The World Food Safety Day was marked on June 7, the ninth memorial of Professor Dora Akunyili, who, as director of NAFDAC, fought for food safety. ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR takes a brief look at her legacies while trying to protect the Nigerian consumer
It is not hyperbolic to say that not few consumers in Nigeria were broken when the death of Dora Akunyili was announced in 2014. Since 2019 when the World Food Safety Day was inaugurated, every June 7, which coincidentally was the day she died, has been eliciting a sad memory of her legacies, particularly as it appears that her performance at the National Agency for Food and Administration and Control, where she held sway as the Director-General from 2001 to 2008, is yet to be replicated, let alone surpassed.
According to Anselm Iwuoha, were Akunyili to be alive and still in the business of consumer protection, she would have brought all the experiences gained from each passing World Food Safety Day since 2019 to bear in Nigeria for the benefit of consumers across all sectors of the economy.
From what Financial Street gathered about her performance as NAFDAC DG, Iwuoha could not have been wrong, as her exploits in consumer protection still resonates in the minds of many Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora. Interestingly, individuals and institutions documented her legacies.
Online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has this to say about the late amazon, “Akunyili had a special motivation for attacking the country’s counterfeit drug problem because, in 1988, she had watched her 21-year-old sister die after taking injections of fake insulin as part of regular diabetes treatment. She put together a team of mostly female pharmacists and inspectors and started a war against counterfeit drugs that saw many open-air medicine markets across the country closed down, including one in Kano State, after her officers confiscated £140,000 worth of fake drugs.
“The agency, under her leadership, broadcast jingles on radio and television to make the public aware of the dangers of substandard drugs and to encourage people to report suspicious drugs, while also publishing list of counterfeit products regularly in the newspapers.”
Fighting food poisoning
At a time, there was increase in food poisoning in the country, with many Nigerians ignorant of the silent killer. Akunyili, in her determination to nip the lethal trend in the bud, consistently, as the DG of NAFDAC, warned Nigerians to shun imported noodles, especially those from Indonesia, which she said were health risks.
She was, in the same vein, reported to have publicly tasted suspected poisonous beans, in the bid to douse tension among the consuming public who were at the time eschewing the purchase and consumption of beans across markets.
While eulogising her on the heel of receiving award from the Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, where she was celebrated as a role model at the school’s 43rd anniversary, the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, described her as “a brand for a brand new Nigeria,” adding that her name epitomised fairness, justice, equality, selfless service, determination, courage and patriotism.
None like Akunyili
At this juncture, it is expedient to say that since she died, the question that has been on the lips of many consumers is, who will sustain Akunyili’s legacy in the field of consumer protection? However, given extant realities in the country, answer to the question would be far-fetched, as consumers are far from being protected from adulterated foods.
There is no denying the fact that the reason her name continues to resonate, even years after she quit the stage, is that she came at a time fake drugs and adulterated foods were causing destruction in the lives of many. The situation was so deplorable at the time that consumers had no one to hold accountable in the face of dubious business men wreaking havoc in the homes of many.
Fortunately enough for the consumers, her appointment as the DG of NAFDAC unprecedentedly changed the situation for good in the sector, as fake products started disappearing from chemists, fake food manufacturers started running away and pharmacies without proper licence started disappearing, while quacks in the drugs industry went with the wind, and thus consumers heaved sigh of relief.
Sadly, given her stance towards the sanitisation of the food and drug markets, dubious business people, whose only intention was to kill consumers, tried to kill the legend on several occasions, but failed until her time came.
Today, the war on fake drugs continues, but consumers must ever remain grateful to a woman, a legend and a queen who stood up against fake drugs and food manufacturers.
Those that knew her then would recall that she would always admonish consumers, particularly when shown on national television, “Fake drugs and adulterated food products are not good for your health. Do not self-medicate. Always visit a good hospital.”
She stood up against all the evil people in the drug business for the good of our society.
Unfortunately, every June 7, when the World Food Safety Day is marked, her legacies always elicit a sad memory, particularly as no Nigerian, male or female, has been able to come close to her performance at NAFDAC.
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