The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.
– Tony Dungy
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili and Chief (Mrs.) Efunsetan Aniwura have shown what it takes to be a good leader in their various fields. In this piece, we shall critically examine their lifestyle and contributions towards achieving their goals.
Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili: Early life (1954 – 2014)
Dora Akunyili was born in Markurdi, Benue State, on July 14, 1954, to Chief and Mrs. Paul Young Edemobi. She was a native of Anambra State but was brought up in Nanka and was married in Agulu, both in Anambra State of Nigeria. Akunyili enjoyed a lively childhood until the death of her diabetic sister, Vivian, who died from fake insulin. Dora won the Eastern Nigerian Government post-primary scholarship. Thereafter, she proceeded to attend Queen of the Rosary Secondary School in Enugu, where she finished with a Grade 1 distinction in her West African School Certificate in 1973. Dora’s love for education could be seen when she was further given scholarship by the federal government of Nigeria to study at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where she earned a degree in Pharmacy, in 1978.
Akunyili’s unforgettable exploits and emergence on Nigeria’s consciousness
After Akunyili’s graduation, she took on her first job as a hospital pharmacist at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu. In 1981, Akunyili became a Graduate Assistant in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN. 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. Akunyili was later made a consultant pharmacologist at the College of Medicine until 2001.
During this period, she held several administrative positions, including her role as a Zonal Secretary, Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), which prepared her for the job that eventually shook Nigerians, and indeed the world.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (the then President of Nigeria) while in the quest to take drastic measures against the unpleasant, unwholesome foods and fake drugs killing hundreds of Nigerians, drafted Akunyili into his administration. With her zeal and dedication to the Nigerian society, the fake drug market recorded a decline of about 92 per cent. Before her assumption of office in NAFDAC, fake and substandard foods and drugs were sold in Nigeria without any form of regulation. She was disheartened that so many of (her) countrymen and women (were) fighting killer diseases like malaria and tuberculosis with little more than sugar syrup and chalk tablets, cynically packaged to look like the real thing. A case at hand was the My Pikin case, which yours sincerely personally handled up to the Supreme Court and won. Her impact could be felt when two assassination attempts were made on her life.
In 2008, Akunyili assumed the position of Minister of Information and later started the re-branding Nigeria campaign, driven by the slogan, “Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation”. Dora Akunyili contested for the senatorial seat for Anambra Central in Anambra State on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the April 2011 election but was defeated by Chris Ngige of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). She thereafter sent a petition to the Independent National Electoral Commission disputing the result.
Prof. Dora Akunyili’s last public speech, delivered at the National Conference in Abuja on March 24, 2014
Yours sincerely was a national delegate at the 2014 National Conference where this powerful and iconic speech was delivered by Akunyili:
“Nigerians have for long clamoured for an opportunity such as this to discuss our problems and come up with solutions that will strengthen the bond of our nationhood. I regard this National Conference as President Jonathan’s best centenary gift to Nigerians, and a proof that he is a listening president.
“Mr. President’s speech oozes humility, modesty, patriotism and a deep concern for the present and future of this beautiful country, Nigeria. Mr. President in that speech admitted that sovereignty belongs to the people. And those in authority are only holding power on trust for the people and of course that nobody has monopoly of knowledge. Hence, the decision for convening this conference. One thing that stands out from Mr. President’s speech is that there is no trace of negativism.
“For instance, he made it clear that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable and our duty at this conference is to discuss ways to build a stronger and better Nigeria and I totally agree with him. I am convinced that Nigeria should remain as one nation after 100 years despite her challenges because our common values overwhelm our differences.
“Apart from our long history of togetherness, we’ve also enjoyed many decades of inter-marriages and mutual co-existence. We have to make sure that this conference delivers on the true spirit of Mr. President’s speech.
“While we discuss the value of unity as written in his speech, we must realise that millions of Nigerians are being discriminated against in various parts of this country where they are born, where their forefathers lived, based on the so-called state of origin.
“The founding fathers of Nigeria had a dream of building a united, prosperous, and developed nation state where social justice reigns. We also have to continue to dream because once we stopped dreaming then life is gone.
“In conclusion, I am convinced that Nigeria will work and fulfil its destiny.
