Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, the multiple award winning publisher of Pharmanews, has been described by many as the doyen of pharmaceutical journalism in Nigeria. Born on 1 October, 1939, at Okija in Anambra State of Nigeria, Atueyi is a man of deep conviction, who having traversed every area of pharmacy practice without finding job satisfaction, ventured into the uncharted field of pharmaceutical journalism. He has piloted the affairs of the flagship health journal,Pharmanews to record an enviable 42 years of uninterrupted monthly publication. In this interview with Moses Dike and Peter Ogbonna, the octogenarian pharmacist, administrator and businessman, reminisces on his early years and education, as well as events and experiences that have helped to shape his adulthood, business, faith and worldview. Excerpts:
It is our great pleasure to feature you in our “Senior Citizens” column. To set the ball rolling for this special interview, we would like you to tell us about the man, Ifeanyi Atueyi and the early childhood experiences that have helped to shape your adult personality.
Thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview. I thank God for my life and the way He has been with me from my childhood to today. I was born on 1 October, 1939 and I didn’t enjoy fatherhood. My father died when I was only eight years old but my mother lived for a long time and died at the age of 92 years. So, my upbringing was mainly by my mother.
However, God arranged for an uncle, Dan Erinne, who came into my life early and ensured that I attended a secondary school. Unfortunately, he died in my first session in the university in December 1962, but what I learnt from him has helped to shape my life into what it is today. Whenever I talk, I mention Dan Erinne because he influenced my life very much, alongside my mother.
On 1 October this year, you would be marking your 82nd birthday. What does this new age mean to you. Are there things you are currently doing which you intend to stop or are there new things you intend to start?
Age 82 is remarkable and I thank God that I am able to move around. I know a few who are not moving easily. I am less active and more selective in the meetings I attend. I have cut down the number of engagements I used to have, attending only important ones because I want to reduce stress.
I found that I need more spiritual life at this time, so I read more Scriptures than I used to do. I spend more time on my daily devotionals. Feeding is important. I am more careful with what I eat these days and the quantity and timing. I try to take enough rest. In fact, I make 2 to 4pm daily my quiet time. I take my lunch and have siesta. I take my medicines because, as a pharmacist, I believe in medicines; so I load myself with necessary medicines and supplements to keep my body in good condition.
I have never been a guy for exercise. I only participated in sports when I was in secondary school. In fact, I have never enjoyed sports and I don’t even enjoy watching it. To keep my body alright, I walk about. I am a wakawaka person. I go upstairs and I come down as if I’ve forgotten something, but that’s not the case. I’m only finding an opportunity to move about. I go and stand outside as if I am waiting for somebody, I am waiting for nobody. I’m only trying to walk about and stretch my body. So that’s my lifestyle modification to exercise my body.
How did you choose and practise Pharmacy as a profession? Did you have a role model?
Well, I don’t know how I chose Pharmacy; it just came like that. I had no role model. What I actually chose was B.Pharm. When we finished higher school in 1960, and were considering what to study, most of us chose Medicine, Engineering and so on. With my Physics, Chemistry and Zoology, Medicine should be the first choice but I didn’t like Medicine. Then I heard that there was a new degree, B.Pharm, at the new University of Ife. That one attracted me and I said I better go for the new degree.
In fact, my uncle asked me whether I wanted to practise Pharmacy, I said no; I didn’t want to practise Pharmacy at all. What we knew about Pharmacy at that time was retail and hospital pharmacy. I said no , I would never be a retail pharmacist, and I would never enter hospitals. Then he asked why I was going to do B.Pharm. I said I wanted B.Pharm, that’s all. I wanted it because it was a new degree.
Luckily, I got a generous scholarship from Pfizer Products Ltd. I told him I had got a scholarship, so no financial problem. My greatest disappointment, however, was that before the session ended, the university said they were no more offering the B.Pharm but would give a diploma, instead. It was crisis for me. I suffered because I wanted B.Pharm or nothing else. In fact, that disappointment seriously affected me. It was the reason I changed my name in 1963. I went to Court Registry at Aba and declared that I would no more bear the name Christopher, a name I loved very much. My name became just Ifeanyi Atueyi. The document is still with me till today. I was determined that I must do that B.Pharm at whatever time. That was my ambition. I didn’t go for Pharmacy, I went for B.Pharm (Laughs).
