Cecilia Ihuoma Igwilo: First Female Professor of Pharmacy in West Africa

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Prof. Cecilia Ihuoma Igwilo

The name, Prof. Cecilia Ihuoma Igwilo, rings a loud bell in the West African Pharmacy community, as it is synonymous with great accomplishments from long years of laborious and dedicated service to the profession and humanity. Her feats from various leadership capacities, held from the University of Ife (UNIFE) and the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to the West African Pharmaceutical Federation/West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP) attest to her extraordinary record as the first female professor of Pharmacy in West Africa.

Inspiration to study Pharmacy
As a very observant secondary school girl who had been forced to relocate to the village with her parents, due to the uncertainties brought by the Nigerian Civil War then, she discovered the gap in healthcare delivery as people had to travel several miles on foot to access care from a poorly equipped primary healthcare centre or from a patent medicine dealer.

Her ambition continued to bud, as she closely admired a distant relation, who was a pharmacist, from a neighbouring village, who also returned home at the time. According to her, “He had stocked some medicines in his house in the village, and many of the sick relatives that visited him received some medications and fully recovered after a few days.”
In fact, there were some critically ill persons that were literally carried to his house and within days, they went about their normal duties. “I would ponder over this man’s profession for many hours in the middle of the night and the honour people accorded him. Thus, I desired to be enlisted in his profession”, she enthused.

As soon as the war ended, she returned to complete her secondary education at the Owerri Girls Secondary School in 1970 and later sat for the West African School Certificate Examination in 1971, making grade 1 with distinction. (She had previously been awarded Eastern Region of Nigeria Secondary School Scholarship in 1966 for pupils that passed with distinction in the First School Leaving Certificate Examination).

Thereafter, she went for her Lower Six in Higher School in Queen’s School, Enugu in 1973, and lo and behold, her dream to study Pharmacy became a reality, as she gained admission to the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. She obtained her B. Pharm. Degree with First Class honours in 1977. Soon after, she obtained a master’s degree in Pharmaceutics from the same institution. At the University of Ife, she had both the Federal Government Scholarship for undergraduate studies and the University of Ife Scholarship.
Igwilo served in the National Youth Service Corps in Kwara State in 1978/79 and won both the Kwara State Award and the Chairman’s Award of National Youth Service Corps in 1979. She thereafter proceeded to Chelsea College, University of London in 1980 with Federal Government Scholarship for postgraduate studies and obtained her Ph.D in Pharmacy in 1983.

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Impactful leadership at UNILAG
Igwilo became acting head of the Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharm. Tech in 1993, a position that afforded her the opportunity to leverage the goodwill of prominent pharmaceutical companies to the benefit of pharmacy students and UNILAG at large. Companies like Emzor, Pfizer, and May & Baker, donated generously to the development of academic research in terms of chemicals, materials and other laboratory equipment that were no longer in use in their facilities.

She rose to the position of the dean of the School of Pharmacy in 2001, as the first female dean. Not only was she able to help to elevate the status of the school to become a faculty but she also, through her amiable personality, further connected the faculty to the pharmaceutical industry. She was able to secure the assistance of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) under the late Director General, Prof. Dora Akunyili, in equipping the dean’s office with modern computers and printers. This facilitated the computerisation of faculty results, which were hitherto manually calculated.
Also, under her watch, the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) was approved by the Senate of the University of Lagos for the Faculty of Pharmacy. She also served as the chairman of the College of Medicine, Postgraduate Medical Committee, which processes postgraduate matters to the School of Postgraduate Studies, University of Lagos.

Landmark achievements at UNILAG
Beyond Pharmacy, evidences of Igwilo’s assiduousness abound in other programmes of UNILAG. Appointed as director, Academic Planning Unit, in 2006 for a four-year tenure, she worked tirelessly to achieve full accreditation status for almost all the programmes of the university at that time. Due to her uncommon resourcefulness, she was retained for an additional two years, therefore working under three vice-chancellors: the late Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe; Prof. Tolu Odugbemi and the late Prof. Adetokunbo Babatunde Sofoluwe.

