After surviving many rumours of her death, ex-Minister of Information and Communication and erstwhile DG of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, bowed to ovarian cancer early Saturday morning.
News of her death was officially announced by the immediate past Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, on the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS. Obi said Akunyili died after a protracted battle with cancer.
But her death has been blamed on misdiagnosis by some doctors in the United States of America. The doctors were said to have claimed she did not have cancer after her Nigerian doctor’s diagnosis to the effect she had the deadly sickness…
Obi, in the statement, said: “The last time I visited her in India, even when she needed all the prayers herself, she was full of concern for the abducted Chibok girls, security and other challenges facing the country and told me that she remained prayerful for the release of those girls and for God to help President Goodluck Jonathan to overcome all the challenges facing the nation.
“She therefore urged all Nigerians to remain prayerful and committed to building a better society for our children. We all prayed together and I promised to be visiting her every month.
For several weeks, rumours of her battle with ovarian cancer dominated the social media. Although family sources debunked the stories, the rumours got stronger.
Her public appearance at the National Conference heightened anxiety about her well-being as she looked frail and a shadow of her old self.
According to Vanguard, the former Minister’s ill health first came to the fore a couple of years ago while on a trip abroad. A medical check up showed she had cancer.
The Cable, an online medium quoting a family source, blamed misdiagnosis for Akunyili’s death. According to the source, when in 1998, the former Minister was the Zonal Secretary (South-east) of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, Nigerian doctors gave her what many of her family members considered to be a health scare. They said she had a growth and needed surgery.
The source narrated: “Akunyili, then 44, decided to travel to the United States, first to get a second opinion and then undergo the prescribed surgery. The bill for the medical trip was $17,000, including $12,000 for the surgery. During pre-surgery check-up in the US, the doctors told her the Nigerian doctors had made a wrong diagnosis and that she did not need any surgery.
“It was said to be a minor issue that medication would solve. She thanked the doctors and, to their surprise, said she was going to return the money meant for the surgery to PTF. That was strange. Nigerian government officials had devised a way of making sure such monies were not returned to the treasury.
“The hospital informed the PTF, under the leadership of Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, about one honest Nigerian they had found. Buhari, himself a straightforward person, was very impressed. He wrote a letter to Akunyili commending her honesty. NAFDAC Then came 2001. President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint a director-general for the National Agency for Drug and Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and asked for the recommendation of an honest Nigerian pharmacist. Akunyili’s name promptly came up.
“Someone who had heard about her PTF record recommended her. There was a little problem, a Nigerian problem. Objections were raised that the minister of health, Prof. ABC Nwosu, was an Igbo from Anambra State and NAFDAC, being a powerful agency under the ministry, should not be headed by another Igbo from Anambra. It was also argued that the market for fake and substandard products were controlled by the Igbo, with Onitsha – also in Anambra State – a major centre for the illicit business. She was going to protect “her people”, the antagonists said.
“Obasanjo, stubborn to the cause, ignored the observations and appointed her. She went on to do a credible job and ended up as one of the most outstanding public officers in Nigeria’s history, celebrated locally and globally. She had lost a sister to fake drugs, and that was perhaps the impetus she needed to go on the offensive. Misdiagnosis Meanwhile, Akunyili always went abroad for check-ups and she was always given an all-clear. She continued to look robust and energetic, and took up another government job as minister of information and communications.
“But on July 13, 2013, something strange happened to her. She was preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award. The following day was her birthday. Her 59th, precisely. Then she fell ill. She was physically weak and having pains. She decided to go ahead with her trip and attend to her health in the United States. It was while she was there that new checks were carried out.
“Alas, she had cancer. The original diagnosis in 1998 was right. But the diagnosis at the point of surgery was wrong. She became seriously ill and there were fears she could lose her life. She was in the hospital for months and only returned to Nigeria this year when the doctors said she was improving. Her last public appearance was at the National Conference in Abuja, where she was a delegate. Pictures of a frail-looking Akumyili soon went viral on the internet”.
‘Adorable Dora’ (1954 – 2014)
Prof. Dora Akunyili, a recipient of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, resigned her appointment as Minister of Information on December 16, 2010, after two years of service to pursue her political ambition of representing Anambra Central in the National Assembly as a senator.
Fondly known as “Adorable Dora”, the internationally renowned pharmacist, pharmacologist, erudite scholar, administrator, and visionary leader, would, perhaps, be best remembered as the no-nonsense
Director General of the National Agency for Foods, Drugs and Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
Born in Makurdi, Benue State, on July 14, 1954, the deceased hailed from Nanka, Anambra State. The deceased always had a knack to be marked for distinction.
A post-doctorate Fellow of University of London and a Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists, it was NAFDAC, Director General that Akunyili proved her mettle as a leader and visionary.
A multiple award-winner for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights, Akunyili was an embodiment of excellence academically – passing the First School Leaving Certificate Examination with distinction at St. Patrick