The name, Oludolapo Ibukun Akinkugbe, is one that commands reverence in the Nigerian healthcare industry – particularly among pharmacists – and rightly so. He was the pioneer general secretary of the defunct Nigerian Union of Pharmacists (NUP) and currently the oldest former president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN).
He brought international recognition to the PSN when he was invited to serve on the Council and Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association (CPA). He was also a member of the Pharmacy Board which was then a regulatory body for the profession. He has worked as a hospital pharmacist, representative of retail and wholesale pharmacies and in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. He was the first Nigerian chairman of Procter and Gamble Nigeria Plc., as well as being a former chairman of Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline). He was also the founding director of Palm Chemist and Spectrum Books in Ibadan.
Chief Oludolapo Ibukun Akinkugbe, who once declared in an interview with Pharmanews, “I was destined to be a pharmacist”, was born in Ondo town, on 5 December 1928, to a renowned druggist father who qualified as a chemist in 1919. As a teenager, his initial ambition was to study Medicine, while his father wanted him to go into the Holy Orders of Priesthood after his secondary education at Ondo Boys High School. However, shortly after his graduation in December 1945, He was offered a teaching job in the same school while awaiting his Cambridge Certificate Examination result.
At one time, he went with three of his teaching colleagues to Lagos in search of other opportunities. While there, they heard that the entrance examination into the School of Pharmacy in Yaba was being held and they decided to take a chance. Their applications were nearly late but they managed to be admitted for the exams. Only 12 slots were available for admission that year and, as fate would have it, Akinkugbe was the only one among the four friends who scaled through. He considered himself lucky to be offered admission, particularly because he thought it would give him the opportunity to study Physics and Chemistry which were not offered in his secondary school and would enhance his prospects for admission into a medical school.
After completing his first year at the School of Pharmacy, he was offered admission into Trinity College, Dublin, which was the only university he applied to for Medicine. But he could not accept the offer due to financial constraints It was at that point that he knew he had to complete his training as a pharmacist. However, this disappointment offered him another opportunity to remain in a career which he would eventually enjoy.
Chief Akinkugbe started his professional career working in the dispensary at the General Hospital on Broad Street, Lagos, which was the only teaching hospital for medical doctors in Nigeria as at that time. After one year, he was drafted to the central medical stores with headquarters adjacent to the General Hospital. It was while doing this job in 1950 that his colleagues requested him to accept the position of general secretary of the Nigerian Union of Pharmacists (NUP) which was a trade union of pharmacists in the civil service.
His exploits as NUP secretary general brought him into limelight early in his career. He was part of the revolution that advocated for the review of remuneration and other conditions of service for pharmacists from the central government. The successful presentation by the NUP led to substantial improvements in the remuneration and conditions of service for pharmacists all over Nigeria.
When Chief Akinkugbe left the civil service for the private sector, he was offered a job at Morrison, Son and Jones West Africa Limited, which was the representative of Burrows Wellcome, Evans Medical, Ward Blenkinsop, Lederle Laboratories and a few others in West Africa. Following the scrapping of NUP, he became a member of the PSN which is an umbrella body for both pharmacists in public and private sectors. In 1953 he was asked to be secretary of the PSN because of his feats at the NUP, although he was barely 25 years of age.
Interestingly, a year before this, Chief Akinkugbe had ventured into pharmacy business in with the establishment of Palm Chemists Ltd – an incorporated company with limited liability. The pharmacy was located on Victoria Street in Lagos. After struggling for two years with limited success, he decided to relocate the business to Ibadan which was becoming more cosmopolitan because of the siting of the University College, Ibadan (Nigeria’s first university campus, now University of Ibadan).
Palm Chemists became an instant success because of its suitable location at New Court Road close to the premises of many multinational companies at that time. The pharmacy was also reputed for its innovative approach, both in presentation of premises, range of stock, the courtesy of staff and good managerial skills.
From then on, the man behind the pharmacy has risen to become an icon in the healthcare industry, a consummate entrepreneur, and a worthy role model for present and future generations of Nigerians.