(By Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis)
When Pharm. Israel Adesanmi Popoola was elected as chairman of Board of Fellows (BOF) at the PSN Annual Conference in November 2012, not many pharmacists thought he would be willing to accept the mantle of leadership. The managing director of Reals Pharmaceuticals has been described by many as a taciturn fellow, who prefers to work behind the scenes. However, one year into his tenure, Pharm. Popoola has indeed proven that he is up to the task. In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, the pharmacist bares his mind on some mind-boggling challenges facing the board and his journey so far.
How do you view your election as chairman, Board of Fellows?
I see my election as another opportunity to serve the profession. I have had the privilege to serve it in various ways. Assuming the position of the BOF chairman will afford me the opportunity to bring in fresh impetus to the board. The objectives of the board are ourmain focus. It will also be a continuation of conflict resolution. Those are the things that our administration will be focusing on.
What are your plans to move the board forward?
Basically, one of the plans to move the board forward is to engage all stakeholders in the profession,such that the BOF is not seen as being in conflict with the leadership of the PSN. It isthe elites that should distinguish members of a society, and I believe we should be positioned as well so that pharmacy, as a profession, will move forward, rather than moving from one complaint to the other. I am glad to have made that my primary focus.
How many of those plans have you achieved so far?
Well… basically, the two-pronged plans have been to resolve the conflict within the profession. All stakeholders are now talking to one another and striving to find acommon front to achieve such goals.
What are the challenges of running such a prestigious body as Board of Fellows?
The major challenge has been the misconception on the role of the board. The forefathers had an idea of whatthe board should be made to do but it keeps changing over the years. The board is supposed to be the leader of the profession and in every society, leaders should have a position. Putting them in those positions should be our focus. These should include the current leaders of the PSN and the only way you can achieve this is not by force. Because there is no course of law that can give us what we need, it is a matter of association – Imean by persuasion and engaging them, so that we do not end up opening old wounds. It is very important that the elders mind the way we communicate because the issue of communication, too, also plays a key role. Secondly, there is the issue of privileges and honours that we give to Fellows. When you are made a Fellow, there are privileges that should be accorded. We are still engaging others to ensure these privileges are granted. The only area where we start with parts of these privileges will be at the conference andat our various programmes, where Fellows will be given their place of honour.
The biggest challenge of every organisation comes from funding. How have you been coping?
I agree. Funding is really a major challenge. As we settle down, we hope to engage more of those who have been supporting us. We want to use our coverage programme at the national conference to lay more emphasis on this and get more funds to run the programmes of the society. The issue I met on ground indicated that only few people pay their subscription. Some because they are too old to be productive and, as a result, there is no inflow for them to pay; others because they just don’t want to. But in all, I think the way forward is to engage them and let them understand the reason why they should pay. That shouldn’t be an issue. No doubt, we met some funds when we (executives) came on-board. So, we need to build on that. We are not supposed to reduce the financial capacity of the board. We should be seen as elders, elites and distinguished members of the PSN. The moment you start competing with the PSN for space, there will be conflict.
How active are the Fellows, in terms of attendance and support?
The Board of Fellows’ attendance and support at activities is not more than 40 per cent. What we want to do is to make sure that we engage more. If possible, give a call to them to attend programmes. In the areas where they have financial challenges, that is understandable. Because the more people you have, the more expenses you incur. Some might not be able to fund some appeals, it is understandable. There is no way the board can pay your fare and accommodation when you are coming for conference. That must be done individually.
What does it take to be a PSN Fellow?
The number one rule is that you have to be a pharmacist and must have put in a minimum number of years into the practice of profession, whether as an industrial practitioner, as a community pharmacist or even in academia. You need to be seen practising ethically and be an active participant in all PSN-organised activities. You cannot be hiding, not contributing anything and come up one day, indicating interest in becoming a Fellow. This activity we are talking about has to start from your local PSN branch. And when you also have some outstanding contributions to the society– maybe you are made a minister, senator or top government official. These are some of the things that bring the profession of pharmacy to the forefront. They are things we consider for fellowship of the PSN.
Are there situations that can warrant the board stripping a pharmacist of his Fellowship?
I need to be clear on something here. Fellowship is an honour granted by the PSN. But when you act dishonourably, the society has a right to strip you of your Fellowship. This is not a new thing, as we have done it twice in the past.
There were complaints in the past about the hosting of the annual PSN Conference, especially as regards venue. What is your view?
If truth has to be told, only two cities have the capacity to conveniently and comfortably host the conference –Lagos and Abuja. The facilities they have in these areas, in terms of venue capacity, hotels and exhibition grounds, are world class. However, we don’t want people to be seeing it as a Lagos and Abuja thing only; that was why we agreed that it should be spread over. Now when people start saying that it has turned to jamboree, I wonder where they got that from. Coming to meet your colleagues and exchanging views on topical issues; these are what we do at the conference. There are things that concern us that we need to meet and deliberate on, from different perspectives. When we need to take a position on issues bordering on our profession, we need to come together. It is not all the time the president will take a position on our behalf. We need to make our stance known, too. I don’t see the conference as a jamboree. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to come together and have a fresh look at our profession.
How prepared is the Board of Fellows for the forthcoming conference?
How prepared is a work in progress? Until a week to the event, I wouldn’t tell you how far we have gone. One thing I can say is that Fellows have assured us that they are coming.