Pharm. (Mazi) Samuel Iheanyichukwu Ohuabunwa, popularly called Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, by his admirers and associates, is a distinguished pharmacist and former managing director/CEO of Pfizer Nigeria. He led the management buyout of Pfizer, Nigeria that resulted in the establishment of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, which he also managed as CEO for 18 years, before his voluntary retirement in 2011. Ohuabunwa, who is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN), the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (FNAPharm), the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (FPCPharm), the Nigerian Institute of Management (FNIM) and others, has been honoured thrice at the national level. He is a member of the Order of the Niger (MON), an Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), as well as bagging the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) in 2018.
In this interview with Pharmanews, Ohuabunwa, a major contender in the forthcoming PSN presidential election, holding in Ibadan, Oyo State, speaks on how he will use his tremendous goodwill to uplift the pharmacy profession in Nigeria. He also reveals his seven-point agenda for Pharmacy and his determination to build and leave landmarks as PSN president. Excerpts:
You are a respected icon of the pharmacy profession who has also made huge contributions in other sectors of the nation. To many people, you are an elder statesman that should be guiding the present generation of pharmacists, yet you have offered to serve as president of PSN by contesting in the upcoming PSN election. What informed this decision?
The point is that in the life of every nation, community – and I believe also in the life of every professional organisation – there is a time an intervention becomes necessary. Sometimes, it is directed by God; at other times, it may be by the opinion of people. In my own case, it is a mixture of the two.
Having grown through Pharmacy and having seen the struggles of Pharmacy – even though some of us can be classified as a privileged lot -we’ve seen how the pharmaceutical environment is being infiltrated and polluted and you begin to get worried and start thinking about what could be done. You are motivated by what God has granted you the opportunity to go through, some of which you just enumerated, and you start thinking about how you can use this experience to intervene and reset things – to break ceilings – so that we can take our profession to the next level.
Other leaders of the profession have done a lot. The current leader has also done a lot. But, you know, there is a cycle in the affairs of man. Pharmacy is about to take a new leap and I am motivated by the fact that I believe there is a need to inject mature and visionary leadership, as Pharmacy takes this leap.
What objectives have you set for yourself if elected to pilot the affairs of PSN as president?
First, we want to see a pharmacy profession that we and generations of pharmacists coming behind can be proud of.
I have a daughter who is a pharmacist and based abroad and when I said “Come and practise in Nigeria”, she said, “Where will I work?” The pharmaceutical environment is such that it is not conducive for practice.
Our primary objective will be to motivate all the relevant government agencies to make the environment conductive, to make sure we have the pharmacy profession to model a pharmacy practice that is globally competitive and globally acceptable on. Therefore, the likes of my daughter and other people in other parts of the world can come in and fit into the profession, without asking me the kind of question I was asked by my daughter.
If you say you are a clinical pharmacist, you shouldn’t be asking where you will practise clinical pharmacy in Nigeria.
The second objective is to be sure that the worth of the pharmacist is enhanced. We shall protect and fence the profession. As you know, every service you can get from many sources no longer attracts respect. If people can access medicines anywhere, anyhow, in the market, on the street, on the road, then the role and significance of a pharmacist is diluted. So, our desire is to protect the profession and create an environment that will ensure that the way drugs are distributed and handled gives opportunity for both the empowerment of pharmacists and gives integrity to medicines.
We need to look at this. I know we’ve been speaking about this for a long time and I’m happy that the government has provided some guidelines for drug distribution to limit the availability of drugs in wrong hands. I will work with PCN and other relevant bodies to ensure that the guidelines are properly implemented.
I will also focus on improving the lot of young pharmacists. I believe that young pharmacists should also be supported. When I finished from the university, things were much easier for young pharmacy graduates. I’m pained to see what young pharmacists go through. They suffer to get internship placement. I will use every contact I have to ensure that internship placement becomes automatic.
It is doable. It is all about forward-planning. We need to identify the number of internship centres we have in the country and also how many pharmacists we are producing per annum. If the internship opportunities are not adequate, how can we expand them? We can expand these opportunities both in government and in the private sector.
I also believe that young pharmacists and the not-too-young pharmacists interested in going into pharmaceutical business are discouraged. They are discouraged because of funding and management acumen. We will work in partnership with financial agencies to set up some funding mechanisms that the PSN will guarantee and pharmacists who are even retiring from government services can explore and utilise.
I’m already doing something like this in my private capacity through the Sam Ohuabunwa Foundation for Economic Empowerment. We are mentoring young people and helping them to know how to run their businesses. By God’s grace, on the platform of PSN, I will escalate it and make sure it is bigger and better, so that many pharmacists can benefit from it.
