The Life and Times of Prof Dora Akunyili (1954 – 2014)

Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR) was born in Makurdi, Benue State (Nigeria) on the 14th of July 1954 to Chief & Mrs Paul Young Edemobi.

She is a devout Catholic and married to Dr. J.C. Akunyili, a Medical Practitioner and they are blessed with six children and three grandchildren. Her hobbies included reading, writing, cooking and travelling. She spoke Igbo and English fluently.

Prof. Akunyili, was an internationally renowned Pharmacist, Pharmacologist, Erudite Scholar, Seasoned Administrator, and a visionary leader.

She has served her country in numerous strategic positions including as Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Federal Minister of Information and Communication.


Prof. Akunyili’s educational career started with her passing the First School Leaving Certificate with Distinction in 1966, and the West African School Certificate (W.A.S.C.) with Grade I Distinction in 1973 (both in Nigeria), which earned her the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship respectively. It is remarkable that throughout her high school career, Dora Akunyili was always top of her class – a record that has never been broken in the school to date.

She got her B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and PhD in 1985, both at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Prof. Akunyili won the best student award in the school of Pharmacy in her very first year in the school and the Vice Chancellor’s Postgraduate and Research Leadership prize in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences for 1984/85 and 1985/86 academic Sessions.

She was promoted to the rank of Professor of Pharmacology in October, 2000 by the same University.


Prof. Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu in 1978. In 1981, she ventured into Academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN. In the University system, she made a steady progress from lecturer I in 1986 until she was made Senior Lecturer in 1990.

In 1992 she transferred to the College of Medicine, UNN and became a Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996. She also worked as a part time lecturer at the West African College of Pharmacists, Lagos, Nigeria from 1992-1995.

She was appointed Supervisory Councilor for Agriculture in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 1994 – 1996. Prof. Dora Akunyili was appointed Zonal Secretary of Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF), where she coordinated all projects in the five South Eastern States of Nigeria from 1997 – 2000.

Prof. Dora Akunyili was appointed Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigeria from April 2001-2008. Here she recorded outstanding success. Prior to her appointment, food and drug regulation in Nigeria was chaotic. All manner of adulterated, fake and substandard food and drugs were dumped into Nigeria resulting in over 60 percent of fake drugs in circulation. Unscrupulous individuals made fortunes from such unwholesome practices. When she assumed office, she brought in a new culture of excellence and honesty to NAFDAC and the entire Nigerian public service. As a result, the level of fake and counterfeit drugs in circulation dropped to 16.7 percent with vast improvement in the food and other regulated sectors. As a commentator in a national newspaper once wrote, “The NAFDAC Director General is a revolutionary. She has not only changed NAFDAC, she has also changed the pharmaceutical industry in the country.”

From December 2008 – December 2010, she worked as the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Federal Republic of Nigeria. As the Honourable Minister, Prof. Akunyili anchored the Re-branding Nigeria Project driven by the slogan, Nigeria Good People, Great Nation. The programme was conceived as an internal process to address Nigeria’s negative image both at home and abroad. Dora has proved her versatility in all areas of human endeavour as she also ventured into politics when she aspired to serve her own people in Anambra State as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

As a Scientist and a Scholar, she has presented over 600 papers delivered in various Local and International Conferences, published 4 books and written scientific articles published in 37 local and international journals. She also supervised PhD and Masters candidates.


When Mrs Dora Nkem Akunyili was the Zonal Secretary (South-east) of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund in 1998, 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.

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.

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.

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


Prof. Akunyili has held several positions of responsibility in Nigeria as a professional in the course of her career. She served in six Senate Committees and various Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences Committees of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 1986 –1992.

From 1992 to 1994, Prof. Akunyili served as a member of Anambra State Hospitals Management Board and State Advisory Council for Women Commission. She has also served the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (P.S.N.) in various capacities, notably as the National Vice President of Association of Lady Pharmacists (1992-1995) and President of the Enugu State Branch from 1992-1998.

Internationally, as Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Akunyili was appointed Chairman of West African Drug Regulatory Agencies Network (WADRAN) in March 2006 and as Vice Chairman of the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT) in November 2006.

She is a Post Doctorate Fellow of University of London, Fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists, Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and member of other learned societies, a few of which are New York Academy of Science, International Narcotics Control Board, United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Expert Committee, Association for African Medicinal Plant Standards (AAMPS), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), and International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).


For her industry and commitment to the values of honesty, transparency and selfless service, Prof. Akunyili has received over six hundred Awards and Recognitions locally and internationally, notably among which are: –

Conferment with the National Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Recognition as an Icon of Hope for Nigerians by President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo(2002); Person of the Year 2005 Award by Silverbird Communications (2006); Nigeria’s Five Greatest Living Legends Award by Silverbird Group and Vanguard Media (Dec. 2009); Recognition as Nigerian Woman of Distinction during the Nigeria @50 Independence Anniversary Celebration (Sept. 2010); and as Minister of the Year 2010 by Nigeria Royalty Award (Dec. 2010). Integrity Award by Transparency International in South Korea (2003); Honoured as one of the 18 heroes (Health) of our time by TIME Magazine, New York (2005); Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award by Human Rights Defence Organization (International Service) in British House of Commons (2005); Special Award for Combating Economic Crime by International Chamber of Commerce-Commercial Crime Services London (2004); Amazon of Integrity by National Council of Women Society (2004); Pharmacist of the Year Medal Award by International Pharmaceutical Federation, FIP (2005); Honourary Degree of Doctor of Laws by University of Bristol, London (2006); Honorary Georgia Citizen by The State of Georgia, USA (2006); Agribusiness, International Euro Market and Transbusiness Awards respectively for 2003, 2005 and 2006 by European Marketing Research Centre (EMRC), Brussels; Elected Honourary Member of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London, by The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London (2008); Conferred with the prestigious Harmony Tribute Award by Planet Africa Television Canada (2010).


Dora was nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan as a delegate to the ongoing National Conference holding in Abuja. In spite her illness, she was unwavering in her belief in a better Nigeria that was while she defied her condition and was part of Anambra State Handover Committee and the National Conference.

She died in a Specialist Cancer Hospital in Indian this morning, 07 June 2014, at 10 am, Nigerian Time, after a two-year battle with cancer.

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