Though Professor Dora Akunyili died in a hospital after months of illness, fate ensured that she survived a number of attacks during her eventful tenure as the Director -General of NAFDAC. She also fought to retain her integrity, ensuring that she didn’t die a moral death.
With over 400 local and international awards in recognition of her work, which earned her global iconic status that even death cannot erode, Akunyili showed that she was prepared to defy merchants of death who hatched plots to end her life violently in order to stop her from winning the battle against counterfeit drugs and sub-standard food products.
In her book The War Against Counterfeit Medicines, My Story, Akunyili reinforced the well known view that she confronted opposition from the beginning of her tenure in NAFDAC, just as she reiterated her commitment to ensuring that very few Nigerians suffered the same fate her sister Vivian did. Ajunyili’s sister who was diabetic died after being injected with fake insulin.
In the preface of the book she wrote: “First former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me to the position (of Director -General) despite stiff opposition from the political class. He believed in my ability to do the job following my performance in my former job at PTF. I am also mindful that many families have lost loved ones because of the effects of fake drugs, an experience my family shared with the loss of my favorite sister, Vivian. In addition, I felt that my appointment was an opportunity to give back to the country that had given so much to me.
“My entire education from high school through to university, to doctorate and post doctoral studies in London was possible due to government scholarships. Finally, against the barrage of criticisms I was determined to succeed, to prove my critics wrong and to remain uncompromising in my job”.
Akunyili further revealed in her book that her resolve to remain uncompromising cost her once cherished relationships and it almost cost her life as she chronicled the well planned attacks unleashed on her and staff of NAFDAC. According to her, some of the attackers were diabolical.
“When all the their efforts at bribery failed, the criminals resorted to intimidation, harassment, blackmail and threats. They deposited fetish objects in our office, which included blood stained feathers, African beads and a tortoise. They also threatened my husband and I on phone. When they still did not succeed, they resorted to physical and arson attacks against our personnel “ she recalled in the book.
The failed assassination attempts
Beside the diabolical attacks, twice, hired assassins attempted to kill Akunyili but they failed. In August 2001 six armed men stormed her home and waited for two hours. Unknown to the assassins, the former NAFDAC Director -General in her characteristic dutiful manner had made an impromptu trip to the Lagos office of the agency, thereby truncating their plan to end her life by the gun.
The second and well reported attempt on her life was made on December 26 2003 when Akunyili accompanied by her children and her brother decided to brave the odds to attend the chieftaincy title ceremony of a member of NAFDA’s governing board in Orlu, Imo state. Akunyili who had been practically hiding indoors for days in Enugu following the threat of drug counterfeiting criminals to kill her in her hometown visited her mother in-law in Agulu, Anambra state when the assassins struck.
“On our way back to Enugu from Orlu, I decided to stop at Agulu once again to say goodbye to my mother-in-law. A few meters from the village house, my driver overtook the pilot car to prevent the driver from driving past the road to my in-law’s house because he was not informed that we were going to stop to see my mother-in-law again.
“At that point, we suddenly heard loud bangs, which I thought were sounds from Christmas fireworks. The bangs were actually from gunshots. Within a split second, there was a painful bang on my head, which made my scalp hurt badly. A bullet had just shattered the rear windscreen of my vehicle pierced my headscarf, burnt my scarf like hot water and gone through the front screen”, she recalled.
On how she managed not to fall for friends, relatives and even the clergy of her Catholic faith who tried using their relationships to get her to bend the rules, she wrote: “Too many people tried to use my relationship with them to get me to compromise in the process of taking tough decisions. Sometimes it was difficult for me because most of the counterfeiters come from the South Eastern part of Nigeria where I come from. But I was able to remain unwavering in all my regulatory responsibilities”.
By December 2008 when she left NAFDAC for the Federal Ministry of Information she left with her life intact. Just as she placed the once discredited agency on the global map.