We also need to tackle the issue of marginalisation. Look at hospital pharmacy, it is marginalised. When I was a young pharmacist, the difference between what I earned and what my young medical doctor colleague earned was so small. It was because they were just one grade above us, because they spent one year more on education. Now, the number of years in training is becoming similar but the gap in income has widened. I believe this is because we have not appropriately made our case to the right quarters. There are agencies of government mandated with fixing of salaries and we need to show what the job profile of a pharmacist is and its relativity to other healthcare and non-healthcare workers and professions.
Our hospital pharmacists need to go through a career that is fulfilling. We have to follow-up and ensure that the consultancy cadre is appropriately gazetted, so that it is not something anybody can reverse.
We also need to create more sub-specialties in Pharmacy. In Medicine, there are sub-specialties and we need to have this in Pharmacy too. It is the trend globally. It is for the sake of the patient. I have a daughter that is a geriatric pharmacist in the United States. There are pharmacists focused on other special areas of care in the United States. That is the way it is done and this creates ability to serve the patient better. That opens opportunities for pharmacists not only to grow in their career but to offer better services to patients.
We shall also look into how to improve the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry sector. I came from that sector and I know that in 1995, we were saying that 50 per cent of essential drugs should be made locally by year 2000. Up till today, that is not our reality. In fact, we are going down. We are barely producing 25 to 30 per cent of our drug needs locally. I will work with the industry and the academia to tackle this challenge.
It is not just that about 75 per cent of drugs needed by Nigerians are imported, even the quantum of local inputs into the drugs manufactured locally is low. We import virtually everything. We need to work with the industry and involve our researchers and academic pharmacists in the process to grow the industry. We can give them specific assignments that the industry can fund. I believe money can be raised to enable us to conduct problem-solving research. That way the academic pharmacists will have more work to do and will be better rewarded.
I also believe we need to work smarter, in terms of influencing policies that are favourable to Pharmacy. We have not been at the top policy level where decisions affecting the profession are taken. One of my desires is to get Pharmacy to be at that top level, both at the Ministry of Health and elsewhere.
To do this, we shall need legislative support. There are things that can be done through legislation. I know the PCN law is presently being amended. We need to follow up on this to make it come through and ensure funding for PCN to ensure the provisions are implemented.
You’ve just touched on a very important issue, the unhealthy rivalries among health professionals and, specifically, the view that the medics are always trying to lord it over other professionals in the health sector. How would you address this issue and strengthen the much needed inter-professional collaboration?
Part of my job will be to improve levels of understanding and appreciation for all health professionals and what they do. For instance, if I continue to see that what the doctors are opposed to is the idea of clinical pharmacy or pharmacists bearing the title of “doctor”, I will just arrange a trip to the United States and the United Kingdom to go show them how Pharmacy and Medicine are being practised.
All of us want the best for our country and I believe when they see what the people that brought Pharmacy and Medicine to us are doing right now, they will understand better what we are asking for. I believe that when our colleagues see the way things are done now, they will better understand the need to change because the people that brought these professions to us have come up with these sub-specialties to ensure the patients are better served.
The second thing is to preach the gospel of professional collaboration and involve the older members of these professions because, sometimes, it is the younger generation’s lack of understanding that fuels the unnecessary rivalry.
The third thing I will do after trying the first two and things are still not working is to go above this level of engagement and take the issue to the National Assembly and the agency in charge of wages and salary and make our case. I know we can make headway. But we shall dialogue first and show that we need each other and it is in everybody’s interest that we work together. There is enough work to do and there is enough reward as well. We don’t need to cross lanes or subvert each other. It is in fact when we do this that we open the door for fakes who take advantage of all the professions.
What are your thoughts on the Pharm. Yakasai’s presidency and the programmes he has implemented? Are there things you will do differently?
President Ahmed Yakasai has done so well. I have never seen a PSN president that has devoted so much time to the Society. He has made the PSN presidency almost like a full-time job. Maybe, I have not looked more critically. He is on the beat all the time. I must say that he has done well relating within and outside the society to give us visibility.
I am going to build on all that, especially the ability to link with many sectors of the economy. He was at the stock exchange sometimes back, ringing the closing gong. That was good. We are going to do more. But on the question of what will be our focus, somebody said Olumide Akintayo was a very strong legislative judicial president and that Yakasai has been very strong in advocacy, and opening us up to the world. I think what I will do more, while not neglecting those areas, is to leave landmarks.
For example, look at the pharmacy houses we have been trying to build for years. There is one in Lagos and there is one in Abuja. In my four years as president of NECA, I started NECA House and finished it. We didn’t borrow money from the bank.
I am a builder. When I was leaving the Nigerian American Chambers of Commerce & Industry, I bought a piece of land for them in Lekki, Lagos. So, I will work to ensure we have more landmarks for Pharmacy but I’m also going to spend a lot of time on getting favourable policies for Pharmacy and harness all the good hands in Pharmacy for Pharmacy.
I have tremendous goodwill and I’m offering it to Pharmacy.