Dora Nkem Akunyili is highly praised and respected by lots of people, particularly Nigerians due to her remarkable achievements as a pharmacist and the war she waged against traffickers of fake drugs in Nigeria when she served as Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Her professional achievements and commitments over the years were recognized both at home and abroad, earning her several awards at the national and international levels.
The Nigerian professor received a total of 930 awards in her lifetime, including some 110 that were discovered in her boxes after her death, according to historyville.org.
Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist from 1978 to 1981, in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, before venturing into academics.
She would later be appointed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as a Director-General for the NAFDAC.
There were earlier objections raised by critics, who argued that she Akunyili, being an Igbo from Anambra will protect her people who were believed to be the leading members in the illicit or fake goods business.
But the scientist and scholar proved her critics wrong and went on to perform an outstanding role in curtailing the fake drug menace in the system with many attributing this to her late sister, who she lost to fake drugs.
When she started her job as the NAFDAC boss, 62% of drugs in Nigeria were said to be fake, with many being imported from China, India or being produced in hideout factories mainly in Onitsha in the south of Nigeria.
These were done without any regulation, putting the health of many people in danger.
But despite the risk to her personal safety, she was dedicated to her service, thus, the fake drug market saw a 90% decline.
She declared war on the producers of these false drugs, particularly in Onitsha, and limited drug imports to two seaports and two airports and placed 31 manufacturers on a blacklist.
Professor Akunyili made a huge impact that at one point she was reportedly offered $1 million as a bribe to stop her actions. In 2004, two assassination attempts were made on her life not long after the fake drug kingpins attempted to kidnap her son.
These did not stop her from her fight as she got rid of 300 of her employees including her brother-in-law in order to sanitise the system.
Before her death on June 7, 2014, at the age of 59 after battling with uterine cancer, Akunyili ran for election as Senator for Anambra Central for the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in April 2011 but was defeated by Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.
Born in Makurdi, Benue State, on July 14, 1954, to Chief and Mrs Paul Young Edemobi, Akunyili was top of her class in school before completing pharmaceutical studies.
She got her First Degree in Pharmacy B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and her PhD in 1985 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Professor Akunyili was also a Post- Doctorate Fellow of the University of London and a Fellow of the West African Post-Graduate College of Pharmacists.
President Goodluck Jonathan once described her as a distinguished Nigerian and patriotic citizen who would be sorely missed by all those who came in contact with her.
Her many awards and recognitions during her lifetime, which are pinned to the walls of her office include the following:
Time Magazine Award 2006 (“One of the eighteen heroes of our time”), Time Magazine Inc.
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 Network, December 2005
Award for the Best Government Parastatal – National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), December 2005
An Icon of Excellence Award – The African Cultural Institute and Zenith Bank Plc, December 8, 2005
2005 Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award London-based Human Rights Defense Organization, December 8, 2005
Most Innovative Director Award Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos, October 2005
Integrity Award 2003 – Transparency International.