PROFESSOR DORA AKUNYILI: A LIFE OF INTEGRITY
Professor Akunyili was appointed
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Professor Dora Akunyili
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Professor Dora Akunyili
A CALL TO DUTY
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), was established by Decree
No 15 of 1993 (as amended), to control and regulate the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisement,
sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, chemicals/detergents, medical devices and beverages. The scope of this
mandate placed the responsibility of safeguarding public health on the Agency.
In May 1999, NAFDAC was one of several government agencies requiring serious attention, and a discreet
search for a new Director General began in earnest. President Obasanjo, apprised of a PTF staff member who had
returned the balance -- twelve thousand pounds sterling -- of a medical stipend, placed a telephone call to
Dora Akunyili has recorded an outstanding string of successes
as the Director General of NAFDAC. Prior to her assumption of duty, adulterated, fake and substandard foods and
drugs were being dumped in
Improvement in the Health and Pharmaceutical Sub-Sector
Individual manufacturers as well
Glaxo SmithKline recorded a 77% growth in sales during the same period. The General Manager,
Pharma Deko Plc witnessed an increased demand for its products resulting in a 78.5% increase in turnover
in 2002. It is noteworthy that the company had not paid dividends since 1999 due to losses but the company declared
dividends in 2003. MAY & BAKER’s profit growth rose by 88% for the first half of 2003.
NEIMETH International Pharmaceuticals Plc recorded 105% increase in its profit before tax at the
end of its financial year in
NAFDAC’s activities have reinforced the confidence of investors in the pharmaceutical industry, as
evidenced by the continuous upward movement in the share prices of the pharmaceutical companies quoted in the Nigerian
Improvement of Government Policies
The following new government policies were spearheaded by NAFDAC:
return of NAFDAC to the ports in October 2001. This has yielded an exponential increase in the number and level
of seizures and sanctions.
Release of Shipping and Cargo Manifests by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Shipping
Lines and Airlines to NAFDAC inspectors.
Outright ban of the importation of drugs and other regulated products (food, cosmetics,
chemicals/detergents, medical devices, and all drinks) through all land borders.
The designation of specific Seaports and airports as exclusive ports of entry for the importation
of drugs and pharmaceutical raw materials.
Improvement of Infrastructure
The creation of functional NAFDAC offices in all 36 states of the Federation and
The acquisition of a new corporate headquarters in
NAFDAC constructed two gigantic warehouses for thermo-labile
and thermo-stable products. Prior to the construction of these warehouses, the Agency was faced with a situation
whereby seized products were stored in the owners’ warehouse with its attendant risks.
Four of NAFDAC laboratories have been upgraded to International standards while three new laboratories
are under construction. Construction of offices and staff residential apartments at land border posts provided
the necessary infrastructure for carrying out the arduous task of enforcing the ban on importation of regulated
products through land borders.
Computerization of the Agency’s regulatory activities, creation of the NAFDAC website as well as
provision of adequate office equipment, enhanced information flow within and outside the Agency. Provision of functional
utility vehicles greatly enhanced transportation of staff for regulatory assignments.
Improvement in health indices
NAFDAC’s monitoring of
According to Baseline surveys conducted in 2002 and 2003 (twice), there were positive results indicating
a drop in the prevalence of unregistered drug products in
RESPONSIBILITY, RISKS AND REWARDS
Combating fake, counterfeit and substandard drugs has been a major focus for Akunyili. As a Pharmacist,
she has always been aware of the devastating effects of fake/counterfeit products on the pubic.
Professor Akunyili has had
to resist a vicious and entrenched cabal that has made increasing and monumental gains
In December 2003, an assassination attempt was made on her life. Gunmen fired at the vehicle
she was traveling in. The bullet pierced her headgear without any significant wound. Her brother (who was in the
same car with her), her children, their foreign visitor, staff and security details in the convoy were thankfully,
Three days after this incident, the Agency’s
Threats of physical harm, abusive telephone calls, and hate mail, have become commonplace in the
life of Professor Akunyili. Oddly, insidious methods that the cabal adopted to threaten her include the use of
mysterious items and live animals such as a tortoise placed in her office to threaten her. Her family and staff
have not been spared either. They too received threatening letters and calls. In the midst of all these threats
Professor Akunyili has persevered. Her strength derives from her strong belief in God. She believes firmly that
God is in full control, and this belief has made her fearless.
