August 28, 2014 – How I Met Dora Akunyili & Why She Dropped Her US Green Card For Nigerian Diplomatic Passport – Husband
Dora Akunyili’s widower, Dr Chike Akunyili has described his wife, as an accomplished Nigerian whose good deeds speak for her.
In explaining the preparation for his wife’s burial, Akunyili stated that people were calling in from across the world to identify with the deceased, owing to what she did for Nigeria and humanity. In this interview, he talked about his wife and others.
We want to know how far you have gone with the arrangements for the burial of your wife, Prof. Dora Akunyili?
We have gone far with the arrangement because Dora, you know, was a very thorough person, very painstaking person and we have arranged sitting positions; you can see even the state government is concerned, even the Federal Government; they are concerned. Many Nigerians, many people, keep phoning in, even from America, everywhere and it is very interesting to know that good name is really better than riches.
Dora has died but you can see her name is flying very high because of what she did for Nigeria, the immensity of her love for the country is very touching. And when I look back to see that there was a time she was going to America and they saw she had a diplomatic passport and they said, ‘Madam, you have a green card and the same time a diplomatic passport, you must give up one; immediately, she didn’t waste time, she dropped her American Green card for Nigerian Diplomatic Passport and she had no qualms about that. She said she wouldn’t trade in Nigeria for anything and that was how she gave up her green card. So, I’ve now seen, that love for her country people are concerned. Many people are coming, wanting to know what they would do, you can see the chairman of the local government, town union; our former governor has been very active; the present governor has been very active, their wives, everybody, members of the House, everybody is involved; they want to know what to do. Even from Aso Rock, our dear lovely president, Goodluck Jonathan, and everybody is showing immense concern. Also, different governors, Rochas Okorocha, other governors, everybody is concerned, wanting to make sure Dora is given a very befitting burial.
What were her last outings like and developments after her demise?
I thank her. I thank her for what she did for Nigeria, her love for this country, very immense, very great. I thank God that I followed her to the Confab because many people dissuaded her from going but Dora said ‘‘Daddy, anything that concerns Nigeria burns in me. My heart burns with anything Nigeria, that I will go to the Confab.’’ Thank God, at the Confab, you saw the speech she made; it resonated at the four walls of the Confab and there was a very big ovation after she spoke. See what she said: ‘‘I leave you with this Greek proverb: ‘A country is great when its old men plant trees, which shade they know they will never enjoy.’”
Telling Nigerians that we must care for our future generation, we must care for our youths, we must think about them, we must plant trees that will shade them; we must make a better environment for them, Dora is just simply awesome. Since she died, every arrangement has been smooth-sailing. If I want to see somebody in my mind, the next moment, I will see that person and there have been many instances of that. How the thing happens, I do not know. Like, I came into my house and I said oh, I will paint this place because it is dirty but how do I see my painter, Mr. Ugwu? I haven’t seen him for a long time. Do you know, two people came in and one of them was Mr. Ugwu. How do you explain it?
Our lovely Bishop Hillary Okeke will come to say the evening mass; that’s the wake keep mass here. I said okay, I don’t have a table, I need to construct a very good table but where do I see Patrick Obiora, a very good cabinet maker, I haven’t seen him for years, he may be somewhere in Kaduna. I was just pondering about this and my phone rang, I picked it and it was Patrick Obiorah that was calling. The other time I came in, I didn’t have any money. I told my son, look, I need some Naira so that I can go back to Enugu. He said never mind. While I was saying that, my phone rang; it was this lovely lady, Iyom Josephine Anenih. She asked: ‘Chike, where are you? I said I was in Abuja. She said: ‘Look, I have some money that belongs to Dora, do I come and drop it with you?’
There have been many instances like that since she died, whoever has the explanation to these things, let the person come and tell me. All I know is that her spirit is happy with everything going on, in everything we are doing… If I want to see a particular Bishop, the next moment, that Bishop will call. Whenever I go to the Anglican Church, there is a song I normally hear, nani olu anyi luru ka ageji na elota anyi, meaning that we will be remembered for the work we did; now that song has a lot of meaning to me, from what Dora has done. Whatever you do, good name is better than riches. People thought that she was stupid when she returned money during the PTF time, but you can see that the deed opened many doors.
Dora would always tell you the truth no matter what; she would never lie to you. Even at the time when we went to India, at a time she said, ‘daddy, give me that medicine you used to give me,’ and I said, ‘you know, in India, I am not a doctor, I am a husband to a patient, I shouldn’t give you anything.’ She said, ‘no give me;’ so I gave her the tablet and she calmed. Do you know in the morning when doctors came on ward round, after the ward round, she said ‘oh, I forgot, my husband gave me a tablet last night o.’ I said, ‘mummy, why should you tell them that,’ she said: ‘do you want me to lie? I have to tell them the truth.’ This will tell you the extent she could go to say the truth. She believed in saying the truth. She knew that when you had good leaders, the country would be good, and she started that programme of ‘Good People, Great Nation.’ Now, we are playing with that slogan but do you know when we were in India, we saw many billboards with the same logo, “Good People, Great Nation.” If you analyse that statement, it is very punchy, if we are all good, this nation will be great.