“I, therefore, look forward to collaborating with other delegates to chart the way for a better and new Nigeria. We all want to see a positive transformed Nigeria and I, therefore, urge all of us to work individually and collectively so as to set the right agenda for the Nigeria of our dream.
“Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, I leave you with the words of this Greek proverb, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’.”
We wept. I personally cried inconsolably. She was frail of figure, eyes sunken, body weak, but spirit determined. I first passed this good friend of mine that I had also defended when an attempt was made on her life at Agulu, Anambra State, unnoticed. She had changed from the bubbly effervescent, incandescent paragon of black beauty that I had known. Other delegates drew my attention to her. I went to her, hugged her, and she said, “Mike, don’t worry. I will be fine.”
I cried. Then she went. She died. This nationalist and pan-Nigerian.
Awards, honours, laurels and recognitions
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili received over 600 awards and recognitions locally and internationally.
Akunyili’s painful exit
It is sarcasm to state that Nigerians owe a major part of their health to Professor Dora Akunyili. The heroine, unfortunately, died in an Indian hospital on June 7, 2014, after a battle with cancer. She had six children and three grandchildren.
Her funeral, which took place on 27th and 28th August, 2014, was greatly attended by many dignitaries from within Nigeria and beyond, including President Goodluck Jonathan (2010 to 2015), and former Nigerian military ruler General Yakubu Gowon. May her soul continue to rest in the bossom of our God, amen.
Chief (Mrs.) Efunsetan Aniwura (1790 – 1874)
Aniwura was believed to be a friend and rival to Madam Tinubu who was born in 1805, according to history. Aniwura, was a migrant from Egbaland in present-day Ogun State. Her father, Chief Ogunrin, hailed from Egba Oke-Ona and was a warlord from Ikija,while her mother was from Ife. Aniwura’s drive for entrepreneurship was reported to have originated when her mother, who, as a petty trader, took her to the market with her. Gradually, Aniwura learnt the trade from her mother and even did better.
Aniwura’s legendary exploits and arrival on the national scene
Respected as a successful merchant and trader, Aniwura’s impact encompassed the political, military, economic and religious spheres of Ibadan. She dealt in arms and ammunition. She influenced politics, was a stakeholder in talks on peace and war. Aniwura was the second Iyalode of Ibadan. The first Iyalode was Iyalode Subola. The title of the ‘Iyalode’ is a high-ranking female chieftain in most of the Yoruba traditional states and it is usually gifted by the Obas. She was a prominent and wealthy businesswoman who had a peculiar brand of boldness, strength and intelligence about her. She sourced for goods from different parts of the country and had her own slaves and warriors.
Aniwura was largely known for exporting agricultural produce to other part of the country and beyond the shores of Nigeria. Her major lines of trade were tobacco and slave trading. She also manufactured a local cosmetic product, ‘Kijipa’, which was transported out of Nigeria for use. The legend of Aniwura takes a dark turn when her only daughter died during childbirth. This tragedy would make the business tycoon become evil. It was said she whipped and starved her slaves. Her difficulty in child-bearing led her not only to be diligent in her business, but also become emotionally unstable as having a successor was seen as a major determinant of affluence at that time. As a result of this, she was often depressed and it became clear evident in her style of ruling and leadership. She created rules that ensured no slave in her household could get pregnant, or get anyone pregnant, and instituted death as the penalty for defaulters. Aniwura eventually adopted a son called Kumuyilo.
Exit of a legend
History has it that there are two accounts on how she died. The first one was that she committed suicide by drinking hemlock when the king’s men came to her house and told her she had been summoned by the king.
The other account was that Aniwura’s political views of the Ibadan de facto ruler led the Aare Ona Kakanfo Latoosa to plot her execution. Initial plans to execute her proved abortive, but eventually paid off when her adopted son, Kumuyilo, was given the task to eliminate her. She was murdered by two of her slaves during her sleep, engineered by Kumuyilo in 1874. Today, Aniwura’s statue is placed at the centre of a roundabout called Challenge, a major point within the modern city of Ibadan.
Thought for the week
“Optimism is the ultimate definition of a leader. A leader has to look optimistically at what is ahead while not ignoring the challenges that must be overcome. Those challenges are in government, politics, world leadership, and even in community life.”