A GROUNDSWELL OF SUPPORT
Despite the threats, she has had a tremendous groundswell of support and appreciation from millions
of Nigerians, governments, institutions, (locally and internationally), and the mass media. She enjoys an amazing
relationship with the media. It is no exaggeration to claim that she enjoys the best press coverage of any public
Professor Akunyili has received
Perhaps the greatest honour that Akunyili has received is the gratitude of millions of Nigerians
of various walks of life. By excelling in her work, Prof Akunyili has brought honour to her country and people,
and has been at the vanguard of a movement of exceptional individuals that are helping to shape a new image of
Dora Akunyili and Colleague
After attending numerous government sponsored workshops on corruption, I will confirm that
even criminals in this country talk about the importance of combating corruption! Most of the time people “talk
the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”
Generally, in public places when corruption is discussed, it is condemned. However, it is
not so much what people say as much what they practice. The government is doing its part. The important questions
that Nigerians should be asking are: Are we, as a nation, taking active part in the crusade? Has it been made clear
to the employees in every work environment that their agency or institution abhors corruption? Have we ensured
that people working under us are well supervised, and that we do not look away when they are involved in corrupt
practices? My point is that there is individual, community, state and then federal responsibility in the fight
against corruption. After all, ‘We are the government!’
Our educational system is a disaster. However, fixing the education sector can be done quite
easily. I don’t want to sound as if I have all the answers to every problem, because I don’t. Neither do I want
to run anybody down, or create bad blood. But believe me, we can emulate the excellent educational systems abroad,
and then adapt them with great success to this country.
My contention is that our educational system today has stifled creativity and hampered the
emergence of excellence. Over the years, there has been a general leveling of our universities, secondary schools
and primary schools, and our teachers, as well. In other words, every school, teacher, professor, is paid the same
as their peers, irrespective of individual talent, dedication or excellence in the field. There is an absence of
rewards or incentives to stimulate and buttress excellence. There is also no competition, and no rigorous ranking
system at all levels of the sector. As long as there is no competition, no incentive to excel, there will be no
vested interest in producing excellence. Stakeholders in the educational system will perceive themselves as “under
appreciated assembly line workers.”
(Interrupting) How is it possible for
We need to overhaul the educational system, re-evaluate our incentive and salary packages
for teachers and lecturers, and do away with flat or level salaries. I mentioned that in
In the system I am alluding to, ranking
is paramount. Ranking should affect both salary and prestige of the principal and teachers, and of the students
proceeding to tertiary institutions, and eventually to the job market. So it is not just the principal working
extraordinarily hard, teachers will work hard to remain in the school, and make sure their students become the
best, so that their school continues to advance within the league.
Are you suggesting that
For any establishment to succeed, it really must be run like a business, as if it were an
enterprise; though without losing sight of educational goals for academic excellence. Thus schools must be run
as a business, and not as a private enterprise. However, a principal cannot run a school like a business when there
are no incentives in the system to reward his or her hard work. And as long as we don’t have a sophisticated and
elaborate rating system for our universities, our secondary schools, our primary schools, we will achieve nothing.
How can we effectively marry business and academia in our educational system?
The idea is not new; when Americans started raising large sums of money to buttress university
endowments, almost a century ago, European schools laughed at the idea, calling the American institutions uncouth.
So what I am suggesting is that our schools need to be run with clear and keen business tenets,
without losing our focus on the ideals of educational excellence.
example: If we link certain academic, extracurricular attainments to principal and teacher incentives, we will
find that principals will work harder to improve the standards in their schools, because they now have a vested
interest in school improvement.
In primary schools, the same principle
Doesn’t this idea create an avenue for corruption in the educational sector?
Corruption is a sore point, and already in the system. We have to root it out where it exists
presently, and then clearly, from the planning stages of any new initiatives in education, put in place checks
and balances to prevent the abuse of the system in the future.
If a principal and teachers are not corrupt,
they will administer whatever money they have in ensuring that the students get the best possible education. But
today, when money is given for food and dormitories it is often not used for such purposes. Principals don’t care
what is expected from them. I know schools where children have been killed in boarding houses, and things just
go on as if nothing happened. If that kind of thing happens overseas, there will be hell to pay! The principal
is often fired, and that school goes to zero in the ranking league. Such a principal may never be able to get a
job in any other school in
You have mentioned establishing incentive
packages for teachers and professors to stimulate and reward excellence. Can you explore this a little more?
Of course! Is it not scandalous that if
I studied literature, and become a professor of Literature, that after a few years I will be paid exactly what
Wole Soyinka is being paid, granted that he works in the same Nigerian university under our present compensation
package system? How can the university grow in such a situation? But in
Such high rating dictate one’s compensation
package, so that Professor Woke Soyinka would be on an endowed salary of one million pounds, and a different Literature
professor, even if qualified on the same day with him will be receiving 50,000 pounds. There is no grumbling about
it. The rating cannot be on an equal level. If at the
What about the role of the government
in providing facilities and infrastructure?
