BY MAJ GEN CHRIS OLUKOLADE
At every turn in history, iconic men and women; those exceptional people with unprecedented breadth of service to humanity, the icons whose trajectory stand them apart from the packs, appear like the comet to beautify our world. Great achievers and products of inspiration, such rare breeds of men and women do not appear from the abyss of frivolity, vain glory or wishful thinking. Inspiration and courage gave birth to them while patriotism and passion for hard work nurtured them into limelight and ingrained them into our hearts.
Indeed, those pantheons do not come often. Only few nations are blessed with them and Nigeria is privileged to be one. In this land it was, where an accomplished scholar, moral colossus, ethical titan, die-hard nationalist, pacifist and dogged fighter for a just and decent society by name Dora Nkem Akunyili walked an amazon; a Professor of repute.
I speak of my sister, Professor Dora Akunyili with fond memories and familiarity because I knew her in person. Although I had grown to so admire this extra-ordinarily courageous woman, since she hit public attention through her uncommon exploits in NAFDAC, our paths finally crossed officially in 2009 when as the then Director of Army Public Relations I visited her office to invite her to deliver a keynote address as the Honourable Minister of Information and Communication at the first Bi-ennial Training Conference for Army Public Relations officers scheduled for Kaduna. I also requested her to use the opportunity to as well launch her pet project, the Re-branding Programme for the Nigerian Army. Our conversation in that first meeting and many subsequent ones were all it took for me to deconstruct the personality and disposition of Dora Akunyili as an embodiment of excellence and pragmatism.
I recall that though it was quite obvious that she had a loaded schedule that week, she became disposed to accepting the invitation the moment she got convinced that it was all about rebranding and the Nigerian Army. Evidently, she was duly persuaded that her consent would foster her passionate campaign for creating a better and appropriate image for Nigeria. Eventually, she not only made herself available for the function, but gave a highly thought-provoking keynote address that left no one in doubt that the treatise was a successful effort at inspiring patriotism in a crop of Nigerian professionals in the service of the nation.
Without any doubt, Prof Akunyili was a firm believer in the indispensability of the Nigerian Armed Forces in our nation’s drive for stability and progress. In an interview published in Nigerian Defence Magazine, she enthused, “when you thought there will be intractable problem, the military will stabilise the system, much to the admiration and pride of Nigerians”.
I also recall that my earlier visit to her office left me with a number of remarkable impressions and lessons. The simplicity in her interaction with staff and visitors alike radiates much peace around her. Despite this air, the sternness of the Honourable Minister in demanding efficiency and productivity around her was ever in the consciousness of all her immediate or personal staff. Anyone will take madam for granted at his or her own peril. She was unmistakably a disciplinarian. Further contacts only reinforced my earlier admiration of her personality as an embodiment of courage and passion for hard-work. Each contact was simply an incremental revelation of Dora Akunyili as a consummate humanist, a patriot, a nationalist, a pragmatist and above all, a strong believer in the Nigerian project. No doubt her life trajectory typifies the inter-relatedness of incredible virtue, patriotism, service to humanity and development.
I was privileged to be at the reception in honour of her daughter whose traditional wedding held in Awgulu in 2009. In her speech at the reception which was held in Awka later that day, she painted a very clear picture of how the family took the decision endorsing the marriage. I was so amazed by her boundless honesty and extra ordinary transparency in narrating what I thought should be a family secret at such an event. This attribute is also common in many of her interviews where she expresses in detail certain discussions between her and her spouse. Too down to earth whenever she means to explain a point, to achieve a didactic purpose. Her discussions with anyone proves she honestly means to teach virtues and values at every opportunity.