Arinze Awiligwe is a recent graduate of Pharmacy from the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He was president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS) in the 2012/2013 session and vice-president, PANS-UNILAG. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Awiligwe, who is presently a research intern with R20, a Swiss-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), spoke on some of the challenges that he encountered as PANS president, as well as some of the achievements of his administration. Excerpts:
Tell us about PANS
The Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS) was established in 1972 and, since then, it has been the foremost leading advocacy organisation of all pharmacy students in Nigeria. We are a group of pharmacy students with interest in promoting improved public health through provision of information, education, networking, and a range of publications and professional activities in the country.
Now that you’re out of office, do you still have any relationship with PANS?
Yes, by virtue of my positions then as president, PANS national, and vice-president, UNILAG Chapter, and with the support of the leadership of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) I was instrumental in the registration of PANS with the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF). As a result, I am recognised by the body. I am presently a part of the policy and public health committee of IPSF. It means I still participate actively in PANS and IPSF, directly or indirectly.
What were your greatest challenges as PANS National president?
One of my greatest challenges as president was having to work with people from diverse backgrounds and students from different schools. Even though we shared the common goal of upholding the constitution and fighting for the right of pharmacy students, it wasn’t easy as such as the diverse backgrounds we had prevented us from implementing many of our objectives. However, I am happy we were able to record some tremendous achievements and part of it was the successful registration of PANS with IPSF.
Also, we were able to create a meaningful network between pharmacy students and pharmaceutical companies, because we found out that one of the biggest challenges of young pharmacists was detachment between the old players in the industry and the incoming ones. Many young pharmacists graduate, do their internship and youth service, after which they develop little or no passion to go further in the profession because there is lack of network between them and the experienced ones. So we end up having young pharmacists who are merely driven by money, materials and things that are not really needed to progress in the profession.
As an individual, my greatest challenge was that of combining the responsibilities of being a national president with being a student. It was not easy but God saw us through.
How did you cope with the challenge of being a Lagos-based president who had to work with executives from other schools?
Actually, the goal of running a students’ association like PANS is to ensure that the interest of every member is protected and as well to ensure they all have a sense of belonging. It is clearly stated in the constitution that there must be rotation of presidency among pharmacy schools. It is also stated that if the national president comes from a particular school, the chapter president of that school automatically becomes the vice-president at the national level and same thing also applied to other chapters’ presidents. So no one is actually elected as vice-president. Also, the general secretary, as well as some key officers like treasurer and financial secretary, also comes from the same school as the national president, while the remaining positions are thrown open to other schools.
However, when I took over from my predecessor, we had the challenge of continuity as we didn’t have the platform to engage the incoming leaders into embracing the vision of our predecessors. In advanced countries, there is a programme called ‘Leadership in Training’ which allows the next set of leaders to be trained on the nitty-gritty of leadership position. We lack such here and that has been affecting the successive leaderships of the association, as every new administration that comes in has to start from the scratch. I really suggest that PANS improves on this and ensure that the succeeding executives learn from the outgoing leadership.
Also, each incoming leadership should be made to learn from the structure of our parent body, the PSN, as well as an international organisation like the IPSF. The two bodies have a lot in common.
One thing that I held as a priority during my administration was the importance of IPSF, because so many advanced countries that have partnered with this global organisation were able to learn so many things about best pharmacy practice and international pharmacy practice.
Some people believe you were too gentle to be an effective leader, what can you say about this?
I know so many great leaders who are not today categorised as being great based on their agility or loudness, so to say. I believe that there is a difference between a leader and a politician, because as a leader, you want to, as much as possible, carry everybody along, protect the interest of your members and ensure that the rules and regulations guiding the association are followed to the letter.
An association like PANS is not a business venture; it is a strong association that has made many marks and we want to maintain that culture of greatness. This is why I have remained who I am. My humility and gentleness cannot be confused with being cowardly or ineffective, even though there were disadvantages in this regard during my time as president as I devoted more time to listening to people before taking actions. That affected us a little because student unionism requires a lot of aggressiveness and agility which were not there on my part. Still, we had a fantastic administration as we achieved a lot within one year that we were in office.
How do you think PANS will benefit from IPSF?
Pharmacy students are in for a great time, because PANS is registered with IPSF on a national basis; that is, every university that is accredited in Nigeria is registered. Therefore, every pharmacy student in Nigeria is a potential member of IPSF and the benefits are immense. Membership will afford them networking opportunities, through social media and other means, with other pharmacy students that are also members of IPSF across the world.
Also, the IPSF national congress allows every member to relate and share ideas, exchange scientific knowledge, engage in meaningful discussion and also learn from one another. So it’s a two-way thing.
PANS also benefits through the adoption of IPSF methods in approaching pharmacy education and learning process.
What is your aspiration in life?
My aspiration in life is to constantly be a better person than I am, and to improve the life of everyone around me in the best possible way.