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The Inaugural Lecture titled, “The Journey of Pharmaceutical Formulations in Nigeria, delivered by this Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy in September 2011 was very outstanding”. Her static and dynamic slide presentations as well as video clips revolutionised the standard of inaugural lectures in the University of Lagos. A Professor of Law (Prof. Akin Oyebode) exclaimed after her inaugural lecture that she had raised the bar in the mode of inaugural lecture presentation in the University of Lagos.

The diligent Igwilo was appointed director, Foundation Programmes, by the then vice-chancellor, the late Prof. A.B. Sofoluwe, in 2012; an office she dutifully manned along with her team to generate substantial income for the university. This spurred a change of name from Foundation Programmes to School of Foundation Studies. Again, her commitment brought the university Federal Government’s approval for the establishment of Joint Universities Preliminary Examination Board (JUPEB), with several other federal, state and private universities as stakeholders.

More recently, in 2019, she secured the donation of millions of naira worth equipment for the university from May and Baker Plc. They are: ADEPT Double Rotary 4 Station GMP Model Compression machine and a set of Plan B Punches and BB Dies.

Accelerated promotion to professorship
As noted earlier, Igwilo completed her Ph.D. in Pharmacy from the Chelsea College, University of London, in 1983, and she has since supervised about 15 Ph.D. students, within the Faculty of Pharmacy alone, aside from other collaborative works in other institutions.

Customarily, progression in academia is from Lecturer II to Lecturer I, then Senior Lecturer, to Associate Professor (Reader) and finally to full Professor. However, Igwilo’s rise to professorship was outstanding, as she enjoyed double elevation from the post of senior lecturer to full professor of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology in 1994. This gave her an edge over her senior colleagues in becoming the first female professor of Pharmacy in West Africa.

In 2005, the Federal Government of Nigeria specially recognised her, leading to her conferment with the award of the Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) in 2005. Also, following her numerous contributions in advancing knowledge and distinctive services, the University of Lagos conferred on her the prestigious honour of Distinguished Professor of UNILAG in 2017.

Presidency of WAPCP
Back in the days when lecturers usually chose prestigious institutions for their sabbatical leave, Distinguished Prof. Igwilo had to sacrifice her only sabbatical leave to assist with the transitional process at the West African Pharmaceutical Federation, which offers no financial benefits as such. Being the executive secretary, ad interim, then, she did all she could to navigate a progress path for the Federation.

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Eventually, her efforts yielded positive results, as the Assembly of Health Minister of the West African Health Community approved the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP) as one of its colleges on 2 November 1999.
Igwilo further served the organisation in various capacities such as assistant secretary general, secretary general, executive secretary, editor-in -chief, chief examiner, chairman, Faculty of Drug Production and Quality Assurance, as well as second vice-president and first vice-president, with several achievements.

It was no surprise she later became president of WAPCP in May 2021, a post she still holds. She was also elected as the vice-president of ECOWAS Regional Council for Health Professionals Education in July 2021, the very first pharmacist ever to occupy that position. More interestingly is the fact that her leadership has set out to build a four-storey secretariat for the college, in addition to the Fellowship examinations in the areas of specialisation in Pharmacy already conducted in November 2021.

Admonition to women on leadership
As an outstanding lady pharmacist, married to a Petroleum Engineering Consultant, Dr H. Osita Igwilo, successful leadership for a woman is equivalent to a committed life to God, diligence at work and a peaceful home.

Igwilo, who through divine providence is blessed with four God-fearing children, son-in-law and grandchildren (with two daughters and her son-in-law being consultant medical doctors/forensic toxicologist, and two sons as engineers), emphasised the place of a peaceful home in a woman’s career, saying once this is in place, all other things will naturally fall in line with divine assistance.

She thus charged younger lady pharmacists to emulate the good qualities of excelling women in leadership, and put them to action for them to ascend the role of honour. She stated: “My counsel to women is primarily to be committed and dedicated to God, through the Lord Jesus. They should also work very hard to build their homes, maintaining the bond of peace and unity at home with their husbands, children, in-laws etc. Once the home is stable and peaceful and one has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, God adds increase to any little efforts made.”

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