Dora Akunyili: Biography, Career and Awards

In 2001, president Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her the Director-General, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). With her dedication, the fake drug market saw a decline of 90%. Some impactful was her service that by 2004, two assassination attempts had been made on her life. She is none other than the late Dora Akunyili.


Dora Akunyili was born in Markurdi, Benue State to Chief and Mrs. Paul Young Edemobi. She had her West African School Certificate Examination (WASC) in Queen of Rosary Secondary School, Enugu state, where she graduated with Grade I Distinction. she won the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship. She had six children and three grandchildren.

She started her Primary education at St Patricks Primary Sch. Isuofa Nsukka. Her success started with her passing the First School Leaving Certificate with Distinction in 1966, and the West African School Certificate (W.A.S.C.) with Grade I Distinction in 1973 (both in Nigeria), which earned her the Eastern Nigerian Government Post Primary Scholarship and the Federal Government of Nigeria Undergraduate Scholarship respectively. It is remarkable that throughout her high school career, Dora Akunyili was always top of her class – a record that has never been broken in the school to date.

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She got her B.Pharm (Hons) in 1978 and Ph.D. in 1985, both at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Prof. Akunyili won the best student award in the School of Pharmacy in her very first year in the school and the Vice Chancellor’s Postgraduate and Research Leadership prize in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences for 1984/85 and 1985/86 academic Sessions. She was promoted to the rank of Professor of Pharmacology in October 2000 by the same University.


After the death of Vivian her sister, who died after taking fake insulin injection in 1988. Dora came at the forefront of the fight against drug counterfeiters. Akunyili started her working career as a Hospital Pharmacist from 1978 to 1981, in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, after which she ventured into academics as a Graduate Assistant (Research Fellow) in Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNN from 1982 to 1986. In the University system, she made steady progress from Lecturer I in 1986 until she was made Senior Lecturer in 1990. She transferred to College of Medicine, UNN in 1992, where she was made a Consultant Pharmacologist in 1996, a place she held until 12 April 2001. Due to her love for teaching and nurturing young ones, she was also a part-time lecturer of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists Lagos, Nigeria from 1992–1995.

Following her appointment as the Director General of NAFDAC in April 2001, Akunyili established as a top priority the eradication of counterfeit drugs and unsafe food. Before her assumption of office in NAFDAC, fake and substandard foods and drugs were sold in Nigeria without any form of regulation. She was disheartened that “so many of (her) countrymen and women (were) fighting killer diseases like malaria and tuberculosis with little more than sugar syrup and chalk tablets, cynically packaged to look like the real thing. When she assumed office, she brought in a new culture of excellence and honesty to NAFDAC and the entire Nigerian public service. As a result, the level of fake and counterfeit drugs in circulation dropped to 16.7 percent with a vast improvement in the food and other regulated sectors.

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  • ‘Heroes of our Time’ by Time Magazine in New York, and the International Service Human Rights Award which she received at the House of Commons in London.
  • Conferment with the National Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Recognition as an Icon of Hope for Nigerians by President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo(2002);
  • Person of the Year 2005 Award by Silverbird Communications (2006);
  • Nigeria’s Five Greatest Living Legends Award by Silverbird Group and Vanguard Media (Dec. 2009); Recognition as Nigerian Woman of Distinction during the Nigeria @50 Independence Anniversary Celebration (Sept. 2010);
  • Minister of the Year 2010 by Nigeria Royalty Award (Dec. 2010).
  • Integrity Award by Transparency International in South Korea (2003);
  • Honored as one of the 18 heroes (Health) of our time by TIME Magazine, New York (2005);
  • Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award by Human Rights Defence Organization (International Service) in the British House of Commons (2005);
  • Special Award for Combating Economic Crime by International Chamber of Commerce-Commercial Crime Services London (2004);
  • Amazon of Integrity by National Council of Women Society (2004);
  • Pharmacist of the Year Medal Award by International Pharmaceutical Federation, FIP (2005);
  • Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Bristol, London (2006);
  • Honorary Georgia Citizen by The State of Georgia, USA (2006);
  • Agribusiness, International Euro Market and Transbusiness Awards respectively for 2003, 2005 and 2006 by European Marketing Research Centre (EMRC), Brussels;
  • Elected Honorary Member of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London, by The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Of Great Britain, London (2008);
  • Conferred with the prestigious Harmony Tribute Award by Planet Africa Television Canada (2010).


Author: BF

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