The government definitely has a role to
play...but so does the private sector. The oil industry, the banks etc can support existing schools and establish
excellent new schools with large endowments that will sustain these institutions into the future. The teachers
play a salient role as I have mentioned previously. Do you accept that you can produce an excellent student if
he or she has a dedicated teacher that is valued and compensated appropriately even if all they have to teach with
is a rickety old black board and little bits of chalk under a mango tree? What I am suggesting is that we need
to go back to the planning stages and facilitate the seamless interplay of government, public and private sector
responsibility and roles in producing a unified product – academic excellence.
you identify specific strategies that are capable of moving the country’s pharmaceutical sector forward?
The pharmaceutical industry can move forward in incremental steps. Let us begin by examining the education of pharmacists.
We need to establish the culture where
students assess lecturers. In some schools of Pharmacy, lecturers become professors, just because they have published
books, or have articles placed in journals, and some of them don’t even teach on a regularly basis. Now publications
are very important, but a lecturer should also be evaluated based on his/her teaching ability. Some professors
really don’t teach very well or care about updating their curricular content. They provide the
same lecture every year without any updates. One can see that the lecture notes have turned brown with
age, because they were prepared in the seventies with no new ideas reworked into them. This is, frankly, irresponsible,
and a gross disservice to students who pay to receive new and current, even cutting edge information. Some lecturers
in Nigerian universities are still teaching with pre-historic notes. And students complain that they don’t understand
what some of their lecturers are teaching. These are serious complaints, yet do not affect lecturers’ promotions,
salaries and status. Unfortunately the students suffer, and ultimately the nation suffers, because the environment
has not been set up for excellence.
My views on the empowerment of women are
complex. Let me start this way: all my life, I have always had equal opportunities with my male counterparts. But
in some parts of
The foundation of this problem is often laid with the attitudes towards females in the home.
In certain households, especially homes with limited education and exposure, one often finds that the male child
is treated better than the female child. In fact, some pregnancies are terminated, because the fetus is female;
and this is in Asian countries, as well, not just in
Does poverty play a role in the oppression of women?
Yes, in many ways. One example is the case of childhood marriages. The poorer the background,
the worse the situation gets. Poverty is a terrible thing; you find impoverished parents allowing their daughters
to be married off at 10, 12 years old, so they can get their hands on her dowry. Once the family is rid of the
girls, they will have enough money to train the boys who will inherit the family property and family name. The
idea is to keep the family name going. And one problem leads to another: In some cases, these girls get involved
in early pregnancy. And of course early pregnancy has its own complications and setbacks.
What other ways are women kept back from flourishing in our society?
Well, one horrendous example of the oppression of women is genital mutilation. We find this
embarrassing, and do not want to talk about it in polite society. However, there are still many areas where young
girls are put through this horrific practice! Even before they know what is happening, they are mutilated --preventing
them from leading a normal sexual life. In these communities where this terrible practice exists, the practitioners
claim that the mutilations are to prevent the women from becoming promiscuous. The practice presents not only physical,
but psychological effects for many women. Many circumcised women have marital problems, and develop psychiatric
illnesses like depression and suicidal ideation.
also have low school enrolment, and high school drop-out among females in many parts of this country. Again poverty
is implicated here. If the family doesn’t have enough resources, they prefer to train the boys.
You paint a dire and gloomy tapestry of the state of women in
I have only touched the surface. You see, we don’t have equal rights in certain parts of the
country. In the Southeast, we are not allowed a part in the inheritance of property. In most families, the men
inherit the houses, the money, and it is only very seldomly that women are included. They might be remembered when
things are plentiful. Now, if there are two houses, and six males with large families, nothing will be shared among
the girls. The boys get the property, and the ladies will rarely challenge the status quo. Again, in some other
parts of the country, women are denied their right to vote.
Such discriminatory and stigmatizing practices are problematic, not just for women, but for
our whole country. The situation is even worse for widows…. many of them go through various forms of dehumanizing
treatments from families, friends, and in-laws. Poor treatment of widows by relations of the deceased husband,
and violent attacks on them and their children, as well as forceful take-over of their properties and rights is
Wife battering is a shameful hidden secret in many homes throughout this country! This form
of denigration makes women lose their self-confidence. And when you lose your self-confidence, you have lost everything.
Women in addition, face different forms of religious discrimination and political repression.
