The shocking and painful death of Prof. Dora Akunyili, former Minister of information and communication on Saturday, 7th June, 2014, is a personal loss to me. She was a friend and a sister; but most importantly a true national reputation icon, who through her national service enhanced significantly the image of our country inside and outside. She was immensely passionate and honest in everything she did. Oh, death is so cruel!
One day in July 2004, I dedicated my column in BusinessDay to analyze the personality of Dora, who at that time was the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). It was titled: “Dora Akunyili: A Public Relations Case Study.” That same day, my telephone rang, and behold, it was Dora Akunyili on the other end. I didn’t know how she got my telephone number since we didn’t have any personal relationship.
“Is that Jossy?” she asked in a soft voice. “Yes, who am I speaking with?” I asked. “My name is Dora Akunyili. I am calling to thank you immensely for your article today. You have lifted my spirit today with every word you penned in that article. Daalu nwannem, daalu (thank you my brother, thank you!”) I was deeply touched by such action of a public officer who took out time to appreciate a kind word.
As part of my heartfelt tribute to this unforgettable woman of our time, I wish to recall hereunder an excerpt from that article I wrote ten years ago:
“We have said several times that Public Relations is not about telling lies to present a bad person, government, organisation, product or service in good light. Telling people that black is white; deceiving people into believing that something is good when actually it is not.
“Public Relations helps governments, organisations and individuals to build a good image and reputation through good character, good behaviour, people-oriented policies and programmes, excellent products and services, sincerity of purpose, honesty, integrity and transparency.
“Today, let’s use Dr. (Mrs) Dora Nkem Akunyili, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) as a case study in Public Relations. On Wednesday, July 14, 2004, she clocked 50 and the birthday anniversary was more of a national celebration and a time to pray for a woman who has shown in more ways than one that things can actually work in Nigeria.
“She has shown that people who are sincerely committed to national service can actually make a difference in public life. And everyone sees what she is doing. Without fear or favour, without sentiment of tribe or religion, and without pandering to the sweet smell of money, she has done her job creditably.
In Nigeria today, the fear of NAFDAC is the beginning of wisdom for producers of drugs, cosmetics, beverages, canned foods and even “Pure Water”. Does that medicine have a NAFDAC Number? What is the expiry date? Is that product fake or genuine? Almost all Nigerians now ask these questions before they buy or consume any of the products regulated by NAFDAC. Even the poor, thirsty man on the street would not buy a sachet of pure water unless he is sure it has NAFDAC certification.
“Before the Iron Lady came on board, NAFDAC was almost moribund. Producers and importers of fake, adulterated or substandard drugs and food items had a field day— killing millions of innocent Nigerians and smiling daily to their blood money. Nobody dared the barons because they were regarded as deadly and untouchable.
“But when Akunyili came, she dared the dangerous lions in their dens. Several times, they tried to kill her but the collective prayers of Nigerians saved her life. I have not seen any other Nigerian who is so genuinely loved by the public as Dr. Mrs Akunyili. I wonder how Nigeria would be if there were 50 other persons in executive positions in government who are like Dora Akunyili.
“Some other person in NAFDAC could have just sat back to become a multi-billionaire by conniving with criminals at the expense of 140 million Nigerians. Such a person could buy pages of newspapers or airtime on radio and television to tell us that he is our messiah. He or she would pay for chieftaincy titles to glorify himself or herself. It is not so with our dear Dora!
A Public Relations delight
“You may be wondering where Public Relations comes in here. Oh, everything! Dr. Mrs Akunyili is a PR delight. Marketers of the old school say that a good product sells itself. This is quite true of our NAFDAC boss. She does not need anyone to lie that she is doing something positive. What she is doing is there for all to see! What she has achieved so far is not hidden. No gimmicks. No white-washing. No magic. No abracadabra!
“As an analyst, I can place Akunyili’s success story on seven pillars: firstly, Dr. Mrs Akunyili, a consultant pharmacologist at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was quite qualified for the job she was given. So it was not just a case of man-know-man. Secondly, she came to NAFDAC with a clear vision of what she wanted to do. With her experience as a pharmacologist, she knew what to do right from day one.
Thirdly, she set a goal for herself and has been working assiduously to achieve that goal. Fourthly, she seems to be a team player, the manager who carries his subordinates along; who gives them a sense of belonging; who gives them their own tasks to perform and follows them up with supervision; who motivates staff, rewards excellence and honesty and disciplines erring staff.
“Fifthly, she seems to be one who leads by example. No double standards. When she says “don’t take bribe,” she too abides by it. She does not recognize sacred cows. She is not corrupt. She is diligent and hardworking. Although she is cheerful, she is firm and decisive in her actions. She is sincere in her dealings. She is a no-nonsense personality.
“Sixthly, she seems to be a good family woman — a wife and mother. I was told she is happily married to Dr. J.C Akunyili and their first daughter got married recently.
Seventhly, and most importantly, she is godly. This is important for genuine success (The Bible calls it good success!) and divine protection. She does not need to pay the so-called prayer warriors and powerful men-of-God to receive divine protection.
“I don’t think Mrs Akunyili is a saint, though. As a mortal, she cannot be perfect. In fact, she has never claimed to be perfect but if we put her and others on a scale, we can say without fear of contradiction that she is, indeed, good!
Her tract record, her character and her achievements have earned her good image. Today, she has a good reputation she worked for. Criminals dread her. The godly honour her. Everyone respects her. Happy belated birthday, madam!”
In the same vein, may I humbly say, adieu adorable Dora. May your very gentle soul rest in perfect peace, amen!
Dr Jossy Nkwocha, PhD, KSC, a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) is the head of Corporate Communications / Special Adviser to the Managing Director, Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (IEPL), Port Harcourt. He was General Editor of Newswatch Magazine.