The annals of Nigerian academia are short of female vice-chancellors, except for the few exceptional women who have distinguished themselves against all odds to attain the topmost position. There was the popular Prof. Grace Alele-Williams of University of Benin (UNIBEN), who emerged the first female vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university, in 1985. There is Prof. Lillian Salami, also of UNIBEN. There was Prof. Florence Obi, of University of Calabar (UNICAL). There was Prof. Nnenna Oti, of Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). There was Prof. Ibiyemi Bello, of Lagos State University (LASU). There is Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, of University of Lagos (UNILAG). And, most notably, there is Prof. Chinedum Peace Babalola, of Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Ogun State – the first lady pharmacist to attain such an enviable record.
Babalola’s case is particularly remarkable because she has also blazed many other trails on her career path – such that she is known as “the woman of many firsts”. Having become a registered pharmacist in 1984, she was one of the first few women to become a professor of Pharmacy in Nigeria. Indeed, she was the first female professor of Pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. She was the first female dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan. She was the first female director of studies for the University of Ibadan. She was the first female pharmacist inducted as Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Science – the highest scientific award in Nigeria. She was also the first female Nigerian inducted as Fellow, African Academy of Sciences.
Motivation to study Pharmacy
Born into the family of Sir (Dr) Isaac Ebere and the late Lady Adeline Anyabuike, who hailed from Imo State, Prof. Babalola got the basic push for a science-oriented path from her parents. Asked why she chose Pharmacy, in particular, she reminisced: “My parents believed in education. My mum was a disciplinarian to the core. She gave me a strong mathematics foundation that I needed for science, while I was in secondary school. I became a science student and then fell in love with Pharmacy.”
She continued: “I obtained a Bachelor of Pharmacy from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in 1983. I later obtained a master’s in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 1987 and a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 1997 at the same institution. I embarked on a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, in 1995.”
In 2012, Babalola completed her postgraduate diploma in Advanced Industrial Pharmacy Training (IPAT), jointly from Kilimanjaro School of Pharmacy, Tanzania; and Purdue University, USA.
Milestone achievements in academia, healthcare
Prof. Babalola began her lecturing and research career as a junior trainee Fellow, at the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, OAU, in 1985. She joined the University of Ibadan in 1998, as a senior lecturer, a year after she received her PhD from OAU.
In 2003, Babalola became an associate professor, after which she was promoted to full professor in 2006. She served as the head of department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and director of General Studies Programme, where she introduced a new course module – Drugs and Mankind – for all the undergraduate students of Pharmacy.
In 2015, UCH Ibadan appointed Babalola as a specialist/consultant, making her the first pharmacist to be so appointed by any tertiary hospital in Nigeria alongside being an adjunct professor at the College of Medicine, UI. Serving two terms as the seventh dean of Faculty of Pharmacy between 2013 and 2017, Babalola achieved two main agendas, among others. These were the undergraduate curriculum review and the building of a sophisticated laboratory complex for the Faculty.
Babalola’s research interest focuses majorly on pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics, pharmaceutical analysis, pharmacogenetics and bioethics as tools for studying drug disposition in Nigerians, in order to guide therapeutic optimisation in Africans. Her research has revealed significant drug-drug interactions between antimalarials and antibiotics, with significant reduction in antibiotic levels, which calls for dose adjustment. She and co-authors reported the first pharmacogenetic study in Nigerians (healthy and sickle cell patients). She co-conducted one of the largest pharmacogenetic/pharmacovigilance studies on sulpha drugs in over 1,000 healthy and HIV/AIDS infected Nigerians.
Concerning her most remarkable contribution to healthcare in Africa and as the woman leading pharmacogenetics in Nigeria, Babalola said, “As a principal investigator, we won a MacArthur Foundation US$1 million grant to set up a Centre of Excellence – Centre for Drug Discovery Development and Production (CDDDP) in 2012. CDDDP was set up to empower Africans to make and regulate their medicines. The centre has built capacity in Nigeria and has up to six new pharmaceutical products awaiting approval.
“The main thing we have done is to bridge the gap between academic institutions, medicine, and drug development. Today, we have three anti-COVID products.”
During her tenure in UI, not only did she introduce a course component, but she was known as an agent of change. Her innovative acumen propelled her to introduce a number of initiatives, including the malpractice-free processing of examination, which the school adopted as post-UTME screening process till date.
Medals of recognition for impactful leadership
In attestation to her meritorious contributions to healthcare and academia leadership, Babalola has bagged over 25 fellowships, awards, and grants across the globe. In 2016, she was selected as one of 10 most influential female scientists in Nigeria. She was also selected as the only African member, Strategy Working Group (SWG), joint Committee of International Council for Science (ICSU) and International Social Science Council (ISSC) in France.
In 2018, she emerged winner of the May & Baker Professional Service Award in Pharmacy. In 2019, as she won the prestigious African Union Kwame Nkrumah Regional Awards for Scientific Excellence Programme. She has also bagged several grants, including the German Academic Exchange Service, as well as the World Bank and MacArthur Grant.
Since she became a professor, she has supervised hundreds of undergraduate students and over 50 postgraduate students (PGD, MSC, M. Phil &PhD). She has published over 120 scholarly articles in reputable academic journals as well as books, book chapters, conference abstracts and monographs.
Message to aspiring professional women
An accomplished Babalola, who is happily married to Venerable Collins Olufemi Babalola, of Ibadan Anglican Diocese, urges young lady pharmacists and other professional women, aspiring to reach the zenith of their career, to be undaunted and persevering in the face of challenges. According to her, only women with a resolute mindset and determination can break through the barriers to get to the top.
She also emphasised the place of a supportive spouse for a promising professional woman, saying there is no substitute for this, if she would excel in her chosen filled. She said: “I have been mentoring several female professionals. I encourage them to persevere in the face of adversity to succeed. If you intend to marry, take your time and choose a man who will support you. If I did not have a supportive husband, I would not be able to achieve these things.
“I encourage young women to collaborate with those better than themselves in research to learn from them how to apply for grants. Go ahead and apply for grants. Don’t give up, if you fail. With determination and God on your side, you will make it.”