In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Samuel Lena Ugwumba, immediate past president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), UNIBEN chapter, reveals why he jettisoned his Aeronautical Engineering dream for Pharmacy, the challenge of hosting a contest like the Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi National Essay and Debate Competition and how prepared the planning committee is for this year’s edition. Excerpts:
Why did you drop your dream of studying Aeronautical Engineering for Pharmacy?
My teachers in secondary school said that I was quite brilliant and had a great flair for the sciences, especially Geography and Biology. In fact, I was the best-graduating student in my school and I can remember winning many trophies for my school at quiz competitions. I stayed at home for a while because I actually wanted to study Aeronautical Engineering but when it wasn’t forthcoming, I had to change my gear to Petrochemical Engineering. That, too, didn’t work out, so before I decided to go into the medical field, I didn’t really get to hear of a course like Pharmacy because in my all-boys secondary school, we often heard of Medicine, Law and Engineering; and most of the boys opted for Engineering, in order to show off their masculinity and not to look weak, with a few going for Medicine and Law. I didn’t really like Medicine (I am yet to find the reasons) neither did I want to be a lawyer because it wasn’t among my predilections.
When my preferred courses weren’t clicking, I decided to try Medicine but, behold, I met a friend prior to our Post-UME who told me virtually everything about Pharmacy and I had to quickly make the switch that landed me in the faculty of pharmacy, UNIBEN. But it might shock you to discover that Pharmacy was actually what God had planned for me to study because, the joy I later discovered in myself outweighed what I would have found in Aeronautical Engineering. The discovery that pharmacists are truly the number one health care practitioners (a status I had erroneously ascribed to medical doctors) given the fact that all that is used to treat patients in the hospitals and everywhere is produced and certified by pharmacists, amazed me.
So, being in Pharmacy, to me, is like God’s plan and I have enjoyed every bit of the training, though it is a very demanding course that would definitely toughen anyone that chooses to study it.
What made your administration conceive the maiden edition of Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi Essay and Debate Competition?
When I started my classes and was allocated a hostel space, I was lucky to have a member of the SUG parliament by name Ugochukwu Youngbill Unachukwu, who was my room-mate. We became very close and he used to take me to some of his political meetings. I believe that was when my interest in politics was kindled. Consequently, I became a parliamentarian in my faculty; after which I went up to SUG Parliament. I had the desire of running for SUG Presidency but I went back to my faculty where I served as the Public Relations Officer (PANS PRO) before emerging as the President in a keenly-contested election with my very good friend, Egwuche Jeremiah.
All the ideas I had birthed during my SUG involvements were test-run when the pharmacy students gave me the mandate to become their president. Consequently, in our bid to appreciate our patrons for their longstanding financial and moral support, and to recognise Nigerian pharmacists who had made us proud in their different niches, we came up with the Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi National Essay and Debate Competition, among other programmes that were featured during our 2014 Legacy Health Week, including the presentation of awards of excellence to distinguished pharmacists such as Pharm Olumide Akintayo (our able PSN President), Sir Anthony Akhimien (former PSN President), Pharm Nihimetu Llai Momodu, Sir Larry Ifebigh, Chief Osadolor, Pharm Paul Enebeli, Pharms Bukky George, Adeshina Opanubi, Damian Izuka, Prof Azuka Opara, Dr (Barr) Henry Okeri (PANS UNIBEN First Legal Adviser) and other great personalities too numerous to mention.
Basically, the idea behind the National Essay and Debate Competition being named after Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi was in recognition of his fatherly role to pharmacy students across the globe and equally to immortalise him as the founder of the foremost West African health journal, Pharmanews, which he has always made available to pharmacy students across Nigeria in order to sensitise them to the limitless opportunities in the profession.
Moreover, Sir Atueyi is one pharmacist that loves students and has often displayed that through the various financial and mentorship support schemes he has rendered to pharmacy students over the years. So, naming the competition after him was apt because there’s no other Nigerian pharmacist who is into pharmacojournalism, except Sir IfeanyiAtueyi.And because pharmacy students do not give posthumous honour, we decided to do it for him now that he’s very much alive so that the general public would realise that to be good always pays.
What were the challenges you encountered in organising the event?
One thing that has always defined the difference between the limitless ideas circulating is the constancy of challenges. Challenges are always there to actually test if you believe in what you have thought up in your mind. So, organising the maiden edition of the competition was not an easy task, especially when it has to do with pharmacy terrain where every little thing must assume some measure of difficulty before it can work. But I give God the glory whose words constantly kept me in shape, mentally and spiritually, during my administration. The challenges were too many but we were able to surmount them.
Among the tangible challenges were how to get Sir Atueyi to believe that it was an honour we meant and not some kind of fund-raising spree; getting pharmacy students across the nation to send in their various essays without having to come down to UNIBEN; getting the correct examiners for the essay, and the mode of grading; encoding and decoding the various essays before forwarding them to the examiners in order to be totally transparent without giving favour to anyone; as well as providing enough accommodation and feeding for all the pharmacy students across the nation who would be coming down to UNIBEN for the debate.