What would you say about Nigerians’ concern over her death?
It has been great. When we landed at the airport, the outpouring of love and emotion made me to contain my grief. When we landed at the tarmac, I saw Peter Obi. I was touched. I said, ‘our Excellency, you came and saw us in India and now you are here at the tarmac. I didn’t tell you we were coming back.’ He said, ‘do you know for eight years I was governor of Anambra, Dora was the only one, who would look you in the eyes and tell you, governor, this is wrong, Your Excellency, this is bad, stop doing this one. She had the courage to tell you the truth; others would come and say you are wonderful, even if you shit in the street but Dora would tell you the truth.’ He promised to play every role in her burial.
We must have courage to say the truth and show love to our fellow men and love of God. Dora would always see God in everybody and she is very prayerful. So, I thank God for her life.
Knowing what she stood for, is there anything the family is doing to keep the fire burning?
There is already a Dora Foundation to fight fake drugs and they have already started doing something in Bayelsa State. We hope to reenergise it, reinvigorate it and even do more for Dora. Dora is just like an enigma. If you go to Igbinedion University, their Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences is named after Professor Dora Akunyili, and the biggest hostel in that school too is named after Dora. If you come to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, the biggest female hostel there is named after Dora Akunyili. Even the Women Development Centre in Abuja, their hall is named after Dora Akunyili. We hope that many more people will come to realise her importance. This is somebody who did not spare anything to show her love for this country and she was ready to really sacrifice her life to show her love for this country. So, whatever people do to immortalise her is very good. On our own part, we are going to do whatever is possible and follow up on the ones she initiated, including Paul and Grace Foundation, which she used to carter for the poor in Enugu.
If you recalled, before you married her, did you see some of these her traits?
When I married her, I just saw her as very intelligent. Do you know how I met her for the first time? It was through this same act of kindness. I was sick and she came for a vacation job at the UNTH, and they told us that Pharmacists were naughty and nasty, and if you go to beg for drugs they would insult you. I went in and I just told her: ‘Please, I am not well; I have malaria. Can you give me some drugs?’
Oh, she was very kind, very wonderful and I called her out and told her that people used to give us wrong impression about pharmacists but that she was different. She smiled and we started chatting. By the time I told her my name, she shrugged and asked if I was in anyway related to Akunyili Josephine? I said yes. She said Josephine was her college mother. She asked where Josephine was and I told her she was in Coal Camp (Enugu).
The next day, she went to Coal Camp, and instead of seeing Josephine, she saw my dad. That was the only day my father didn’t go to the market. My father chatted with her and phoned me to say she saw a girl, who was wonderful and had all the qualities in this world. He stated that although I was still in the university, I could marry this girl and my future would be great. He did not know we had met. I said okay, that he should invite her again. That day, I came and Dora came. My father asked about my impression. To marry her took only three weeks. And everything that my father predicted came to pass. Until my father died, we allowed him to enjoy the illusion that he was the one that saw Dorothy for me. He never knew we had met before and two of us kept that secret from him.
You need to see Dorothy and my dad or Dorothy and my mum. They would laugh from inside the heart; they loved her so much and she was loved by many people. Don’t you see the whole Nigeria? In the North, people call her sister. In the South, in the West, everywhere it’s the same.
She is a bridge builder. She had friends all over the country. I wish many Nigerians would be like that. Nigeria would be a great country. Dora is a darling to northerners, southerners, easterners, once you are a human being and a Nigerian, Dora would love you. She didn’t believe in cleavage lines and division between the rich and the poor.
In our house, there is one gateman, Ejike. Dora noticed a lot of intelligence in this guy and she employed him as house cleaner. From being the house cleaner, Ejike became the cook, and from being the cook, Dora trained him to university level. And today, Ejike is an accountant in NAFDAC. He is in charge of Owerri zone. And he still comes every weekend to the house.
Dora had done that to a many people; she has inspired many people and trained many people. Dora was just like an elephant. I don’t know where to stop. I can talk about Dora for the next four hours, not to talk of what she had done for many churches. Once anything pertained to God, she didn’t look back; she could give you even her last kobo, once it is something about God.
Finally, how has it been since after her death?
It hasn’t been easy; you saw me crying when former Governor Obi’s wife, Mrs. Margaret Obi, came. Once I see people, who are intimate with her… It will take me time to get over Dora. Dora was a professor but when she passed food for me, she would hold water for me to wash my hands.
I would tell her to allow another person do that but she would say, ‘no; I was Chike’s wife before becoming a professor.’ If you came to our house and Dora was at home, nobody would tell you because everybody would be happy. She has a pet name for everybody.