• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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BusinessDay

Tribute to Prof. Dora Akunyili, a public relations delight

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The shocking and painful death of Prof. Dora Akunyili, former Minister of information and communication on Saturday, 7thJune,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.

Jossy Nkwocha