Chimezie Valentine Okoye is the president of Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra State. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Okoye recounts his unusual journey into the pharmacy programme, as well as the state of pharmacy education in UNIZIK and Nigeria as a whole. Excerpts
Would you say choosing to study Pharmacy has been a good decision for you?
The truth is that there were many circumstances surrounding my choice of pharmacy as a course. In fact, I didn’t actually make the choice ab initio, because in all my high school days, my dream had been to be a lawyer. That was why I opted to be an art student; I didn’t even do science-related courses in my secondary school. However, when I got to SS3, my dad advised me, based on the recommendation of one of my uncles in the United Kingdom who had promised that I was going to further my university education in the UK, to change to a science course. Although it was difficult at the beginning, glory be to God that I finally changed.
My dream again drifted toward studying Medicine, until after my first JAMB exam, when another of my uncles, an engineer, advised me to take up Pharmacy rather than Medicine. I took to the advice and I don’t think I have regrets for taking up this course today. So, I can confidently say that studying Pharmacy has not just been a good, but a wonderful decision for me.
At what point did you decide to contest for PANS-UNIZIK president position and what prompted the decision?
When I got admission into Pharmacy, I didn’t want to engage myself in any extracurricular activities, including PANS politics. The reason was that I thought I had already wasted time and needed no more distractions. However, I later found out that there were more reasons to get involved in such activities as they help to prepare one for the outside world. No matter how you want to interpret it, politics can never be separated from any system in the world, especially in areas of policy making.
I saw the need for pharmacists to be directly involved in Nigerian politics to influence some of the policies which are unfavourable to the profession.
What are your achievements and challenges as the number one pharmacy student in UNIZIK?
I understood too well that the association had financial challenges; so, during my manifesto presentation, I didn’t promise things that would require huge capital which I might not be able to achieve. I concentrated more on issues affecting the students directly, like bridging the gap between them and the lecturers. Today, students can comfortably walk up to their individual staff advisers and discuss their academic challenges and ways to make better grades. Also, timetables for exams and quizzes now come out in time, giving the students enough time to prepare for the task ahead.
Before now, PANS-UNIZIK had never attended PANS national convention with the school bus, but we made it possible. We went with a comfortable coaster bus to OAU’s Synergy 2017. Again, I tried uniting our front as a student body by securing an office in the faculty which is now serving as PANS secretariat where all issues concerning the association can be deliberated on. I also made the association have huge relevance in the university by pressuring the SUG to create an office “Directorate of Health” which will be zoned and domiciled permanently in the faculty.
As for the challenges, they might not seem obvious to observers, but it is actually difficult mediating between students and lecturers and so on. Also, combining academic works with the official presidential duties is very tedious.
We really have to walk the extra mile in order to meet up with the 50 per cent pass grade or even 60 per cent in some courses.
What are the specific challenges facing pharmacy education in UNIZIK?
I can’t say we don’t have challenges in the academic system because there is no pharmacy school in Nigeria that does not have its own. We are in Nigeria and we know how much the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari values education. However, the 2017 August ASUU strike affected us. We know that they (ASUU members) are actually striking for our good; but when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. So, I hope it wouldn’t repeat itself if there is proper educational policy reform in place.
The Faculty of Pharmacy, UNIZIK, was established about 10 years ago and has produced over 300 graduands. Compared to other schools of pharmacy that started earlier, how would you assess pharmacy education in UNIZIK?
Pharmacy education in UNIZIK is indeed so wonderful and it is second to none in the country because of the pace at which we are growing, trying to meet up with our vision of becoming the number one pharmacy school in Africa.
Thanks to people like Prof.I C Uzochukwu, the dean of the faculty, Prof. C. O. Esimone, the DVC academics who’s also from the faculty and other lecturers and staff who are working day and night to make the faculty the number we desire it to be. Also, we say thanks to our benefactors like Dr Ifeanyi Okoye, the chief executive officer, Juhel Pharmaceuticals Limited, and other well-meaning individuals that identify with us from time to time.
What is the level of support PANS-UNIZIK is receiving from technical bodies like the PSN and the ACPN in Anambra state?
In my administration, I haven’t received any direct support from them; but I know that as our mother bodies, they have the roles and oversight functions which are statutory and they have been doing that.
Where do you see PANS-UNIZIK, by the time you will be leaving office as the president?
By the time I would leaving office, I hope to see a PANS with a unified front, boisterous with a louder voice and energised with aluta spirit.