The one that nearly weighed down our Legacy team was how to effectively publicise the competitions in time, so that no school would feel being marginalised and how to get them to submit the articles before the deadline. I must confess that we had to continually shift the deadline to make up for late submissions.
Time will not permit me to acknowledge all who made the programme work but I wouldn’t forget the inputs of Pharm.(Dr) Saba Andrew, to whom I entrusted everything concerning the competition, and the careful manner he went about the whole organisation.
Why the choice of UNIBEN for hosting the maiden edition?
The choice of UNIBEN for hosting the competitions is not far-fetched. First, the idea originated from UNIBEN and we needed to test-run it properly, identify and make provisions for the challenges that might be faced in organising the programme in the future, make timely, accurate and precise recommendations, package and add some global nuances into it, create an enviable brand out of it, before smartly integrating it into the programmes of the national PANS especially during annual conventions.
Additionally, we needed to give the competition the ‘Pharm.D’ touch of excellence and uniqueness, having been the only institution in Nigeria and, hitherto, in sub-Saharan Africa (before Ghana) to run the Pharm.D programme successfully. PANS UNIBEN, under my administration, saw the emergence of great speakers and writers who needed a great platform to showcase their various talents. So, the University of Benin which is central to other pharmacy schools was considered the best location for hosting the programme.
How did you raise fund for such a programme?
Well, we didn’t really encounter any difficulty with raising the funds for the competitions because Sir Atueyi took up the responsibility of providing the take-off fund. Basically, we were only involved in logistics while Pharmanews sourced for the funds.
Meanwhile, I must not fail to acknowledge the magnanimous stance of Sir Atueyi who initiated the idea of rewarding the participants, though that was not in our original plan. We had wanted it to be completely an honour without any monetary bearings. After our discussion, he requested that I draw up a proposal for the competition which I did and submitted within a week because we were very close to our Health Week, and we wanted the maiden edition to be held during the Health Week.
The proposal was meant to be submitted to companies so that they could be part of the competition and it was awesome seeing the likes of Shalina Healthcare, Greenlife Pharmaceuticals and Afrab-Chem Industries sending their representatives with overwhelming souvenirs and other corporate materials needed to make the competition a huge success. Aside that, the Pharmanews’ crew was equally around to cover the events which saw the University of Benin and the Olabisi Onabanjo University compete in the debate series since the contingent from Igbinedion University, Okada, came after the debate had been concluded.
I must also state that the short period within which the competition was organised affected the funds raised and, by extension, the prizes we had earlier budgeted for the winning participants. However, we are elated that the programmewas, to say the least, were successful,given the short period within which it was organised.
What is the plan for this year’s edition like?
Well, this year’s edition promises to be better organised than the maiden edition. Actually, we intended to integrate it fully into PANS National activities as I earlier stated; but we noticed that some grey areas needed to be clarified before packaging it for PANS National.
Also, one of the recommendations we had nursed about the programme was for its organisation to rotate among the Nigerian pharmacy schools so that each school would have the opportunity of a hosting-right, just the way PANS national secretariat moves from school to school. Actually, we have not fine-tuned all these recommendations and doing the second edition in UNIBEN will afford another chance to critically appraise the recommendations and come out with the best possible pattern of organisation.
Equally, we have begun radical sensitisation about the competitions and Pharmanews has agreed to use some of the pictures taken during the maiden edition to publicise the event. More schools are expected, especially for the debate and we are working on getting Sir Atueyi to be physically present during the second edition. We have settled the issue of accommodation and are working currently on getting a bigger venue, since we expect more schools to be in attendance.
This year’s edition will surely be the cream of the competitions. Television stations are going to be around to cover and air the event, apart from the regular crew of Pharmanews that would surely be around. On the prizes to be given out, we are reviewing upwardly the prizes for the various categories and so much more would definitely come around this time.
After school, what are your goals?
To start with, Samuel Lena is a very ambitious and goal-oriented person, always having the interest of the greater majority at heart. Having excelled in various key positions in PANS, SUG and JCI UNIBEN that culminated in my becoming the PANS President, I will definitely continue with rendering first-class services to my people after graduation. (I choose not to call it politics because of the bastardisation of the word).People should look out for my campaign posters in 2019 for Abia State House of Assembly where, with God’s help, we will be making laws that will turn around the fortunes of my state and by extension, the Nigerian society. I plan not to stop there as I believe so much that I will be the first pharmacist and Igbo man to be elected as Nigeria’s president.
Outside of politics, I plan to set up various kinds of foundations that will address the seemingly insurmountable problems bedeviling our society such as poverty, erosion of our values system and the spate of moral decadence, indiscipline and corruption; strengthening our cultural heritage, reviving our educational systems to be, at least, the best in Africa; as well as other kinds of humanitarian programmes