In this no-holds-barred interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Pharm. Lawrence Okwuchukwu Anyafulu, former deputy president of PSN(1977-1979) and chairman of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), East-Central State Branch from 1974 to 1977, explains some of the intrigues surrounding the issue of counterfeit medicine and why he thinks hospital pharmacists are not doing enough to help themselves.
Tell us a little about yourself, especially your early life
My early life was not spent in one place. My elementary education, for instance, was done in nearly eight schools due to frequent movements of my aunt whom I was staying with.
My first experience of what they called “school” was while I was in Okitipupa, Ondo State. I am not sure I spent up to six months there though. From there, we moved to Enugu where I had my primary one. I must have been in Enugu for about three years before we were transferred again to Nsukka. There I had my schooling up to class two. Shortly after, we went back to Enugu where I had classes two and three. Classes three, four and five were done in Warri, present day Delta State. I didn’t really finish Class five at Warri as we made a short stay in Kwale where I spent four months in another school. From there, my aunt moved again to Sapele where I attended Government College for my Standard 6 certificate.
I passed my common entrance and got admitted into Hussey College. The slogan, then, used to be “There is only one college in Warri – Hussey College and others.” At that time, the focus was to be educated, not just to pass exam.
So can we say that your education only stabilised when you got to Hussey College?
Yes. I must say that I had a nice time in the school which was doing well in the area of sports. There was a time we competed favourably with the likes of Government College, Kings College, St Gregory’s College and Igbobi. I was not just a school prefect but also an active footballer.
At that time too, I joined what was called “Anti-Graft Society, which had the slogan, “Don’t give bribe, don’t accept bribe and don’t abet bribe”. That Society also prepared the way for me to shun anything that has to do with corruption.
Tell us about your work experience
Immediately I left college, I had a brief stint working as a civil servant. I was asked to work with federal prisons as a clerk. I am not so sure but I think I spent like two to three years there before I resolved to further my studies instead of remaining a civil servant.
Why did you choose to study Pharmacy when you could have done any other science course?
At that time, my initial intention was to study Agriculture. That was perhaps because I come from an area where the people are predominantly into fishing and farming. So I believed that doing that might improve whatever area I eventually delved into. I later changed my mind and opted to study at the School of Pharmacy, Yaba, from 1956 to 1959. Some of my course mates were Fidelis Omiyi, Harry Ajagun, Emma Osuji, Sam Ejikeme, Ayo Adejoko, T. O. Daudu and William Ekpo. About four or five of us are now Fellows.
How did you end up working for a federal parastatal?
When I graduated, I thought of going to the East but it didn’t work out. So I started working with the federal government. My first official assignment was with Federal Hospital, Lagos. I was moved to Yaba dispensary where I worked for sometime before calling it quits. At the general hospital, I worked under Pharm. Ojomu and the likes of Lady Nylander, a very hardworking, jovial and strict lady. We were doing shifts and things were going on fine. Most of our mixtures, ranging from lotions to tonics were made there. We neither bought nor outsourced.
Tell us about some memorable controversies and intriguing events relating to the practice during your time
One of the major controversies we had then was on the issue of wages and salary structure for pharmacists in the country. We formed a strong union that was called Nigeria Union of Pharmacists (NUP) because we were not happy with the situation of things in the federal ministry. As the general secretary of the union, I had to travel to Ibadan to motivate and persuade them that there was hope. We went on agitating and subsequently called for industrial action at some point. But the federal government refused to back out saying we should quit if we were not contented. So we went on strike and were always resuming at Yaba to ensure everybody was in good health.
At that time, only one person showed interest in our activities and was steadily coming to encourage us from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology – Bruno Nwankwo (current chairman of PCN). It got so bad that, at a point, many pharmacists wanted to decamp and work in other sectors. I met with Andrew Egboh and Otobo and together we continued the struggle until Scale A salary structure was introduced to appease us. From there, I told myself I needed to move on, having tried enough to bring recognition to the profession.
Did you leave because the pressure was taking its toll on you?
No, it was a personal decision. After I left, I joined John Holt in 1965. Unlike now, it was formerly called West African Drug Company, which helped to train many of those great pharmacists such as IfeanyiAtueyi, Adebowale, the late BayoOgunyemi and myself. We were all made to change our mode of thinking to start seeing things like businessmen from all ramifications – marketing, sales, distribution, and so on. What this also means is that we were always travelling both within the country and abroad.
Tell us more about your involvement in pharmaceutical activities
As a secretary of NUP, I was elected member of the Pharmacy Board (now Pharmacists Council) from 1962 to 1965. After the civil war, I was made chairman of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), East-Central States, which comprises Enugu, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi and Anambra, from 1974 to 1977. Due to the vastness of the area, we had to zone it.
Imagine back then, we had only one pharmacist in Okigwe, Imo State. At a point, we were calling it a one-man zone. Let me say that it was during my era that PSN started functioning as an organised zone, in terms of income and attendance.
