The incredible determination of Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi, which inspired the founding of Pharmanews, Nigeria’s leading health journal since 1979, has been eulogised by his close friends, with whom he shared the dream before it became a reality.
In separate exclusive interviews, Dr Philip O. Emafo, Atueyi’s former teacher and former federal chief pharmacist; Pharm. Eugene Okonkwo, former top executive of Glaxo Nigeria Ltd; and Professor Bona Anayochukwu Obiorah, eminent scholar and black Africa’s first professor of Pharmaceutical Technology, recounted with nostalgia, their earliest encounters with Sir Atueyi, at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), which then had its campus in Ibadan, western Nigeria.
The renowned pharmacists are unanimous in their reckoning that the Pharmanews publisher braved uncommon odds in establishing the journal, which has continued to win laurels in Nigeria and beyond for its excellent healthcare reportage.
Their dispassionate accounts of the Pharmanews story amplify the power of hard work and dedication to one’s calling. They also illustrate the saying that you cannot hold a man when he follows a dream he has to find.
DR PHILIP EMAFO
Can you remember how Pharmanews started?
Though I was not part of those who started it, Atueyi interviewed me in my capacity as the federal chief pharmacist of the Ministry of Health. That interview was published on the front page of the maiden (May) edition of Pharmanews in 1979.
What was your impression of the journal at the beginning?
My impression of the journal was that it was good and timely because that time, two other editors of the Nigerian Journal of Pharmacy had started their own publications. I particularly remember the late Peter Ekwunife, who started his own, even though it was short-lived due to his death shortly after. There was this other guy in Ikeja who also went into publishing later.
But Pharmanews stood out in the sense that the way Atueyi started his own and nurtured it was different. He gave it absolute attention and made it his biggest passion at a time when we needed a truly pharmaceutical journal that was informative. I have never regretted supporting Pharmanews because of their painstaking reportage and how they feature and analyse different disease conditions in an educative manner. But most importantly, the journal wouldn’t have been successful without the support of Atueyi’s wife.
How would you rate Pharmanews on a scale of 100?
I rate Pharmanews 90 over 100 because it has remained consistent since 1979 and has continued to improve, year in, year out. There are very few publications with such a pedigree in Nigeria and beyond.
PHARM. EUGENE OKONKWO
How did you first come in contact with Sir Atueyi?
During our days in pharmacy school at the Ibadan branch of Ife, in 1961 we were in the pharmacognosy lab when our lecturer, Dr Kulkarni, an Indian, walked in with a young man and took him to the back of the class. We were wondering whether the young man was a lecturer because of the way he sat and crossed his legs. We were also wondering how he could have graduated from pharmacy school that fast to become a lecturer.
It was later that we got to know that he was a student latecomer – that is, one of us. That was my first encounter with Ifeanyi Atueyi and that was how we became friends. When the university said they were not going to run the B.Pharm programme, myself, Bona and Atueyi decided to seek for scholarship abroad, which we eventually got but later dropped to do the diploma programme, after which we obtained our B.Pharm.
What can you say about Pharmanews?
At first, I thought Atueyi was a mental case because while most of us were pursuing seemingly lucrative jobs, he came to my office one day and told me he wanted to resign from RT Briscoe to pursue a career in journalism. I told him it was suicidal; and knowing that he was neither a journalist nor a media person, I warned him to rethink his decision. Atueyi stood his ground and requested for my support.
When I saw the fire of determination powering his ambition, I decided to offer some support by contributing articles and helping with adverts. I have never seen a man so determined like Atueyi. In most of our professional journeys to countries like Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Atueyi was always with copies of Pharmanews, which he sold and made some money from. That zeal and unparalleled focus made some of us to see him as a highly determined person.
Pharmanews has weathered many storms and has most recently survived the coronavirus pandemic and I think it will continue to grow from strength to strength.
Advice to Pharmanews management and staff
They should hold on to their uncommon commitment. Their commitment and pursuit of excellence is untypical of what we see around. They will continue to grow as the journal grows. I have never seen a set of committed people as the members of staff and management of Pharmanews. And for supporting and nurturing the dream of a man who dared the odds to pursue it, God will continue to bless them all.
PROF. BONA OBIORAH
At what point in your profession did you come to know about Pharmanews?
I would say that I got to know about Pharmanews in 1974, years before it was finally established in 1979. It was during the national conference in Kano when Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, then outgoing national secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), informed Ifeanyi Atueyi that he would like him to take up the role of editor of the Nigerian Journal of Pharmacy.
Before then, we didn’t see Atueyi as someone who could write. But immediately he assumed that role of editor, he turned out to be something else. A big surprise. In 1979, Pharmanews was fully birthed and since then, it has been stories of success.
What would you say has been the biggest contribution of Pharmanews to the health industry in Nigeria?
In fact, the biggest contribution is that Pharmanews opened the eyes of so many pharmacists to the realisation that you can gather so much useful information concerning drug production, drug interaction, chemical reaction, pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical matters and general health topics from one medium.
I never knew Pharmanews could blossom the way it has done. Today, Atueyi, just like Pharmanews, is an encyclopaedia in terms of pharmacy knowledge. Many of us rely on him for useful information regarding grey and contemporary issues in pharmacy practice.
How would you describe your relationship with Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi?
My relationship with Atueyi is very difficult to define. When we finished our diploma in Ife in 1964 and before we could write our B.Pharm, the Republic of Biafra was declared and we started running for our dear lives. We have been very close friends since that time.
While running away from the imminent civil war, we left Ife and ran towards eastern Nigeria. By the time we got to Asaba, Atueyi asked a fundamental question that later proved to be the inspiration behind our decision to return to Ife to sit for our B.Pharm examination: “What are we running for, when there is nothing on the road to show that the country is not safe?”
On our retreat from Asaba towards Ife, we were apprehended by the military on the outskirts of Benin and were detained. When the military were satisfied that we were harmless students, they released us and our journey to Ife continued.
When we got to Ife, the first paper for the B.Pharm exams had been written but with the intervention of the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi (May God bless his soul) we were taken to a room, given some refreshment and allowed to sit for the examination. You can see the significance of Atueyi’s question to our lives.
Atueyi was and is still such an inspiration that many of us have benefitted immensely from his forthrightness. From day one, he has been a very reliable person. He can keep your confidence anytime. Initially, he was not known as Ifeanyi. His name was formerly Christopher Ifeanyi Atueyi but in 1963, he dropped Christopher. According to his biography launched on his 8oth birthday in2019, he sacrificed his precious name to make him pursue the B Pharm degree which he was determined to obtain in his life. And, as a man of courage and determination, he succeeded.