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To Dora I Say : Veni, Vidi, Vici

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By Ola' Idowu
The Latin words above where the popular phrase which famously extended from a letter Julius Caesar wrote to the Roman Senate after achieving victory in his short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus in the city of Zela many centuries ago. This same words better describe the way late Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili (Nee Edemobi) achieved victory as she fearlessly bestrode the Nigerian political scene albeit for most of it as a technocrat appointed to clear up the mess at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) leaving behind many lessons for present day Nigeria public office holders as well as generations yet unborn.

My first exposure to Dora was just like most Nigerians many years back, when I kept seeing her face on every TV, Radio and Newspaper interviews as far back as 2002. Not a single day went by without you hearing her voice or seeing her ever smiling face in the mass media then, and I said to myself there we go again another 'billboard leader' like the usual ones we had and still have all over the country, where all their achievements are on billboards and pages of newspaper and nothing to show on the ground for their fellow country-men on the street. Each time I went past Oshodi, I wanted to book an appointment to see the Director-General of NAFDAC-Dora- and tell her to please shut up and stop doing interviews or seeking publicity but to settle down and do a job for the people, and I was also ready to point her in the directions she should be heading.

Now don't get me wrong here, I had genuine reasons to be angry. I lived then in a country where I knew people get into public office either elected or appointed, with no acute sense of history, what legacies they were keen to leave behind and how history would remember them, it was more about their stomach and nothing else. So I thought Dora would be the same, she wouldn't understand the issues and fight the racket and racketeers in that particular sector of our nation who were mainly Nigerians from her tribe. Many years before she busted on the scene, as a young man growing up in Lagos I had the opportunity to come across some of these guys in the drug counterfeiting trade. Then I didn't understand all of the issues, but I knew something wasn't right with the way they went about things. For example, there was a popular malaria drug then in the market called Halfan and made by Beechams (now Glaxo-Smithkline). Theses guys would take a sample to India, Indonesia, China or Thailand but usually it was India, and get the same composition of the drug manufactured, then cargo it by air or sea into the country.

On its arrival in sachets they would then go to printers in Mushin or Sango-Otta and print the packs and leaflets for it, package everything together looking like the original and sell it at a slightly cheaper price to the original. There were traders from Onitsha, Aba and Kano waiting on the go at shops in Dosunmu and environs in Lagos Island to ferry these fake drugs across the country. I found the courage one day to ask one of the guys involved and queried him on how they could make a profit selling lesser than the original manufacturer. He laughed and after a while he told me that its not every time they keep to the milligram strength. If the milligram for the drug is say 500, they could tell their counterfeit manufacturers in India to reduce theirs to 250mg, thereby producing more quantity for them with the money they provide (say if $1000 can get you 50 sachets of a drug at 500 mg, reduced to 250 mg you would get 100 sachets) which means they can then knock off some price when they sell it in Nigeria to beat competition from the original manufacturer or at times they do this if the clearing duties at the air or sea port including bribes to Custom, NDLEA and other officials was eating on their profits.

I immediately thanked God for the good health he provided me and I still do considering the fact that till this day, last time I ever saw an hospital or clinic bed would be close to two decades. But I couldn't help imagining the damage these men were causing innocent Nigerians based on their greed and in some cases just a means to survive based on ignorance. Thus you can understand why I was angry when Dora was just granting interviews and I couldn't see anything been done especially knowing the guys involved were her kinsmen. But not soon after I saw Lagos raided, markets closed in Onitsha, Kano, Aba and Port Harcourt. I saw food and drugs start getting classified, testing laboratories upgraded or built in different parts of the country. Pre-shipment inspection of food and drugs before they get into the country especially from India and China, as well as further testing of the same drugs when they arrived in Nigeria. Importers of foods and drugs as well as local manufacturers started knowing they couldn't sell anything in the country without NAFDAC number and approval. Nigerians started getting sensitised as to the dangers of fake drugs and foods and how it affects our entire health-care value-chain. I saw drug counterfeiting bosses particularly her tribesmen been hurled before the courts and sent to jail and even when they shifted base to other West African countries and were beginning to operate from there she went after them and set-up the West African Drug Regulatory Authority Network (WADRAN). I saw lives of men, women, children, elderly and the vulnerable being saved. I saw confidence return to our health-care system, pride and belief in being a Nigerian. I saw order, organisation and a society well enlightened at least about the importance of having genuine food and drugs around us.