Did you record any notable achievement during your tenure?
I give glory to God because in my era, too, we were able to carry out the first raid on Onitsha market. Another notable person in our team then was the father of Dr. Joe Odumodu, present director general of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), who is also a pharmacist. This is why we are not surprised that “Young Joe”is equally doing well because we know his father’s DNA is still very much in him. The father was my senior by two years in school.
What was it like heading a multinational company as WAD?
It was a good experience. In my career at WAD, I started as a trainee manager but later climbed the wrung of the leadership ladder. I soon made it to senior manager, area manager, deputy managing director before I eventually became the MD. I was the first indigenous managing director in WAD for 10 years before I retired in 1990.
Is it true that you were once with the Lagos Chambers of Commerce?
Yes! I was chairman of the pharmaceutical group in Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry for 10 years until somebody else was elected. In fact, after I left, many people clamoured for me to come back but I declined. In 1979, I was made honourary life vice president, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
What was the profession like in your day compared to today’s practice?
As a member of Pharmacy Board, we were always discussing issues bordering on pharmacy practice and the country. We also deliberated on import and export duties as well as ways to improve. We also prepared our budgets and submitted to government through the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Among other things, we were very keen to know about importation of drugs in the country; what quantity was produced, how many were imported and produced locally. We set up a committee to look into fake drugs and the quality of products imported. I can remember vividly that the committee was chaired by Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa who was then with Pfizer.It was even then that we found out that the genuine drugs were not more than 10 per cent and that the fake constitute about 70 per cent. We discovered that a large chunk of the drugs made here were fake. We submitted the report to the government and, for many years, the report was what they acted on. We also enjoined that they used the opportunity to reactivate pharmaceutical research but unfortunately they were foot-dragging. So we raised money in the industry and started the research ourselves.
How are you enjoying life in retirement?
Well, what can I say? On my social life after retirement in 1990, I continued doing pharmacy business with some companies for 10 years and saw how things were going. Then I decided to slow down before I stopped. I don’t sell or trade as a pharmacist now. I just observe things, which I think is better for me.
Having worked 25 years with WAD, I think I have paid my dues. I am a member of some notable associations like the Rotary Club of Tin Can which I had to quit after sometime because of the distance and stress involved. I compensated by joining the Rotary Club of Lagos West which is nearer to me.
What was the profession like in your day compared to today’s practice?
The practice of Pharmacy wasn’t as porous as it is now. Patent medicine vendors were not as bold as they are now. I remember that we were always able to track the fake ones among them. In the 1970s, the best analgesic used in Nigeria was Buscodin. But it dawned on some people that they could make a kill of it. They imported the drug and were selling at half price. It became so worrisome that Mr. Pearce, the then managing director of Boots approached me. I was in Aba then being chairman of East-Central States. Pearce came all the way to see me in Aba.
Luckily, I was able to unravel the mystery throught the efforts of Amaikwu, Boots pharmacist, who helped to track down the culprits. He was also a pharmacist. So we brought in the police and rounded up the operation. The police came, saw the exhibits but were only able to take out one drum. When they returned, the remaining had disappeared. Mr Pearce was baffled but I reassured him the matter would be taken to court as a last resort.
So the first thing we did was to ensure the place was barred. But the suspects also changed their own names and the product label to another brand and continued to sell. When I observed how things were going, I told Mr. Pearce to allow them continue to sell it. Because even if we claimed those products were fake, they would be subjected to forensic test and the result of the laboratory test would decide that.
As I earlier said, they did not only change the name, the packaging too had undergone transformation. So it is a trend that will continue. It is a war that we can’t win completely. So this was our own little effort aimed at taming counterfeit medicine back then. There were times many of us were ambushed by cartels who saw us as perennial threats.
It appears you have a misgiving towards hospital pharmacists. Why?
I must say that pharmacists in hospital practice today appear to be in ice block. In our era, while I was working in Federal Ministry of Health, we initiated action. We went ahead and started something. When it was becoming too much for us, we invited in the PSN. I remember that some of the struggles we went through were complete stalemate. Who cares? It has always been between us and the government.
But the present pharmacists in federal and state employments fold their hands and want PSN to fight their battle. This is the major difference between the two. They should be able to initiate action. And if the heat becomes much, PSN can come in. It is wrong to always expect PSN to be the arrowhead of every struggle. That is my own advice.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, would you have opted for football where your youthful passion lies?
I wouldn’t have made it into any serious football club. So football couldn’t have been my choice. Surprisingly, being a member of Anti-Graft Society back in school, I thought I would have ended up as a policeman. But when my father heard it, he convinced me to think otherwise. Subsequently I dropped the idea because I learnt the police had too many enemies.
My hard-line stance on bribery didn’t really go down well with some people. I think having such background also helped a lot in pharmacy practice. Truth be told, if I were given the chance to start all over again, I would still be a pharmacist. What I have achieved today, quietly and peacefully, was due to Pharmacy. And I have personally observed that Pharmacy is improving year by year.