Dora Akunyili: Who is the Best Leader Man Or Woman

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Table of Contents

  • Positive Example
  • Mission
  • Passion
  • Vision
  • Ethics
  • Compassion
  • Equality and Respect
  • Good Government/Management
  • Personal Presentation
  • Team Building
  • Measurable Accomplishments

Positive Example

Dora Akunyili was a great woman who served in Nigeria as the director general of National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) between 2001-2008 where she accounted for many remarkable successes. She was one who introduced a concept and culture of excellence and honesty and as a result, the level of fake and counterfeit drugs in circulation dropped considerably. Dora Akunyili was also the Minister of Information and Communication between 2008- 2010 where she initiated and headed the Re-branding Nigeria Project, and through her life time had the very best number of awards received by any Nigerian living or dead. She passed on in 2014 after a long battle with cancer. (Vanguard, 2017)

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Mission is the solid expression of your vision and values which becomes your personal constitution and as such becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life. Dora Akunyili served as director general of National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) from 2001-2008 where she achieved immense successes. In the past, Nigeria was a dumping ground for fake and illegal drugs and food. It was also a hub of production of these fake items. The painkillers, malaria drugs, basic food items and even the sodas we drank could not be trusted. She had a mission to clean up the food and drug sector in Nigeria. A mission she accomplished with every bone in her body.


Passion is one in all those words that we frequently use without really understanding the initial meaning of the word. When people say “passion”, they use it to mean strong emotions reflecting an intense desire or boundless enthusiasm. As a Christian and in this season of Lent, with Christ being my example, my perspective on passion has been upgraded. I no longer use it to describe something that I feel strongly about or that excites me. I can now describe it as an activity, goal or cause that I care about so much, I am willing to go through pains or suffer for it. This new standard makes it easier to discern whether something is really my passion or just a robust interest. It is no news that in Nigeria today, where you end up working has no correlation with what you studied at the university. People get jobs to pay bills and would do jobs they’re not really passionate about. Too many public servants are mismatched to their jobs. Looking at Dora Akunyili’s educational background, she obtained her first degree in Pharmacology and got her Ph.D. from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Dora Akunyili was a post graduate fellow of University of London and a fellow of the West African Post Graduate College of Pharmacists. She was also a fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, member of the New York Academy of Science, International Narcotics Control Board, United States Pharmacopeia Expert Committee amongst many others (Vanguard, 2017). With all these achievements tied to her name, it is no surprise the amount of passion and dedication she put into her job. In her fight against drug counterfeiting, which Akunyili likened to “public health terrorism”, she faced threats, intimidation, and worse, including a 2003 attack in which an assassin's bullet narrowly missed her skull, scorching her headscarf. NAFDAC facilities had been torched and vandalized on many occasions, and Akunyili had ten policemen with her around the clock. Most importantly, Akunyili also had a personal stake in fighting drug counterfeiting as her sister, a diabetic, died aged 21 years after taking fake insulin.


I believe that visionary leaders are successful builders of optimistic and inspirational visions of the future and they pass that vision in an attractive manner that entices committed followers. They are imaginative workers, insightful and confident. It is safe to call them creators of a new dawn. Visionary leaders are risk takers, great listeners and take responsibility for their actions and vision. Vision shows us where we are headed and Nigeria was on its way to freedom from counterfeit drugs.

For Dora Akuyili, everything she found herself doing was more than the ROLE, but about the GOAL to achieve (Nation, 2016). Dora Akunyili fearlessly battled the greed and ignorance that had allowed drug counterfeiting to thrive in Nigeria. Since she became head of the National Agency of Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) in 2001, the proportion of drugs sold in Nigeria that are fake dropped from 70% to about 10%


Ethics serve as guidelines for analysing “what is good or bad” in a specific situation as it refers to the desirable and appropriate values and morals according to an individual or the society at large. It involves the purity of individuals and their intentions. An ethical leader is one who is humane and places his follower’s interests ahead of his interests. As an ethical leader, it is important to recollect that actions often speak louder than words and people are more likely to evaluate someone based on how they act, instead of what they are saying. Akunyili stressed the importance of never compromising one's ideals and selling out to the very people who should be behind bars, she further laid emphasis on the importance of dedicated and honest leadership in the success of any effective institutional reform. while she worked as chief executive of the South East Zone for the Petroleum Special Trust Fund. She had been sent to London for surgery to treat a pancreatic problem, and given £12,000 for medical costs. The physicians found she didn't need surgery, and Akunyili returned the money. A very rare gesture amongst many public servants today. Her strategies were so effective that Nigerians even surrendered substandard products to NAFDAC for destruction-on their own. The fear of NAFDAC was the beginning of wisdom. (Harding, 2006)


Compassion to me is the willingness and desire to be kind to others. It means being thoughtful and aware of what others’ lives and experiences are like. Once upon a time, compassion was viewed as weakness. Those days are long gone. There is also a thin line between practicing compassion and enabling bad behavior. Leaders, today are expected to treat their people with a greater sense of care and humanity and to respect the diverse, unique attributes and qualities each person brings to the team and organization. Therefore, one can say there is a subtle and crucial difference between practicing compassion and enabling bad behavior.

Akunyili did not immediately confront Nigeria's bribery-ridden pharmaceuticals industry, instead she headed a campaign to raise the quality of “pure water,” bagged drinking water sold to poorer Nigerians at lower cost than bottled water which raised NAFDAC’s profile. Akunyili implemented a registration system and spread the word through a national system of workshops for producers and consumers. Today, everyone is now aware and checks the NAFDAC number on their water. Furthermore, the incidence of cholera in Nigeria, a disease frequently caused by contaminated water, dropped dramatically.

