Former Minister of Information and Communication and erstwhile Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, bowed to ovarian cancer early yesterday after 59 years on earth.
While many gripped by the shocking news of her death are still struggling to come to terms with her demise, others have dug into the cause of Akunyili’s death.
The former minister’s death has been blamed on misdiagnosis by some doctors in the United States. The doctors were said to have claimed she did not have cancer, rubbishing her Nigerian doctor’s diagnosis earlier diagnosis that she had the ailment.
The news of her death hit the airwaves in an official statement by former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, on the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS).
Obi, in the statement, said: “On behalf of the Akunyili family, I wish to officially confirm the death of Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Nkem Akunyili, OFR, in a Specialist Cancer Hospital in India today at 10 am, Nigerian time, after a two-year battle with cancer.
“In spite of her illness, Prof. Akunyili was unwavering in her belief in a better Nigeria. That was why she defied her condition and was part of Anambra State Handover Committee and the National Conference.”
“The last time I visited her in India, even when she needed all the prayers herself, she was full of concern for the abducted Chibok girls, security and other challenges facing the country and told me that she remained prayerful for the release of those girls and for God to help President Goodluck Jonathan to overcome all the challenges facing the nation.
“She therefore urged all Nigerians to remain prayerful and committed to building a better society for our children. We all prayed together and I promised to be visiting her every month.
“We thank all those who remain fervent in prayers for her recovery and urge them to remain prayerful for the peaceful repose of her soul.”
The Cable, an online news platform quoting a family source, yesterday, blamed misdiagnosis for Akunyili’s death.
According to the source, when in 1998, the former Minister was the Zonal Secretary (South-east) of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, Nigerian doctors gave her what many of her family members considered to be a health scare. They said she had a growth and needed surgery.
“Akunyili, then 44, decided to travel to the United States, first to get a second opinion and then undergo the prescribed surgery. The bill for the medical trip was $17,000, including $12,000 for the surgery. During pre-surgery check-up in the US, the doctors told her the Nigerian doctors had made a wrong diagnosis and that she did not need any surgery,” the source said.
“It was said to be a minor issue that medication would solve. She thanked the doctors and to their surprise, said she was going to return the money meant for the surgery to PTF. That was strange. Nigerian government officials had devised a way of making sure such monies were not returned to the treasury.
“The hospital informed the PTF, under the leadership of Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, about one honest Nigerian they had found. Buhari, himself a straightforward person, was very impressed. He wrote a letter to Akunyili commending her honesty. NAFDAC then came 2001; President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint a director-general for the National Agency for Drug and Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and asked for the recommendation of an honest Nigerian pharmacist. Akunyili’s name promptly came up.
“Someone who had heard about her PTF record recommended her. There was a little problem, a Nigerian problem. Objections were raised that the minister of health, Prof. ABC Nwosu, was an Igbo from Anambra State and NAFDAC, being a powerful agency under the ministry, should not be headed by another Igbo from Anambra. It was also argued that the market for fake and substandard products were controlled by the Igbo, with Onitsha – also in Anambra State – a major centre for the illicit business. She was going to protect “her people”, the antagonists said.
“Obasanjo, stubborn to the cause, ignored the observations and appointed her. She went on to do a credible job and ended up as one of the most outstanding public officers in Nigeria’s history, celebrated locally and globally. She had lost a sister to fake drugs, and that was perhaps the impetus she needed to go on the offensive.
“Meanwhile, Akunyili always went abroad for check-ups and she was always given an all-clear. She continued to look robust and energetic, and took up another government job as minister of information and communications.
“But on July 13, 2013, something strange happened to her. She was preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award. The following day was her birthday. Her 59th, precisely. Then she fell ill. She was physically weak and having pains. She decided to go ahead with her trip and attend to her health in the United States. It was while she was there that new checks were carried out.
“Alas, she had cancer. The original diagnosis in 1998 was right. But the diagnosis at the point of surgery was wrong. She became seriously ill and there were fears she could lose her life. She was in the hospital for months and only returned to Nigeria this year when the doctors said she was improving. Her last public appearance was at the National Conference in Abuja, where she was a delegate. Pictures of a frail-looking Akunyili soon went viral on the internet”.
She lost the fight to cancer died yesterday in India. She was 59.