MANY Nigerians who followed events leading to the burial of the late Professor Dora Akunyili on Thursday at her home town, Agulu, Anambra State were unanimous in declaring that the tributes poured on her were enough to change corrupt Nigerians to become better citizens.
It all started in Abuja with a night of tributes and a Mass in which President Goodluck Jonathan and members of his cabinet were in attendance, before the events shifted to Enugu and later to Anambra State where her remains were interred.
Listening to such eulogies as ‘Akunyili had no match’ by the President, ‘Her death a national loss’ by Vice President Namadi Sambo, ‘She was a reformer’ by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim and ‘Akunyili, was a game changer’ by health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, among other tributes at various points, it was obvious that Nigerians like to be associated with things that are good.
For instance, the man who drafted the late Akunyili from the lecture halls of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to politics in the 1980s, Chief Dan Ogbuefi from Agulu, Akunyili’s home town, was optimistic that with what were said about Dora from the day she died to the day she was buried, many Nigerians would surely begin to realize that good name is better than material acquisition.
According to him, Dora’s humility and sincerity were so infectious that after she handled an office, whoever was sent there would have to strive hard to meet her standard. Ogbuefi said it was for this reason that the first civilian governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife confessed to him that he would have made Dora a member of his cabinet if he knew she possessed so much quality.
He said: “When I met her through her husband Chike, I saw in her humility, openness, service to humanity, and desire to serve others and I didn’t hesitate to push her into political appointment away from her lectureship at the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
“She impressed me so much anytime we were holding Agulu Peoples Union, APU, action committee meetings or during functions as she humbled herself to serve people cheerfully. Before and after the commissioning of Agulu General Hospital built by Agulu community, we engaged her to assist us equip the hospital and she made it possible for the hospital to resume full operations without much delay.
“Having been satisfied with her community service, the then governor of Anambra State, Dr. Ezeife, made her a member of Anambra State Health Management Board, a member of state advisory council of the state commission for women and a director of better life programme and she did not disappoint in all the appointments.
“In fact, when Dr. Ezeife left office due to military intervention, he confided in me that if he had known then that Dora had such much qualities, he would have made her a commissioner and a member of the State Executive Council.
“When Col. Mike Attah became the Military Administrator of Anambra State, he wasted no time in appointing her a member of the Anaocha Local Government Caretaker Committee in charge of health, a post she accepted for the sake of serving humanity.
“From being the Anaocha supervisory councilor, she went to Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, as a Zonal Secretary and from PTF to NAFDAC as Director General. From NAFDAC, she became Minister of Information and Communications. All her activities led to numerous indelible achievements, numerous awards, commendations, and most importantly, saving the lives of Nigerians and the human race.”
A woman leader from Akunyili’s village, Mrs. Bridget Nnabugwu said that after listening to the story of how Dora returned a balance of foreign currency she was given to go for treatment abroad when she was working for PTF, she (Mrs. Nnabugwu) decided to soft pedal in the way she was pursuing material things. Nnabugwu added that if the common denominator in everybody’s life is death by which all the things people struggle for would be left behind; there is no justification for man to be engaged in devilish acquisition of wealth.
Another story was told of how on the Election Day when she contested for the senate for Anambra Central in 2011, some people approached her to allow them thumb print in her favour the over 10000 ballot papers that would have given her an advantage over her opponent, but she warned them not to such a thing because it was against her avowed principle of transparency in politics. While her opponents were having a field day at the polling units in their areas, Akunyili discouraged her supporters from taking part in electoral malpractice.
Even her husband, Dr. Chike Akunyili told a story of how his late wife, Dora, sacked his younger brother who was working at NAFDAC at the period she was the director general. According to Chike, Dora had asked of the type of punishment provided in the establishment for an offence similar to the one committed by her brother in –law and when told that it was outright sack, she did not hesitate to sack him and did not even feel any remorse about it. His late wife’s reason was that if she looked the other .way because the culprit was her relation, her conscience would continue to prick her.
A drug dealer at the Onitsha Head Bridge also told Sunday Vanguard how they contributed over N500 million to bribe Dora so that she could apply break in the way she was carrying out the battle against fake and adulterated drugs, adding that an intermediary the traders sent to discuss the matter with her almost ended up in prison.
Like Reverend Father Damian Akpunonu who delivered the homily during Dora’s funeral Mass said, “what matters in life is not how long one lived, but how well”. He also informed the congregation that the ceremony was not necessarily to bury Professor Akunyili since Jesus Christ had conquered death, but to give testimony to the legacies she left behind. The task before Nigerians, he pleaded, was to keep Dora’s legacies alive.