President Goodluck Jonathan has urged public office holders to leave indelible marks that will speak for them after they are gone.
Mr. Jonathan also described the late Dora Akunyili as a public officer who distinguished herself through her achievements as Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC].
President Jonathan, who spoke at the requiem mass for Mrs. Akunyili at the Pro Cathedral Garki, Area 3, Abuja, on Tuesday, said he would have been sad if he had missed what he described as the last assignment in her honour, because of his just concluded visit to Germany.
Recalling his encounter with the late information minister when he was still the deputy governor of Bayelsa State, the President said, “At a time, we appreciated and encouraged those working at the centre, unlike today that media aides to governors abuse the President. She went into NAFDAC and changed the story of NAFDAC and now everybody knows about NAFDAC.”
According to him, although she held several positions, including Minister of Information and Communication under the late President Musa Yar’adua, her days at NAFDAC was the most remembered because of her service to the nation.
Describing Mrs. Akunyili as diligent, intelligent, extremely patriotic, extremely brave, the President urged Nigerians to emulate her, as whenever one is given opportunity “we must all serve”.
“Dora was a professor of medicine, at the public level she served in Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, NAFDAC and then minister,” Mr. Jonathan said. “Dora was more known as DG NAFDAC more than when she served as a minister. Most Nigerians knew Dora because of her service. So most of the offices we look for, anybody who has opportunity to serve we should all serve because what will endear you to people is not necessarily the office you hold but the service you render.
“As a Minister Dora was good we were very happy to work with her. She was diligent, intelligent, very forthright, and extremely patriotic and above all she was extremely brave and could say anything right or wrong and did not care whose ox is gored. That was Dora for you.
“She sought to protect the lives of Nigerians as DG of NAFDAC and never compromised as regards those who traffic fake drugs.
“One thing that endeared her to me is that, probably I’m one president that has worked with so many women. At times you noticed rivalry amongst women but with her you never noticed any rivalry.
“Today, our dear sister has left us but to my brother, her husband, as the Bishop has told us about the virtues of a good wife, you have to thank God you will get that respect as her husband because of her achievements.
“To my children, your mother was a very dynamic woman because her works and identity has given you what silver and gold cannot give you. Yes it might not translate to monetary rewards, but many will respect and want to assist you as her children because of her. We pray that those of us serving when we die people will respect our children because of our deeds like Dora. So you have to thank God for that.
“Let me thank the Akunyili family, the people of Anambra State, of course the people of Nigeria and the Nigerian women for which Dora was a role model, her dressing represented the Nigerian woman, her love, character, she is a lady that will hardly leave our memory. She is one of the few Nigerians that have made the whole country proud. I condole you all and may her soul rest in peace”.
In his speech, the husband of the late former minister, Chike Akunyili, who spoke on behalf of the family, recalled how Dora had demonstrated her true love for her country, both in words and deeds. He narrated an incident when Dora who was an American citizen, as a result of winning the American lottery, choose to drop her green card at the immigration post in the US when she was asked to choose to be either a US citizen or a Nigerian, after handing her diplomatic passport to be cleared.
Mrs. Akunyili described his wife as an elephant, and thanked the President and his wife for the comfort they offered him in his moment of grief, adding that the special valedictory session by the Federal Executive Council contributed in consoling him.
“When Dora died I saw the special FEC session in her honour; that helped me in my grief. When I also had the opportunity to meet the President in his office, he held my hands and comforted with kind words, he said “give me any date for Dora, I will be there and today he is here. Dorothy is an elephant and if I start talking about her, we will not leave. We went to Florida, and there at the immigration, they told her look you are an American citizen (because she won the lottery and that was what favoured us). And here you are you have a Nigerian diplomatic passport, you must surrender one. She used her left hand to drop her green card and retained her diplomatic passport. So you can see the level of her love for this country.
“Once in her local government, they brought a trailer load of fertilisers, what did Dorothy do? She shared all to the community. They told her that this was not how it is done and she said, this is how it will be done. Even as a professor, if you see her in the home, she will hold water for me to wash my hand. And I will tell her, mummy you are a professor and she will say, I married Nkem before I became a professor”.
“One day we went for medical check-up and we found a lump at her lower abdomen. Doctors said she had seven months. But she said, you are not the husband I married, you are always dejected what happened? And I told her that the doctors said she had seven months to live. She said doctors have spoken, God has not spoken, and seven months became two years and three months. I want to thank our children, they were always there contributing what they could. We had contact with all the best medical doctors in the world because three of her children are doctors in US.
“Dora had a message for this country it was a message of love, courage and steadfastness. Even when she was in pain she still went to the national conference. You all heard what she said at the conference that a country grows great when old men plant trees, whose shade they will not live to enjoy. She told me, “I will serve this country with the last drop of her blood.” Many did not want her to go because of her health, she said she will go to the conference. She said Nigeria first and me second.”
In his sermon at the mass, Matthew Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, said funerals should be one of the proudest moments for Christians because it was a reminder between Christianity and every other religion in the world.
“This is not to compare Christianity to other religions but to tell us why we are Christians. The reality of funerals is as Jesus demonstrated to us that tears is part of our emotions as He wept for his friend, Lazarus. St. Paul admonished us in Romans 13 that men and women should work in the light because it would soon be daylight. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what set Christianity apart from other religions.
”We know that Jesus went and back, is that simple act that Christians believe that death is the beginning of new life. We should pay attention to the legacy she left by the way she used the gifts that she had. The Bible says happy is husband of a good wife, it illustrates the qualities of women. The reason why Nigerians mourn Dora, is not because of the contracts she gave but she had the ability to see the future. Your encounter with her was not ordinary.
“In politics, public life, family, she demonstrated indeed that power was not everything and that power comes from God. But to some of us when we pray that the will of God be done we are simply saying your will correspond to ours on earth. That is why we have a lot of violence in politics. She demonstrated to us that public life can be an opportunity to be noble.
“When we surrender our lives to God, He has a way of turning it around to something we never can imagine. She left a legacy for her family and children will be proud of. We will go to heaven not because of the extra ordinary things we do in life but the simple things we do extraordinarily. She did ordinary things in extra ordinary manner. When we live with good people, we tend to take so many things for granted. Her struggle will never be in vain. May God grant peace to our country”.
The first reading was taken by one of Mrs Akunyili’s daughters while one of her sons took the second reading.
Notable amongst the personalities at the mass were the First Lady, Patience Jonathan, Former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, members of the National Assembly, members of the Federal Executive Council, Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark, Andy Uba, Stella Okoli, former ministers, Pauline Tallen, Odein Ajumogobia, Olusola Obada among others.