994. The new parastatal was still however not effective, until its already existing body was dissolved by the unsatisfied former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who appointed Pharmacist Dora Akunyili based on recommendation.

Obasanjo who was disturbed over the death of ailing Nigerians at the course of treatment and over the increasing activities of fake drug barons in Nigeria, sought an honest and qualified person to handle the matter.

The first time Dora exhibited her honesty was when she was serving with the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) of Nigeria. Dora was said to have refunded the money loaned to her by the Federal government for a major operation she was meant to do but for the report she received from her American doctors who confirmed order wise.

Like a proverb said “there is a day of reckoning”, it came and Dora was found worthy of the crown, she was nominated to help re-birth the NAFDAC organisation.

As a matter of fact, NAFDAC was not a celebrated ministry until Madam Dora brought it to light by her humanly and fearless activities, while taking the steps to revamp the not so vibrant government parastatal.

Like a fighting ram, she never got intimidated by the powers that be, who could call it a day with her life, she gallantly took the war baton against fake drug barons in order to save the sick Nigerian from preventable death.

The trained Pharmacist took over in 2001 as the new NAFDAC boss, hence the commenced execution of NAFDAC’s mandate.

Dora would have been long dead but for God who sustained her life so she could be useful to her country as well as save many who would have plied that way due to one man’s selfish crave for money.

Dora did not only battle the fake drug dealers; she defeated corruption in order to win the war. This was revealed in her mop-up team members as she said “my staff are with me. I can vouch for them. The majority of our staff are trustworthy. You cannot bribe them. I am saying this because I am sure of my facts!”

Indeed for her dogged refusal to join the corrupt team, she bagged an enviable international award; Transparency International, being the only African, while making 3rd on the international list.

Dora had many battles to fight as she made more enemies while doing her work; with powerful fake drug producers and importers cum majority at Onitsha drug market, apart from threat to her life, her mop-up team including security men attached to them were once beaten up and chased out of Onitsha market.

In fact we can never forget the story of how assassin’s bullet grazed through her head gear; it was a narrow escape, her head would have been blown off.

She also had her colleagues to contend with, when she ordered that every drug be registered while given a dead line for the pharmacists challenged her audacity.

Neither can we forget how most Indian companies were banned from importing their drugs into Nigeria, until tested and certified by World Health Organization (WHO), according to her, most fake drugs came from India and China as they produce drugs that cannot be administered in their respective countries.

This of course led to the blacklisting of 22 fake drug companies which helped Nigerians to be increasingly vigilant.

Dora as a woman of diplomacy did not only use the stick method but was able to prevail on the enemy’s conscience through organised trainings and campaigns in order to sensitize the public, including her colleagues. Through this fake drug dealers turned up their fake drugs for destruction.

Her death is such an irony of life; she fought for life but lost her life, she was not meant to die until she had saved thousands of souls.


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