She became an handful for so many counterfeiters and with doggedness fought the racket and racketeers in that industry to a standstill. When next I saw her on TV, Radio and newspaper interviews I started taking a listen and I grew fond of her and openly admired her. I wanted to know where she got the motivation from and what gives her all the passion so affectionate when she speaks you can get infected by the passion she carries for her task easily. Then I learnt of how she lost a younger sister in 1988 at the age of 22 to fake insulin drugs. She had started suffering from juvenile diabetes from the age of 19 and with insulin you can easily prolong your life as long as you took it regularly. They had the means to afford it but they got the wrong product. They would buy from one shop and it would work fine and her blood sugar would go down, then buy from another shop when they ran out of supply and it wouldn't work. This eventually led to her suffering other infections as she was injecting unsterilised water into her body instead of the insulin they thought they bought.

Add that to the story of how she got the job as NAFDAC DG and you would know why she was so dogged. Then president Obasanjo, wanted someone to come clear up the racket and mess in NAFDAC and Dr. Onaolapo Soleye through General Buhari recommended Dora to him, a woman whom returned £12,000 pounds back to the treasury in 1997 while she worked with Buhari in PTF. Soleye heard the story through Buhari and told Obasanjo who then contacted Dora to give her the job. Opposition came in from the Senate led by late Chuba Okadigbo (an Igbo like her) who had his own candidate as well as many other politicians. They tried the tribal card that she is Igbo, the Minister of Health was Igbo and the counterfeiters are Igbos how would she do a good job?. When that didn't work they told lies that she was never a trained Pharmacist. Soleye had to get all her certificates from her which showed she had trained as a Pharmacist from Bachelors degree to Doctorate level before she was then appointed. According to her, all these helped her motivation while in the job.

She would go on to receive death threats for all her efforts and even escaped an assassination attempt which in her own words in her book titled The War Against Counterfeit Medicine: My Story narrates thus : 'Within a split second, there was a painful bang on my head which made my scalp hurt badly. A bullet had just shattered the rear windscreen of the vehicle, pierced my headscarf, burnt my scalp like hot water and gone out through the front windscreen. It was so painful I thought the bullet hit my skull', she wrote. At the end, by the time she left NAFDAC she had left it in a much excellent shape than she met not minding what her critics may say including those who accused her of bribe taking to fast-track the testing and approval of products of her traducers before that of their competitors or others on the queue before them. Whatever it is, I don't think anyone can ever accuse her of licensing a fake drug and for me I don't mind a person profiting from where you put in a good shift and plenty of hard-work. The problem we have with many of the bastards turned leaders in Nigeria is when they want to profit and loot our entire commonwealth without putting in a single sweat, passion or effort for the everyday man on the street. The ones who hate the country and their fellow country-men so much they don't care if they were dying needlessly and they making money off their pains and sufferings. But Dora was never so!

Her only failing surely was when she accepted the shit job of an Information Minister and started the whole Re-branding exercise but Dora being who she is would never turn Nigeria down and God used her in fighting the Yar'adua cabal in 2010 when she wrote her famous memo and leaked it to the press. She famously wrote : 'The cabal wants to continue with their usual statement of 'the President said and you must comply'.They want to continue dishing out instructions even when the President did not say so. They sneaked him into this country in the night , I think it's something that is unnecessary and uncalled for. If anybody comes up tomorrow to explain to me why it is necessary for me to resign so as to help stabilise the polity, I will not waste one minute. If we fail to act now, history will not forgive us. I rest my case.'

Dear Dora, I would love to rest my case too but not before praying that God grants your soul repose in his bosom and resurrect it at the end of time. May he comfort your husband, children and entire family and never depart from them always. May the goodness and mercy you showed Nigerians continue from this generation up until your fourth generation in Jesus name. Just as Ceasar said after his victory over Pharnaces II, I say to you Dora with my head bowed veni, vidi, vici. You came, you saw and you conquered!!

Ola' Idowu is a Management consultant and Researcher writes in from the UK. [email protected]