In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Pharm. Ebenezer Adeyeye Adeleke, FPSN, a former chairman of PSN Board of Fellows and national treasurer of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), goes down memory lane on the activities of the PSN, including the struggle pharmacists put up before the government officially upgraded them to Scale A salary structure. He also disclosed why he thinks convicted drug counterfeiters should be treated as armed robbers. Excerpts:
What was your childhood like?
I finished my primary school in 1957. I later went to Titcombe College for my secondary school, Egbe, Kogi State. Subsequently I went to Plateau State for my higher school certificate in Gindiri Secondary School for two years. I taught for some time and later moved to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1966 after I got admission to study Pharmacy on Northern Nigerian government’s scholarship. Before then, Ife used to be known as the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. I had my honours degree in June 1970.
What was your work experience like?
I started work as an intern pharmacist at State Hospital, Abeokuta, from June 1970 to June 1971. There was no youth corps programme during our time. After my internship, I got employment with Nicholas Laboratory at Ilupeju as a medical representative. I rose to become the marketing manager. In those days, things were quite good. We finished our examinations on Friday and start work the following Monday even before the results were released. It was as simple as that. The chief pharmacist of the Western State just came to us and announced that anybody who wanted to work with the Western state should put down their names. From there, they allocated us to different towns. I was sent to Abeokuta, some to Ijebu Ode, and so on. When the exams results came, those who were unsuccessful returned to the school.
Is it true that the School of Pharmacy, University of Ife, wasn’t a degree awarding institution?
The school of Pharmacy started at Yaba where Chemists and Druggist diploma was awarded. Thereafter it moved to Ife where Diploma in Pharmacy was awarded. However the school changed to a degree awarding institution and produced its first graduates in 1966.
What was people’s impression of Pharmacy during your time?
At that time, Pharmacy was looked upon as a very noble profession. When we were in school, we walked with our shoulders high and we were highly respected. While other students were playing, we were often going about in our laboratory coats. Also, to gain admission to study Pharmacy was not easy at all. To breakthrough, you had to be very well above average.
Do you have any regret studying Pharmacy as a course?
In truth, I have not regretted studying Pharmacy at all. To date, pharmacists still have an edge when they are looking for employment anywhere. It is a professional course. If anybody wants to study Pharmacy, I will always encourage him.
One thing I know is that there is no profession without challenges. The feeling is that the grass is greener on the other side. I once met a medical doctor who wished he had studied Pharmacy because he thought we didn’t have challenges. Whereas I knew we had our own challenges. Two of my children are medical doctors and I know they have their own challenges too. Various professions, of course, have their various challenges. In summary, I will say Pharmacy is still a good course
Tell us about controversies and scandals during your time
Pharmacy practice has been faced with challenges –the gradual movement from diploma course in dispensary training to moving on to chemists and druggists level. I remember the School of Pharmacy in Zaria. The school went on strike in 1967 because, although the training was free and the students were fairly treated, they (the students) felt that they needed to pursue a degree course instead of diploma. So the school was closed down. That was a real challenge. With time, however, the degree programme came.
What about the challenges you encountered during the clamour for Scale A salary struggle?
The scheme that pharmacists were running then was CT Scale (technical grade) which obviously wasn’t the same with those on Scale. A salary structure (degree holders’ scale). It was a serious struggle for pharmacists to move up from CT Scale to Scale A. Can you imagine? Pharmacists who had three A-Levels and had gone to the university to study and on completion of course were not entitled to Scale A; whereas other students who didn’t have three papers would gain admission and come out with a degree and would be on Scale A. How would you feel? It was a serious struggle.
Eventually, we achieved the needed Scale A recognition. My set was the first to receive Scale A salary month by month. The set before us got theirs in arrears. That was in the Western States. The East was luckier because they got their Scale A before others across the country.
What is your view about the frequent face-off between doctors and other healthcare workers, especially pharmacists?
The issue of rivalry between doctors and pharmacists has always been there. It didn’t just start today. Yet, it should be that when you are under the firmament of the sky, you note that there is room for everybody. There is no need whatsoever to start proving to the other that you are superior. My feeling is that the patient is your focus. Make your own contribution to the health of the patient and I will make mine. But if the professionals stand aloof and each one argues, you know the saying that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. It is the country that will suffer the consequences more than anything at the end of the day.
I believe the country has spent a lot of resources and money to train all these professionals. So the best thing we can do for this country is do our best. We should learn to live with one another for the improvement of the citizenry. When we fail to do that, we have failed. It doesn’t matter whether we are laboratory scientists or pharmacists, doctors, radiographers, radiologists etc. No, we have failed totally.
Is there a role the government can play in this direction?
Pharmacists are not fully fulfilled. When you consider the level of education they have and what they are practising. The gap is a bit wide. Let us also consider the issue of recognition by the government. There is no need to give preferential treatment to one profession at the expense of others. The government should create the necessary environment. Because the environment is not conducive, many of our colleagues have moved out in droves to America, the United Kingdom and other countries abroad. Some of those still in the country have been forced to change professions and they are doing well. The sort of training we have received is that you can raise your head anywhere you may be.
How best do you think the issue of drug counterfeiting can be handled?
The issue of charlatans, people who have little care for professionalism, is another headache. The essence is just to make money. You have forgotten that drug is special commodity. It is just like a double-edged sword. You can use it wisely to attack enemy and you can use wrongly to attack yourself. If care is not taken, you can kill your neighbour. A good use of the sword is to attack the enemy. But if you misuse it and start killing yourself, it is pitiable.
