Opinion

Bayo Olupohunda: Akunyili, Best Female President Nigeria Never Had

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“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those thou think’st thou dost overthrow, die not, poor death….’’

-John Donne

In my secondary school days, one of my best subjects was history. I was passionate about the subject for two reasons. First, I loved history because of its power to connect the past with the present and teach valuable lessons about the human race. The subject shaped my worldview about how the actions of our past villains and heroes have shaped our world. I have my history teacher to thank for letting me appreciate a subject that teaches enduring lessons about humanity; about the past and present. I remember his favourite Jorge Santayana’s quote which often served as the prologue to every class: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’’

My history teacher got me fascinated about the life and times of influential women who shaped our world. In our history class, he regaled us with the heroics of great Amazons like Joan the Arc, a woman who was instrumental to the Hundred Years War, who at the time she passed became a saint. From him, we learnt about the life and times of Indira Gandhi, a former Prime Minister of India. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. In 1984, Indira met a brutal death at the hands of Sikh assassins in retaliation for her forceful actions to halt disturbances in a sacred Sikh temple.

We also learnt about the iconic Golda Meir, a former Israeli Prime Minister. Until her ascendancy as Prime Minister, Golda was an influential party woman in the Labour Party. There was also Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia. Ambitious and intelligent, Catherine considered herself a ruler in line with enlightenment ideas; she supported progressive ideas, such as reforms in law, education, and provincial and municipal administration. There was Queen Isabella who with her husband, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, unified Spain through their joint rule of Castile and Aragon. Together, they brought many improvements to Spain, including reducing crime and debt. My history teacher told us of Florence Nightingale an English nurse, considered a pioneer in modern nursing.

There was also Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt. Eleanor was a prominent figure during WWII, a skilled writer, politician, and activist. She served as the Chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Back at home, our history I learnt about the heroics of Queen Amina, Efunsetan Aniwura and Emotan. There were also influential Nigerian women who confronted colonialism. Gloria Ekpo and Olufunmilayo Kuti, both stood tall in the category of Amazons who blazed the trail for Nigerian women and proved that what a man can do, a woman can do much better. I have learnt about the life and time of women many great women who have been inventors, scientists, prime ministers and presidents who have influenced the world in their chosen fields.

Now, our iconic Dora Akunyili, will stand tall when the stories of great women who influenced our world are being told. But did I just refer to our beloved Aunty Dora in the past tense? No, Dora Akunyili cannot exist in the past. She may be dead, but she lives on. Aunty Dora can never die. How can she die when her deeds and service to fatherland will always remain unforgettable? In the years to come, future generations will be taught of her heroic deeds. The legendary Dora Akunyili was many things to us, she wore several attributes. She was a wife, mother, first class academic, activist and public servant. She was a Nigerian in the true sense of the word and represented the best in us. She was the symbol of what is good about humanity.

Akunyili saved our lives. As the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, her name was synonymous with quality. She fought the merchants of death to a standstill. She was the nemesis of those who peddled fake drugs; those whose actions threatened the lives of Nigerians. Her name invoked fear among fake drug barons. She was the Nigerian Amazon who became the symbol of excellence in public service. Aunty Dora sacrificed her comfort for our country. She faced death so the Nigerian child can live. She denied herself so our mothers can administer safe drugs to their children.

Akunyili was everything good. She was fearless, incorruptible, bold and principled. She was a patriot, a nationalist and a completely detribalised Nigerian. At a time when her ilks were chasing the mundane, the woman with the simple Ankara fabric worked to confront the monsters of fake drugs. At time when Nigerians had become powerless, Akunyili made NAFDAC one of the most effective organisations in the country. In her time, she faced many death threats. She was shot at but she was resolute, she never backed down. She never wavered in her resolve to rid our country of fake drugs. Her quest to continue her service to the nation and humanity also saw her contesting a Senate seat for her Anambra State. How could she not have won? But that is the tragedy of our politics.

Akunyili seemed to have her time in public service cut out for her. Her birth in Markudi made her a Pan-Nigerian. There was no Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. For her, there was always one Nigerian. How many of us remember her “Rebranding Nigeria Project? That is the quintessential Dora Akunyili, a believer in the values we once held dear. Even till her death, in a moving speech at the National Conference, she passionately appealed to delegates to join hands together to build a united Nigeria. At the confab, Nigerians were shocked to see our beautiful Aunty Dora physically drained from the effect of her illness but her passion was unmistakable. Her address to the confab members to build a “Nigeria of our dream” was infectious. It was such deep conviction that drove her existence in this world. It was this belief in Nigeria that guided her exemplary service to our country. She was a rare breed.

A story was once told about Akunyili’s aversion to corruption. In the early days after her appointment as NAFDAC boss, some middle men acting as front for fake drug barons in the country were said to have approached her to look the other way as they flooded the market with fake drugs. They made a representation to her with irresistible bribe money worth millions in foreign currency. At the time, the fake drug mafia ruled the industry. Akunyili was said to have uncharacteristically honoured the meeting. But she did the unthinkable by Nigerian standard. She had the fake drug lords arrested and prosecuted. That was quintessential Akunyili. Her appointment as NAFDAC DG was also informed by another act of virtuousness. As an official of the Petroleum Trust Fund, she was reported to have returned to the fund excess money meant for her medical bill. In a country where corruption is synonymous with our national life, Akunyili stood out like a shining star. Government should immortalise the best president we never had. Rest in Peace Aunty Dora.

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Article written by Bayo Olupohunda, On twitter @bayooolupohunda and Culled from Punch Newspaper..

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