I have struggled with writing a befitting piece for Dora Akunyili since her cruel demise. And this is why. In the less than six months that I worked closely with her in Abuja at the Ministry of information and Communications, I was unable to come to terms with her undying belief that Nigeria was still the greatest country in the world. For her, no country had all of God’s blessings together in one piece like Nigeria. Nigeria, to her, had the ingredients to attain greatness. It was only a matter of time.
If I shared her faith, I could not share her optimism about Nigeria. Where she saw greatness, I saw something different. Where she saw hope for a better country, I saw a bleak future. But no one could stop her or change her passion for Nigeria. Consummate in her endeavors and committed to achieving set goals, Dora Akunyili had no comparison. Even from a distance, one could sense her commitment and share In her dream.
I became part of that dream as I worked with her to see how best to change the Nigerian narrative through the ‘Good People, Great Nation’ mantra. If that effort came short, it was not that she did not put in her all. It was due to the fact that millions of Nigerians have lost hope that Nigeria can be redeemed. Yet, I saw her many times climb down from the mountain of optimism and faith for a better country to the valley of despair and angst. It was at such moments that I saw the innermost pains of her soul. She agonized about how key people in key positions sabotaged Nigeria instead of bandaging her up to heal. I saw her many times working the phones at frenetic pace to rally all she knew to make sure certain injustice was redressed or a key decision was taken. She was unstoppable even at moments when her faith confronts the stony ground and Nigeria disappoints her. Dora never disappointed Nigeria.
Now, you know a bit of why I struggled with what to write. Not because the words and poetry would fail me. No. It is simply because words,mere words could not do justice to who she was, what she stood for and why there will be only one Dora.
Her public service career, though like a fairy tale, has no equal. She was made for Nigeria. She was placed in places and times in our history to lift up our country and our spirits. Like a star in the dark firmament, she was the shining star never to be shut out. Her stint at NAFDAC had no equal and with that singular act, she brought the world to Nigeria. She chalked up points for Nigeria globally and redeemed our image. She lifted up the spirits of millions, who realized that some good could come out of Israel. Dora became a sensation. She provided a rare excitement about a Nigeria that is possible. She gave true meaning to the fact that only through building institutions can a nation progress and serve the people. Dora herself was an institution.
Sadly, when she positioned to build on a solid foundation of public service, the very nation she served let her down. Her bold foray into politics by seeking elective office came under uncommon challenge. Her friends in the corridors of power deserted her. But she was one never to be put down. She once told me, “Chief, you must fight and stand for what you believe in. People will not always be kind to you, but you must be kind to yourself by staying true to yourself”. Indeed, that was the way she lived her last years even as she sought for a place to best continue to serve Nigeria.
Dora we will never forget. She was the amazon. She was the leader of our team. She was an embodiment of grace, brilliance and devotion to humanity.
When I first encountered her at an international conference in Dakar, Senegal, sometime in 2007, little did I know that she would one day convince me to resign my prestigious job with the Voice of America in Washington DC to come work with her. I had no reason to leave my job. I was not in search of a job. But no one could say no to Dora. She hardly took no for an answer. Her argument was unassailable and her plea for me to join her to make Nigeria better was unignorable . She was willing to seek out those that shared in her dream. And even though I moved on, she left an impression never to be forgotten. She worked hard. Committed with focus.
Though, cut off so soon, she has left behind a legacy like no other. She would never be forgotten. Adieu Dora Akunyili. You lived and worked like no mere mortal, but mortals we all are. You have ran the race faithfully and may the crown sit fittingly on your head. No better words will do as an epitaph on her grave that these words, “Here lies a soul that touched other souls and gave humanity her best”. Sun re o!
-Sunday Dare, was former Senior Special Assistant to Dora Akunyili at the Information Ministry.