About one hundred years ago, Jacob Sogboyega Odulate, a young chemist and drug maker in Sapon area of Abeokuta, made a discovery that transformed the healthcare industry in West Africa. Odulate (fondly called Blessed Jacob by his friends), had nursed a dream of establishing the first indigenous pharmaceutical product in Nigeria for years. In 1918, while working in his laboratory, which also served as his office and consulting room, Odulate, with the assistance of his wife and children, formulated the famous Alabukun Powder to treat multiple ailments, which affected some of his patients.
As already noted, Odulate’s revolutionary formulation didn’t come by chance; it took many years of hard work and apprenticeship under the renowned pharmacist Dr Sapara, under whom he acquired the basic knowledge of making curative products. Alabukun Powder, whose ingredients were sourced both locally in Nigeria and in Liverpool, UK, was made of 760 mg of acetylsalicylic acid and 60 mg of caffeine, making a total of 820 mg in each sachet. It is known to be effective in the treatment of migraine, toothache, sore throat, neuralgias, myocardial infarction, transluminal angioplasty, ischaemic attacks and prevention of blood clots.
Alabukun, which is another name for God in Yoruba means “The Giver of Grace”. Its enduring success over the years is intertwined into the fabric and history of Nigeria’s healthcare industry.
The impact of this innovative and potent patent medicine was unprecedented, as it turned out to be a huge success as soon as it was introduced into the market. A major reason for its popularity was because it was relatively cheap and handy, making it affordable to local consumers.
While most pharmaceutical products that have endured over the years have had to rely on advertising to stay afloat in consumers’ minds, Alabukun Powder has been an exception to this rule. It has endured in the Nigerian and indeed the West African pharmaceutical market for more than a century with little advertising.
According to reports, information about the drug was spread by word of mouth involving consumers who attested to its effectiveness and affordability. As a result, many drug shops were encouraged to recommend it as a treatment for cold, pain, feverishness and headache. Alabukun has been fondly referred to as “gbogbonise”, or a “a drug that cures all ailment,” especially by Yoruba-speaking Nigerians. Its rising popularity among local consumers in South-west Nigeria at that time stimulated its quick spread to other parts of the country and to neighbouring countries in the West African region.
Chief Jacob Shogboyega Odulate was born in 1884 to the polygamous family of Pa Odulate in Ikorodu, Lagos. He stopped schooling at the young age of 12 and moved to Abeokuta, Ogun state, at the age of 14 in search of greener pastures. According to an account by his oldest surviving daughter – Chief (Mrs) Stella O. Odesanya, MFR – the young Odulate trekked from his hometown in Ikorodu, Lagos all the way to Abeokuta on foot for three months. It was in Abeokuta he met Doctor Sapara and volunteered to be his apprentice.
After serving Dr Sapara for many years, Blessed Jacob moved on to establish his patent medicine supply store in Sapon area of Abeokuta, which was a short walking distance from his future three-storey landmark home in Ijemo Agbadu, Abeokuta.
From the proceeds of the sale of Alabukun Powder, Alabukun Mentholine and other drug products he made, Odulate was able to sponsor his children to some of the best universities abroad at that time to further their education. One after the other, his children went off to study at Durham, Newcastle, USA and London to qualify as educationists, medical doctors, lawyers and engineers.
One of his children, Chief Mrs Folanke Solanke, was Nigeria’s first female lawyer and first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In 1966, she established the first law firm to be owned by a Nigerian woman and called it Alabukun Chambers to honour her father’s legacy.
One of his granddaughters name Toyin Odulate is following his entrepreneurial legacy. She is the founder of Olori Cosmetics, an African-themed beauty company dealing in hair, bath and body care products.
Despite Blessed Jacob’s demise in 1962 around the age of 78, he continues to be remembered for his landmark contribution to healthcare in Nigeria. This year, 2018, his family, friends and well-wishers are celebrating the 100th anniversary of his legacy – The Alabukun Powder.
“The happy life of a pioneer” by Chief (Mrs) Stella O. Odesanya, MFR – Nigerian Tribune Newspaper
“Reaching for the Stars” an autobiography of Chief Folake Solanke SAN.