As a pharmacist, I have known that I am not what one can call an ordinary pharmacist because I have not one day enjoyed the practice. This is why I found myself going from place to place in search of fulfilment or job satisfaction. I started work as a pharmacist at Pfizer, as a medical rep in 1964, when I finished the diploma course. In 1966 I moved to West African Drug Company, for general practice pharmacy. I tried it but didn’t like it, either. I abandoned it after one year and joined HB & Sons for importation and distribution. I tried that and it didn’t work. I left.
I found myself going into the Ministry of Health and was posted to General Hospital, Ebutte-Meta. That one too didn’t work. They posted me to Randle Avenue Health Centre, Surulere, and from there, I ran to do my B.Pharm at the University of Ife, when other Igbo people were running back to the east at the beginning of the hostilities leading to the civil war. I passed through jobs that didn’t give me satisfaction and just when I finished the B.Pharm, the war started in 1967. I joined the Biafra Army and worked at the hospital.
After the war, I found myself at Toki Pharmacy in Lagos Island, running a community pharmacy outlet. But I was not happy. Then luckily an uncle introduced me to a manufacturing company, Nigerian Chemical Services, in Ikeja. I worked there for five years as the production manager but I was asking myself what I was actually doing there and where was I heading to, until just by God’s design I found myself getting into marketing. I joined R. T. Briscoe as the marketing manager.
In all these, let me confess that there was no where I had job satisfaction. So, Pharmacy was not what I was cut out to do; nothing satisfied me; no aspect of Pharmacy gave me joy, then I knew my joy was somewhere – not in pharmacy practice, but somewhere I didn’t know at that time.
You are known for your strong Christian disposition. At what point, did you become a born again Christian and what encounter led you to this?
All along I had been a nominal Christian. In the secondary school, we were forced to attend church services. I attended Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) Onitsha, where attending services was mandatory. You must go to church and participate in devotions but when I entered university I became free. It was not mandatory to attend services. Therefore, on Sundays when I didn’t have much to do, I would go to the chapel for service and fellowship with friends. I had a bad habit of drinking alcohol. In fact, I had a long smoking pipe I used to show off.
When I started work in Lagos my life was just like that, and luckily I was travelling outside the country for conferences and one attraction for travelling was pornography. I attended church services occasionally. I would tell my wife to go to church with the kids, while I stayed in my office to work. I found Sunday mornings to be a convenient time to do my work. I was even thanking God for Sunday mornings. It was a good time to concentrate; no disturbance. I didn’t know my life was in shambles but Pharmanews was doing well, surprisingly.
It was not until 11 February 1989, about 10 years after starting Pharmanews that someone introduced me to Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International meeting and the speaker that day was Dr Wale Oke. When he made the altar call I was one of those to step forward to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and that spiritual transformation has affected me from that very day till today. And today, through the mercy and grace of God, those bad habits have gone. I decided to know more of the Word of God. Consequently, my wife and I registered for a course at the Lagos Anglican Bible College (LABICO) in 1990.
How would you describe your years of experience in pharmaceutical journalism and could you share with us some of your most memorable experience?
I didn’t know I would be a pharmaceutical journalist but it just happened and God allowed me to pass through some experiences to make me what I am today. In 1974, at the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) conference, in Kano, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi encouraged me to serve as the editor of the PSN journal because the then editor, Peter Ekwunife, was sick. Juli appealed to me to serve but I resisted the idea, telling him that I didn’t know how to do it and that he should not expose me to what I didn’t know how to do. But he insisted and assured me that he would support me.
Then I accepted and was nominated and elected but when I started doing it, I found tremendous joy in doing it. I discovered that there was nothing more fulfilling than running the journal and I was doing it as if it was my own business. I was thinking about the journal every moment. I had to change the journal to the name which its bears today. And I made money for the Society because I canvassed for adverts.
At that time, the Society was not making money from conferences – no exhibitions, no presentations – so it was depending upon money we got from the journal. The quality of the journal improved and I put so much effort into it. Little did I know that I would come back to it as my business.
I told you I joined a marketing company and I was there, until a sharp disagreement occurred. I can’t go into the details now, but I realised eventually that it had been arranged by God. The company had rejected my application to go for a marketing training in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. That was why I resigned but I didn’t know what else to do. I had tried everything that could be done in Pharmacy and there was nothing else left. So, I got confused. Where else would I go? Until God told me I could go to into pharmaceutical journalism, that’s what He had been preparing me for, right from secondary school. When I heard that voice, I obeyed and have never looked back.