Equality and Respect

Generally, equality in the workplace means that no person should experience or fear discrimination based on their gender, sex, age, race, etc. The Nigerian Constitution provides for equal rights, so from a policy point of view, there is no discrimination. However, the glass ceiling, that invisible barrier to advancement that women face at the top levels of the workplace, remains a big problem and a challenge to society.

Dora was a woman from the Igbo Ethnic group of Nigeria and had little experience with a dangerous job filled with opportunities to accept bribe and blood money. She had a job many men were scared to tread this path. It is noteworthy that many of Akunyili's inspectors were women, for she felt that “they were less corruptible than men”

Good Government/Management

Good leaders need management skills to be effective. Dora Akunyili knew the importance of public education and used that to her advantage. She started the fight with “pure water”, the drink of Nigeria's poor and middle-class population, sold in polyethylene bags at a fraction of the cost of bottled water. The NAFDAC held meetings for producers on how to make the water safely, developed a registration system, and instructed people on how to recognise safe water. Everyone is now aware of checking the NAFDAC number on their water. One of the most interesting things she did was raise awareness on the harmful effects of fake drugs through adverts made as catchy songs. I remember constantly singing it when I was younger. I even wrote out all of the lyrics and it was one of my best TV adverts. That was how much the song impacted me, and I believe many others out there.

In an interview, she said that, if we listen to people who say Nigerians are criminals, they are fraudsters, they are 419ers, in that country nothing works, in the internet Nigeria is unsafe, if we say nothing, it means that we have accepted it. And for too long we have accepted that stigma. Thus, on March 17, 2009, she joined President Goodluck Jonathan to launch a national campaign and unveiling of the slogan and logo in Abuja. According to her, the campaign was beyond logo and slogan which were meant to serve as drivers. According to Dora, our hope is that the slogan, Nigeria – Good People, Great Nation, will help to inspire patriotism in us all as we collectively tackle the challenges ahead. (Akunyili, 2009)

Personal Presentation

As a leader, personal presentation is all about “your selling point”. How do you market YOU? Personal presentation is all about the way you dress, speak, body language, the subjects you speak about, how you want to be perceived and the first impression you want to make when you make contact with people. Good personal presentation requires self-esteem and confidence and it is all about showing yourself in the best possible light.

Dora Akuyili acted without fear of anybody. She had no intention to be a sycophant or a yes-man or woman in her case. She had a no-nonsense personality which earned her the nickname “Iron Lady”. Unlike our current stomach infrastructure public office holders, whose entire public work has little credit for the good of the general public, She was an outstanding Nigerian whose records of excellent public service will for long be remembered.She was never hunted by anti-graft agencies, neither was she accused by any segment of the country for being politically, religiously or even tribally biased. She targeted the general wellness of Nigerians and did not lead a flamboyant lifestyle nor did she render eye service. It was always Nigeria first for Akunyili and her virtues as a leader was and still are worthy of emulation for every public office holder in Nigeria, Africa and the entire world. some other parts of the world, put People like her on stamps and on statues at different public places where the younger generations, can visit to be encouraged to lead selfless lifestyles. She was a life saver and she instituted a system that is still saving lives. She was always seen wearing African prints and had good sense of style. Dora Akuyili was a leader per excellence.

Team Building

Dora Akunyili was a team player and the manager who carried her subordinates along. She gave them a sense of belonging and a reason to fight for the future of their generation. The battle against counterfeit drugs knew no religion or tribalism. It was a case of “fight it or we all die” as anyone could fall victim to the pernicious effects of these drugs. she also gave them their own tasks to perform and followed them up with supervision. She motivated her staff through her hard work and drive as they saw a leader who was fearless and ready to do the dirty work first. she built a formidable team and they significantly reduced the problems of drug and food control that had had significant repercussions in Nigeria.

Measurable Accomplishments

  • The Nigerian pharmaceutical industry enjoyed growth and prosperity during her reign; the incidence of fake drugs fell to 20% in 2004 and 10% in 2006; the level of unregistered drugs declined from 68% in 2001 to19 % in 2006 loaves of bread with potassium bromate nose-dived from 95% to 1% (Udodiong, 2019)
  • Sachets of pure water became relatively safer; Nigeria was no longer a heaven for expired or substandard drugs while Nigerian drugs became accepted in our neighbouring countries. Paradoxically, regulatory officials from those countries that banned our drugs came to learn from NAFDAC/Nigeria while NAFDAC formed and led the West African Drug Regulatory Agency
  • She received up to 200 awards locally and globally; including the Integrity Award by Transparency International in 2004, a year when TI rated Nigeria the 2nd most corrupt country in the world; Special Award For Combating Economic Crimes by the Intl Chamber of Commerce, Commercial Crime Service, London, 2004; Pharmacist of The Year Medal Award by the Intl Pharmaceutical Federation[FIP], 2005; and Honorary Doctor of Law Degree by the University of Bristol, London, 2006.
  • Award for the Best Government Parastatal – National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), December 2005.
  • An Icon of Excellence Award – The African Cultural Institute and Zenith Bank Plc, December 8, 2005.
  • 2005 Grassroots Human Rights Campaigner Award London-based Human Rights Defence Organization, December 8, 2005.
  • Most Innovative Director Award Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos, October 2005. These and many more were her long list of accolades. (Udodiong, 2019) 

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