FRANCIS OTTAH AGBO
Exactly two years ago, precisely on June 7, 2014, a day after my birthday, in faraway India, the cold hands of cancer snatched my second mother, former NAFDAC DG and Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, OFR. She was 59. For me, she was a mother of the motherless, activist in government, a courageous turnaround expert, uncommon anti -fake drug czar, anti-corruption crusader, a disciplinarian, a compassionate public servant and a devout Christian of catholic faith!
Going by what I know about her medical history, particularly her proactive regular medical check- ups abroad, it was difficult for me to accept her passing. Even after I had joined her husband, siblings, and her former governor, Mr. Peter Obi, to deposit her remains at the National Hospital mortuary, Abuja, it was difficult to grapple with the irredeemable reality of her death. I continued to wallow in this state of disbelief even after she was laid to rest on August 28, 2014 in her Agulu country home (Anambra State). I waited in vain for a miracle. I had thought that one day, I would see her. Two years down the line, when her early morning calls ceased coming, I accepted the reality of her death. Indeed, I now know I can only see Dora in the hereafter because there is life after death!
I joined Dora on the 6th of January 2009, as one of her media aides. Before I got to her office on the eighth floor of Radio House, Garki, Abuja, she was already at her table, treating files and dishing out instructions to staff of the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications. I had thought that she would be struggling to fully settle down to work, having been sworn in as minister in December 2008. But I saw a confident and passionate woman, who took charge of her responsibility as if she had held the portfolio for years! She had commissioned a media guru and a well-respected editor to hunt for a Special Assistant that would manage her image.
She was very close to her aides and staff of the ministry; she even called us by our first names. She called me Francis, my son. In spite of her busy schedules, she kept tab with our birthdays and congratulated us on our birthdays, in some cases, bought gifts for us. This superb public relations sense, passion for Nigeria, uncommon courage, brilliance, industry, syllogism and patriotism endeared her to Nigerians and made her the reporters’ delight any day. Unknown to many Nigerians, this was why President Umar Yar’ Adua of blessed memory appointed Dora the spokesperson of the Federal Government of Nigeria. And she used her goodwill and towering image at NAFDAC to shore up the battered image of the government, having been produced by the controversial 2007 general elections, conducted by Professor Maurice Iwu’s INEC and adjudged to be a charade.
The negative image of Nigeria at the time and Dora’s love for fatherland propelled her to initiate an image programme, tagged: National Rebranding Campaign. The campaign came with a bang but not without efforts of some Nigerian brand eroders, who did so much to return Nigeria to Egypt! Whether the campaign achieved the set target is an issue for another day. What was, however, glaring was that there were conscious attempts at attitudinal change, re-orienting Nigerians and Nigeria had a brand new logo: Nigeria, good people, great nation. And many scholars across the globe wrote their thesis on Rebranding Nigeria. Dora’s exploits in the ministry earned her local and international awards and attracted positive stunt to the country.
I enjoyed every bit of my association with her. Dora cared about my family. She facilitated the employment of her female personal assistants and our spouses, who had no job at the time before she threw in the towel in December 2010 to contest the senatorial election in Anambra State. She asked for a ‘favour’ from me before we left the ministry, which was that I should name my daughter after her, which I did. I could see the happiness on her face when she attended the naming ceremony in June 2013.
For this departed amazon, the reward for hardwork was more and more work! Having worked with her closely till death did us part, I know she loved mankind and served Nigeria with passion, served the nation dutifully and died on a national service at the National Conference, as a soldier in her boot!
The lesson to be drawn from Dora’s demise is that: Death is no respecter of persons. The Federal Government of Nigeria must immortalise Dora so that her spirit will live on. And the best way to do this is to name a national institution after her, deepen democracy with its attendant dividends, properly safeguard our public health and, of course, release the Chibok girls.
Francis Ottah Agbo, Special Adviser, Media Relations to the Governor of Bayelsa State was SA, Media, to Professor Akunyili.