In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Chief (Sir) Rex Albert Obi Ezegbo, KSC, FPSN, managing director of Rex Chemists, Onitsha, takes a cursory look at the evolution of pharmacy practice from what it used to be during his day as a young pharmacist to the present time. Excerpts:
Tell us about your background
I attended CMS Central School, AkpakaogweOgidi, for my primary education and finished in 1949. Later, I gained admission into the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha (1950-1954))and passed the Senior Cambridge School Certificate Exam in Grade I in 1954.
How about your tertiary education?
I gained admission into (the then) Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology, lbadan to do Advanced Level Physics, Chemistry and Zoology for two years, and Pharmacy for three years. I did the programmes on full federal government scholarship (covering board, tuition, books, pocket money and transport). I passed the London GCE Advanced Level and Cambridge Higher School Certificates Exams in 1957 in Physics Chemistry and Zoology, respectively.
When did you become a full-fledged pharmacist?
That was in 1960 when I graduated after I finished studying my Pharmacy course for three years.
Were you involved in any form of extra-curricular activities in the course of your study?
Not exactly. But way back in the college, I was one of the student leaders. Also, I was a distinguished sportsman in high jump and 220 yards both at Dennis Memorial Grammar School and Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology. In fact, at a point I was honoured with the school colour in athletics (1954).
In retrospect, can you confidently say studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Looking back, I cannot fully say I have regrets whatsoever to have studied Pharmacy. This is because I am one of the most successful pharmacists in Nigeria today and I enjoyed the practice of pharmacy throughout my active years.
Tell us about your work experience after your graduation
My journey as a pharmacist after graduation in 1960 was quite eventful. I recall joining Glaxo Pharmaceutical Company (Nig.) Limited. In fact, I was the first Nigerian medical representative with Glaxo in Nigeria as at 1961. Later, I was promoted as eastern regional manager of Glaxo in 1970. I continued in that capacity until 1976, when I founded my own company – Rex Chemists Limited. Meanwhile, in the midst of these, I had the privilege to attend courses in England on management, sales, field/sales control and training in 1973.
How do you see today’s practice compared to your day?
What more can I say? There is no way you will compare the two without seeing differences. Pharmacy practice today appears more chaotic than in the past. In the past, only pharmacists imported drugs and those in retail practice enjoyed fully their 331/3per cent professional margin and so on. Those working as medical representatives worked with samples of drugs and promotional gifts. But today, all those are history.
Tell us more about controversies, scandals and other disturbing issues plaguing the practice that tend to evoke memories of the past.
Controversies have always pervaded the practice from time. We have had controversy from conflicts with patent medicine dealers, with doctors, and sometimes silent illicit acquiescence of officials of the Ministry of Health.
Tell us about some challenges facing Pharmacy practice in Nigeria and how they can be surmounted
The challenges facing the practice of pharmacy today are indeed numerous. They include selling of drugs in the open market and along the streets. Another is the importation of drugs by non-pharmacists and drug merchants indiscriminately and proliferation of patent medicine shops.
How do we curb the problems?
To curb the trend, the only solution is that the federal government should summon the courage and determination to close all open markets for drugs and clear out all patent medicine sheds in the market because those are areas where unwholesome activities go on. Let them be resettled along the roads like pharmacists where their address can be traced and their shops can be inspected.
How about fake drugs?
That is not our problem alone; fake drugs now exist all over the world. However in Nigeria,I believe it can be curbed by the measures suggested earlier. That is, closure of markets and patent medicine shops where they are hidden and are hardly inspected. Secondly, involving the countries of origin to inspect and certify products before shipment to Nigeria. The country of origin will have to set up a machinery at a fee to Nigeria, but will be held responsible if the drug is found wanting.
Over the years, you must have seen many PSN Presidents come and go. Was there one who really left a lasting impression on you?
Indeed I have seen many PSN presidents come and go. To be candid, none has made any lasting impression on me.
Are you serious?
Yes. Perhaps Pharm. OlumideAkintayomightbe an exception. He has not been on the seat for too long and I have not met him face-to-face, but he gives me the impression that he is a go-getter and a lion for work. Why I say he is a lion for work is because of his ability to galvanise other arms of health workers – nurses, laboratory scientists, radiographers, etc. to present a formidable force to the government.
How active were you in pharmaceutical activities?
I was involved in several pharmaceutical activities in the past. For the record, I was once a First Deputy President of PSN (National). At the community level, I was also a national chairman of NAGPP (now ACPN). Other posts I held were PSN chairman (New Anambra State); chairman, Committee on Fake Drugs (old PSN, Anambra State Branch) and chairman, Committee on Review of Rules and Regulations (old Anambra State).
Are there some major awards given to you in recognition of your selfless service?
Quite a handful, I must admit. They include: Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN, 1991); Knight of St. Christopher in Anglican Communion(KSC) in 1992; Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Sales management (FNISM) in 1996; and Honourary Life Vice-President of Onitsha Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (2001).
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
If I had failed to be a pharmacist which was my first choice, perhaps I would have striven to be a medical doctor or a mechanical engineer.
Is there any particular age when an active pharmacist should retire?
A pharmacist who wishes to start his own business should retire from whatever job of another person or organisation he is doing at the age of about 45 years when he is still left with reasonable energy. There is however no particular age when an active pharmacist should retire. His retirement age will be determined by the state of his health.
As an elder in the Pharmacy profession, what is your advice to young pharmacists?
My candid advice to young pharmacists is to work very hard and be honest in whatever organisation they find themselves. Infact, they should work as if that job is theirs. By so doing, they will develop the culture of hard work and industry. If and when they decide to start their own businesses,they are bound to maintain the same tempo of industry.