Tell us also about the low moments. Have there been incidents or events in your years of practice that you wish never happened or should have happened differently? If you had the opportunity, is there anything about your life and career you would like to change?
Whether low or high, it may appear like an accident, but to God there is no accident. God has planned whatever you call “high” and planned for whatever you call “low” for His children and He knows full well that they will come to pass in their lives. To us, it may come as an accident and sometimes a disappointment but God is working out His purposes.
I remember that in 2002 when a friend encouraged me to write a book on fake drugs, it was not easy for me but I made all the efforts to get it done. In fact, because I couldn’t manage it, I invited co-authors from various fields including medicine, pharmacy distributions, journalism, government, importation and so on. We got the book but I had the greatest disappointment when the then Director General of NAFDAC prevailed on me against launching it, for just personal interests. I didn’t use her money, I didn’t use her printer, I didn’t use her knowledge or staff but God used her to stop the launching of that book.
That disappointment upset me and I was asking God why it happened. It was later I realised that it was God’s plan. I suffered losses, disappointment and shame but God used it to give me direction. It caused me to be writing other books which are not related to fake drugs but books that glorify God. I have been writing motivational books since then till today. So, such things happen in people’s lives and if you ask God, you will find that it was not an accident. God has arranged it for our own good. It is from this perspective that I see things happening to me.
As at the last count you have authored and co-authored over 20 books and still counting, despite the burden of old age. Where do you derive the strength and inspiration to write and which of these books do you hold closest to your heart?
Well, I think there is a type of addiction that I have now. I can’t stay without writing something, and books give me vent to make my thoughts and my experiences available to people. Yes, we have 20 now, and each time I keep wanting to write a better one. So I find myself writing, and I want to be remembered as a pharmacist who was writing a book every year. I don’t know when it will stop but it will continue for some time. It doesn’t take too much of my energy because I enjoy it.
None is special. Each book has its own merit. I have a unique message in each book and the message is never the same in the books. The one of this year which I have titled ‘Pillars of life’ contains a lot of my testimonies.
Tell us a little about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study Pharmacy or other health-related professions?
Yes! Indeed God has blessed me with my wife, whom I got married to in 1970, and we have five children, comprising two males and three females. My second daughter is a pharmacist, practising in Dublin now. Others have taken to Engineering and Law.
At 82, you are still very active in some professional bodies, community and church associations. How do you manage all of these commitments?
Well, I am not very active anymore (Laughs). I have reduced my commitment to professional bodies, but I have increased my time for church and spiritual activities because I know my time is getting shorter and shorter. At 82, I don’t know how many more years I will be walking about, so I want to do the best for my life. Many things are important but some are more important. Some should take priority at this time. One should concern himself with the spiritual life and also those things that will make one to enjoy old age and give one peace of mind.
How do you relax? Tell us about some of the pastime activities and lifestyle modifications you have adopted to stay fit and active? Any plans for full retirement?
How do I relax? I don’t know the time I relax, really. Maybe that is the time I read. That is my relaxation; I can never sit and be doing nothing, I don’t know whether that is relaxation or idling away. So, when I’m doing nothing, I take up a book and read. As I said earlier, I walk about. This interview has kept me here sitting for long time; I should have gone out to stretch my body. Yes, that’s one way I know how to maintain my health. As for full retirement, it will come at God’s time and not my own.
Finally, what advice would you give to the younger generation of pharmacists on how to make the best use of their calling as healthcare professionals to impact humanity positively?
Really, I wish that everybody would know his or her calling because when God reveals to you what He wants you to do, then you will find out that He will provide all you need to do it. Pharmacy is a very wide profession. There are many things you can do with your degree in Pharmacy. You will find out that God calls us to provide services in some certain areas. My advice to the younger ones is to look for the areas that God has called you to serve. Don’t just look for where there is money. Be where God has called you to be and He will give you all that you need.
When they are there, they will enjoy it, and their services will be valued. They will do it without getting tired because God will supply the energy to do it. People should pray for God’s plan and direction for what to do, so as to derive joy and satisfaction. Your destiny has been determined even before birth and you need to seek God’s direction to attain your purpose in life. Thank you.