Drugs are not commonplace items. You still find people selling drugs around, not creating the enabling environment. Some are exposed to the sun, adverse effects and other weather conditions which people are largely ignorant about. Once somebody is able to speak well – a lady who is not even properly educated can just sweet-talk you and you just start buying her products. It is just a chaotic situation. We still have problems with distribution of drugs, problem of faking and so on.
What should be done to dissuade people from faking drugs?
To me, those who fake drugs should have the same punishment as those burglars and armed robbers who go about killing people. They should not be treated with kid gloves. There was a time I was in a place to buy a drug. When I saw the place in which it was kept, I told them, “This drug is meant to be kept in a refrigerator.” The man in charge looked at me and said “Oga, wait! I will quickly put it in the fridge and it will get cold. Then you can take it.” That is the level of ignorance in which we find ourselves
How do you see the annual PSN national conferences?
It has provided a forum where we look at challenges and possible solutions. It is a place where seasoned speakers are also invited. It has also provided a forum where elections are held. This last one was an experiment by elongating it by a further day. I am not sure whether it has gone well with many people. But I remember the last one that was held at Akwa Ibom. Many people left before the end of the conference.
What do you think was responsible?
Maybe many of them were not fully ready to sacrifice an additional day. So the PSN should look into that and see how to marry things together. It is not easy seeking solutions to problems and having many topics without enough time for relaxations. Or to find out whether these professionals will be ready to sacrifice an additional day. There must be a balance. Unless the organisers will make the features so attractive that people wouldn’t find an additional day boring.
Anyway I still think it was an experiment. They will make some trials and then see whether it can work or not. I will never subscribe to people saying that the annual conference is not useful or has lost focus. I had been the chairman of the conference planning committee years ago when I was highly involved. Now I think it is even more complex. Fortunately, the computer age has come in and they have been able to get in touch more, getting the day-to-day activities done, preparing for the conference, and even when the conference is on-going, getting across to participants, etc. I can say during my time when I was chairman of the organising committee, it was like analogue. Everything has now gone digital. Getting in touch with participants was quite stressful. In fact there were some days even the phone would not work. You then start writing letters, some would receive, some won’t. But right now, you just press buttons and everything is right there in their palms. And I specially commend the chairmen of these conference committees.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
When I was in secondary school, I had a fall and two of my teeth were broken. So it became necessary for me to visit a dentist. After some time, I was so fascinated with his office, appearance, dressing – everywhere was sparkling white so much that I told myself this was one profession I would like to do. He left a lasting impression on me that I said I would like to study dental surgery. But, in the end, I opted for Pharmacy.
How deeply involved were you in pharmaceutical activities?
My interest in pharmaceutical activities developed during our school’s Pharmacy Week where we got orientation about what the profession was all about, what we should prepare for, what our lot was when we finished and so on. It was then I knew that pharmacy graduates were not placed on Scale A and I wasn’t happy about it. Since then, I had developed a keen interest and my pharmacy struggle started.
How did you end up becoming PSN treasurer?
Immediately I started work, I had a boss who took an interest in me. Whenever they were going to PSN meetings, he took me along. On one of the occasions, there was an election. There and then, I was elected financial secretary. That was in 1972. I held on for two years before becoming state treasurer. I then moved on to become national treasurer in 1977 and occupied same office for seven years. Then I came back to the Lagos State branch and got elected as vice chairman. The new salary scale that came almost pitched pharmacists and doctors at the same level, except that the doctors were two steps ahead. It was during the tenure of Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti that the doctors carved a new scale for themselves. During my time, I called several conferences where I commended those ministers who were doing well and scolded those who were not. At that time, there was a Commissioner for Health in Kwara State whom doctors stood against simply because he wasn’t a doctor. They regarded him as a square peg in a round hole. They were indeed very wrong.
Was the case resolved?
Yes.I fought against such stand saying that if he was being described as such, were they saying that just because somebody studied Pharmacy, he could no longer be a commissioner or minister? I told them the ministry of health should be viewed like the ministry of works where you had engineers, architect, surveyors and all sorts. The interesting thing is that any of them can rise to be a permanent secretary or a minister. Of course, we have had ministers of health from different professions. Aminu Kano was a minister of health, yet he did not study medicine. Dr. Adetoro, at a time, was minister of health, he too never read medicine. In UK for instance, they appoint lawyers as secretary for health. The same thing applies to the United States and other climes. I felt very happy when Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi became minister of health. Kafaru Tinubu was also minister of health but he never read medicine. He was a police commissioner.
Were there some major awards given to you in recognition of your selfless service?
Sure. When I presented my financial report in 1984 at the Benin conference in my capacity as the treasurer, the entire gathering was impressed and gave me a standing ovation. Anytime I remember that, I feel elated. That was the year I left voluntarily. In fact, there was no limit to the number of years you could spend in office as at that time. I was one of the longest serving treasurers. I was also among the first set of merit award recipients in Lagos State. In fact, we started the merit award itself in 1988. When the first set (ten of us) first compiled the list, some enraged notable members reported us to the national president that I was creating awards that were parallel with Fellowship awards.
Were you sanctioned?
No. I was not reprimanded because not all our people making contributions would be able to have Fellowship award. But it was obvious that they are making several contributions in their individual states. In 1991, I was given Fellowship award along with 24 other recipients at the Enugu conference. You know Fellowship award is the highest honour the PSN can give anybody. Lest I forget, I became the chairman of the PSN board of fellows (2003 – 2006).
I have served in various committees as chairman or secretary, whether it was building, finance conference or any other. I have represented the PSN on the Pharmacists Board (now PCN). Even in the PCN, I have served at various committees. For instance, I was chairman of the sub-committee in charge of the PCN secretariat in Idu, Abuja.