Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili was born on July 14, 1954. She had her early elementary education at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Isuofia, Anambra in 1966 before proceeding to Queen of Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka, Enugu State in 1973.
Her journey to becoming a well-renowned pharmacist began after she obtained her first degree in Pharmacology in 1978. After receiving her degree, she started working as a Hospital Pharmacist in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in Enugu state. This lasted from 1978 to 1981.
Akunyili took a break to get her PhD in 1985 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She was later appointed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as a Director-General for the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Her War on Drugs
At the time, over 60% of drugs in Nigeria were believed to be fake from China, India and factories in the southern parts of Nigeria. She reportedly lost a sister to fake drugs. As the new NAFDAC DG, she declared war on these false drugs.
Her fierce determination to remove all fake drugs from the country earned the nickname “iron lady”. It also endangered her life. Two assassination attempts were made on her life in 2004. Akunyili’s hard work paid off as the fake drug market saw a 90% decline.
Meet the only Nigerian with over 900 awards.
Before her death on June 7, 2014, Dr. Dora Akunyili received a total of 930 awards. Historyville reports that over 100 were later discovered in her boxes.
She has the highest number of awards ever received by any Nigerian living or dead.
- Time Magazine Award, 2006;
- Person of the Year 2005 Award by Silverbird Communications Ltd; Award of Excellence by Integrated World Services (IWS), 2005;
- Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) of Nigeria;
- African Virtuous and Entrepreneurial Women Merit Award in 2005;
- Distinguished Award as a Role Model of Nigerian Society Ahmadu Bello University Students’ Union Government (ABUSUG), Zaria, Nigeria;
- Women Achievers Award 2005 Women’s Wing of Christian Association of Nigeria (WOWICAN), Lagos State Chapter, Lagos;
- 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.
Life after NAFDAC
After her time at NAFDAC, she was appointed as the federal minister of information and communication between 2008 –2010. During her time in this role, Akunyili invented the slogan “Good People, Great Nation.”
She later ran for election in 2011 as Senator for Anambra Central for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). She was defeated by Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Two years later, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She became seriously ill. Her last public appearance was in 2014 when a frail-looking Akunyili was seen at the National Conference inAbuja.
This remarkable woman passed away on June 7, 2014. She was laid to rest atAgulu in Anambra State.