Raymond Okokoh is the outgoing national president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS) and a graduating pharmacy student of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Enugu State. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the Ebonyi indigene reveals the achievements and challenges of his administration. He also discloses reasons for the annulment of the national elections of the incoming national executives, as well as why the PSN should be more involved in pharmacy education. Excerpts:
Raymond Okokoh is the outgoing national president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS) and a graduating pharmacy student of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Enugu State. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the Ebonyi indigene reveals the achievements and challenges of his administration. He also discloses reasons for the annulment of the national elections of the incoming national executives, as well as why the PSN should be more involved in pharmacy education. Excerpts:ne year on, how has it been so far as PANS national president?
As the saying goes, no matter how bad the economy of the jungle is, the lion can never eat grass. Although we could not achieve much, the little we achieved is worth mentioning so as to serve as a benchmark for our successors. Under our administration, the PANS Anthem was given a new tune and was produced in compact disc plates so that all pharmacy students could have and sing it properly.
Additionally, the NEROS Pharmacy Tournament was established in honour of NEROS Pharmaceuticals Limited, and the tremendous support received from the company made this year’s convention a success.
We also had the inauguration of the Anti-Drug Misuse and Abuse Programme (ADMAP) in most pharmacy schools in Nigeria. ADMAP is a technical arm of PANS charged with the responsibility of enlightening the public on the hazards associated with illicit drug trafficking and abuse. Moreover, PANS was also able to form an alliance with the Nigerian Association of Pharmacy Students, Eastern Mediterranean University (NAPS-EMU) Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, Turkey.
In addition, we procured the following equipment for the association: A laptop, printer-scanner-photocopier, first aid kits, and a complete football team kit. That aside, PANS was also well represented for the first time with two delegates at the 4th African Pharmaceutical Symposium in Rwanda and six delegates from Nigeria made it to the 61st International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) World Congress in India.
Also, we gained our status as full members of the IPSF after a short presentation during the General Assembly in India; while one of us in PANS, Aniekan Ekpenyong, became the secretary of the African Regional Office.
While we are putting everything in place to bid for the hosting rights of the 2018 edition of the African Pharmaceutical Symposium in Nigeria, let me quickly say that we also had a successful hosting of the 40th annual national conference of PANS, which was held here in UNN.
Looking back at your tenure, what would you say are your regrets?
Well, I would not say I have nothing to regret. It is quite unfortunate that though my fellow executive members and I had many good plans for PANS, we did not have adequate resources to implement many of the plans.
How would you asses the contribution of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) to the development of pharmacy education in the country?
I think the impact of the PSN is felt more in pharmacy practice than it is in pharmacy education, although there are areas where the PSN has contributed immensely to the development of pharmacy education – especially the push for the transition of the pharmacy curriculum from the B.Pharm to the Pharm.D programme at the entry-level.
However, there is need for the PSN to look into other areas. These include involving students in their activities so that they (the students) can start learning right from school, especially since the survival of the profession is not dependent on mere intellectual abilities but also the values and politics involved in the society at large, which can only be learnt from interactive sesions.
Therefore, I would recommend that the PSN should be more involved in the development of pharmacy education so that pharmacy practice would equally develop.
What grey areas in the pharmacy profession do you think the PSN president and other stakeholders need to address urgently?
One of such areas is the issue of pharmacists being restricted to a single job at a time. I think this policy should be amended because we are having shortages of pharmacists in the country and this has given patent medicine dealers the opportunity to hijack the practice from the professionals. The policies guiding pharmacy practice in Nigeria are not very favourable. For instance, while medical doctors work in government hospitals and at the same time operate their private clinics, pharmacy lecturers are prevented from opening a community pharmacy shop, which is not fair enough.
With the way things are going, pharmacists in this country are not really in charge of drugs. Therefore the PSN and other stakeholders should look into this area critically and amend some of the policies limiting pharmacists from excelling in the society
What in your own opinion are the major challenges facing pharmacy education in Nigeria?
The number of lecturers in our pharmacy schools is grossly inadequate. The pharmacy schools themselves are too few, considering the population of students and the pharmaceutical needs of the populace. Also some of the schools are still using out-dated equipment for learning. Pharmacy education needs to give both theoretical and practical training that focuses on the development of professional competencies and confidence in the provision of evidence-based products and services.
What do you think the government can do to improve the situation?
Government should employ more lecturers into pharmacy schools and equip the laboratories to enhance easy translation of theoretical knowledge into practical work. What the society needs now are not just professional pharmacists but practising pharmacists. Government should also create more pharmacy schools in the country’s universities. The demand for pharmaceutical services is above the supply and this is as a result of the limited number of schools offering pharmacy degree programme in the country.
Why did you cancel the last national elections held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK)?
The elections were truly conducted by the National Liaison Officer but there were several petitions against the elections, the major emphasis being that the provisions of the electoral guidelines were breached. Secondly, some provisions of the PANS national constitution on election processes were not met; and thirdly, most of the senior students were on their Industrial Training programme when the elections were conducted and those students saw it as disenfranchisement.
Therefore, based on the evidences provided to the PANS National Executive Council (NEC) by the petitioners, and in a bid to allow fairness and justice to prevail, the elections were deemed not free and fair enough and consequently annulled. The NEC, headed by me, rescheduled the elections to hold when the school (UNIZIK) resumes for the next session. At that time, the electoral guidelines will be religiously adhered to.
How do you feel being the national president under whose administration the elections which should have produced a new leadership were cancelled?
Well, I feel sad that the elections were found wanting to the point of annulment, as funds, time and energy have been wasted in the process. However, on the other hand, it is a sign that the executive council has zero tolerance for corruption and injustice.
In PANS, dedication and honesty is our watchword; so the cancellation of the election results was not a personal decision but a decision taken in the interest of the association. We assure that a leadership that all pharmacy students will have confidence in will soon be instituted.