Did you go
out to redress some of the disadvantages women face in
As a matter of fact, in NAFDAC, I like to make sure that women get an equal chance of employment…and I’ll tell
you something; people are feeling more comfortable about it. One of my advisors at NAFDAC, a man, encouraged me
to hire more women…He said Madam: ‘please don’t send male staff to ports and registration units. These places are
too tempting for someone who wants to make N20 or N30 million a day. Please don’t send men to these two areas;
we have had enough casualties.’ And that says everything.
I am not saying that women are saints, but women are more cautious. I will go as far as making this bold statement
-- that women are generally more honest than men. It does not mean that dishonest women do not exist. We had one
such dishonest employee in
Now to health
care: what is your vision for improving the
First of all, we need to develop a true health care system. What we have now is not desirable.
We have to decide whether we are going the capitalist route like
In the system that I envision, if we go by ranking, which is based on various parameters,
the chief medical director will work extraordinarily hard, because he or she wants an exceptional ranking for the
hospital. S/he will struggle to raise money through the patient’s fees without using extortion. Again, monitors
will continue checking to see whether there are cases of over-charging. There will be monitoring units that constantly
audit, and make sure that standards are maintained, and that patients are not overcharged.
How can health care providers strike the balance between the need to make money for health
centers and the need to achieve quality medical care for patients?
We can achieve this by making the happiness of patients our top priority. If your focus is the happiness of your patients, you
With rankings of hospitals, doctors and health centers, health care providers will discover
that somebody working in a general hospital ranked No. 1 in the league earns 10 times more than another working
in a different general hospital ranked much lower. The result is that from the doctors, to the nurses, to the pharmacists,
and then to the Chief Medical Officers, everybody will be working hard to make the establishment a success, because
it will be clear to the stakeholders that ultimately, their salary, well being, and success are tied to the growth
and success of the hospital. Such a system will encourage excellence, hard work, as well as commitment to the common
goals of the organization.
for revamping the Health Care sector appears to be a shift to an American style Managed Care System model where
there is competition
believe that if we run a competitive system and a ranking system where every worker in the hospital, right up to
the Chief Medical Director, has a stake in the system, and if the system rewards excellence by making sure that
successful hospital managers are catapulted to the highest rank, they will work hard to move themselves up. Those
who don’t work hard enough will be moved down. In
In our present system there are no incentives to work hard…
point exactly! Everybody is getting subvention. You go to work when you like. You leave when you like. Nobody is
actually monitoring staff, and it doesn’t matter what anyone is doing. Nobody’s salary is ever threatened. After
four to five years, people are promoted. So where is the incentive for hard work? Human beings are the same all
over the world; if they don’t have incentives for competition overseas they will behave exactly as we do here in
I believe so. Continuing medical education will keep our health care providers up to date
on the latest technologies, procedures, research and therapies. The Teaching Hospitals would naturally be the places
for such credits to be accumulated through clinical
trainings, seminars, workshops, research and presentations, for without research why should they be referred
to as teaching hospitals? What gives a hospital academic status? Is it just reading textbooks written by other
people? No. Such hospitals must be conducting research and at the forefront of cutting edge technology and advancements.
As I said, writing up a lecture and teaching the same content to students for 20 years is not the answer. Some
of these lecturer’s notes, as I’ve said, have turned brown with age. They have been in the same condition for 20
years or more. Students are also aware that the lecturer is not doing any research, or updating relevant information
and knowledge base.
Technology plays an important role in the attainment of high quality health care throughout the world. How can
Computerization is very
So there’s a challenge, not just in health care, but in most sectors of the economy that lack
access to computer technology. Come to think about it…there are no computers in any of our secondary schools in
the villages. These seem to be reserved for the elite; those who can afford computer hardware and software. We
are talking about something that should be widely available to all citizens. By the way, we often do not have electricity
in some villages for three to six months! In the town, power supply is also unsteady. As long as we have epileptic
power supply, the computer technology will not catch on the way it should. Our children are working very hard to
become computer literate, but they are terribly handicapped by the lack of computers, and intermittent power supply.
are a household name due to the enormous impact of NAFDAC in the country under your able leadership. Where do you
draw your inspiration?
Quite frankly, the things that happen in NAFDAC are divinely inspired. That is why I often
say that I am not responsible, but our God is. He is using me as a vessel. So I give God all the glory for the
success and achievements associated with NAFDAC today, nationally and internationally. The things I initiate or
accomplish in NAFDAC have often come to me in a flash. When I remember something, even at
Thank you Professor Akunyili
You are welcome!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation.
The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian
to express their opinion.
Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Prof. Dora Akunyili in Conversation with Adeze Ojukwu