(By Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis)
In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Pharm. Emmanuel Chukwuemeka Nwabunike, managing director of Fontana Chemists, Surulere, Lagos, and two-time chairman of Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (now ACPN), evaluates pharmacy practice in Nigeria today, highlighting its achievements and suggesting solutions to some of its challenges. Excerpts:
Tell us a little about yourself
I was born on 23 November, 1930, in the town of Nnewi, Anambra State. I had my early education at CMS Central School, Nnewi, and finished in December 1945. From there, I went to Dennis Memorial Grammar School, one of the best institutions in Nigeria. Since it was a five-year course, I passed with Grade 1 in 1950. Unlike now, what we had during my time was Cambridge education. In all, we had 31 Grade 1 results out of about 50-something students.
What was your first official assignment like?
Well, it is worthy to note that after my Cambridge exams, I worked for a year; after which I applied for admission in Yaba School of Pharmacy in 1951. In those days, there was serious competition among students. When I eventually qualified as a pharmacist, I got an appointment with Kingsway Chemist, a branch of UAC, in 1955. After a brief stint, I left and teamed up with Evans Medical where I worked for several years before I started nursing the idea of starting something on my own.
What made you think you had garnered enough experience to stand on your own?
To be frank, I had learnt a lot about the business of retail pharmacy while working at Kingsway and also more on wholesale in the course of my assignment as pharmacist with Evans Medical. Therefore, as a young man still bubbling with energy and zeal, I tendered my resignation letter to the then Managing Director, Mr. D. W. Martin. In fact, I still have the original letter, Mr. Martin’s reply and the letter of commendation he gave me in a file in my office. That should tell you that I left on a friendly note as I don’t like the idea of people resigning from work in a contentious manner.
So it wasn’t because you got a better offer that you resigned?
No, I actually resigned because I planned to start running my own retail pharmacy. Fontana Chemists was opened in April 1958 at Ojuelegba which was such a nice place to site such business then.
There are speculations that perennial violence by hoodlums compelled you to move from Ojuelegba to your present site. How true is this?
I wonder why people today often refer to Ojuelegba as a notorious area. That statement is not true. As earlier mentioned, I started Fontana Chemists in 1958. But the coming of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 made me close down the store as many of us from the East had to run home. On my return after the war, I discovered that the outlet had been taken over by another business. That was how I started the search for a new outlet until I got the one I presently occupy.
How did your old customers feel when they saw you after the war?
They quite understood my plight and even empathised with me. Besides, since the distance from my former store is not that far, they still patronise me to date.
In retrospect, can you confidently say studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Well, I will say Pharmacy was a good course for me because it exposed me to the business aspect of life.
What was the profession like in your day compared to today’s practice?
There is a remarkable improvement in modern pharmacy practice as far as packaging and prescription are concerned. We no longer have to measure liquid and oral suspension in millimetre. Retail pharmacy too has undergone a lot of changes in recent times. I have observed it is being pitched together with supermarket to bring in additional income, unlike our own time when we focused only on medicines to make a living.
Was quackery rampant in your time too?
Well, I cannot really say no. But quackery was not as rampant as it is today. Even the issue of doctors refusing to allow pharmacists on ward round did not just start today. Doctors are not trained in drug administration but we had to allow them do it anyway. Having said that, we have to come to terms with the fact that the problem of quackery and mediocrity goes beyond Pharmacy, as every other profession has its share.
How best do you think the issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines can be curbed?
I think it is the problem of distribution network. Back in my time, it was not as chaotic as it is presently. What we had were large companies delivering to pharmacies. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies don’t do that anymore because of the clamour for local manufacturing. Before, only top multinationals such as Kingsway, Glaxo, Wellcome and the likes, undertook such delivery and the drugs were genuine.
The sad thing about this chaotic distribution is that our colleagues are the ones abetting traders who have no business in Pharmacy to use their licence. It is quite unethical! If only we can speak with one voice, the better. This has further worsened the influx of fake drugs into the country.
How active were you in the area of contributing to the growth of pharmacy practice?
Well, I did my best. I was a two-time chairman of Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP), which is presently known as Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Lagos branch.
Were you not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
I would have become a doctor. It is about the only thing else I could think about aside Pharmacy. My second daughter is a paediatrician and I have another working with NAFDAC. Interestingly, I also have a brother who is a medical doctor.
Is there any particular age that an active pharmacist should retire?
I belong to the class of pharmacists who say, “If your body is still functioning well, why bother to retire?”After all, I am now 83 years and still strong. But truth be told, I don’t come everyday.
As an elder in the pharmacy profession, what is your advice to young pharmacists?
I believe so much in cooperation. If they can tell themselves the truth, they can progress because the profession is big enough to accommodate everybody.