Pharm. (elder) Ebenezer Adeyeye Adeleke is a respected Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and former chairman of the PSN Board of Fellows. In this exclusive interview, Adeleke, who will be clocking 79 in September this year, goes down memory lane to describe the moments, challenges and achievements that shaped his many years of service to the pharmacy profession. He also speaks about his family, childhood days, education and the circumstances that led him to settle for Pharmacy as a profession. Excerpts:
It is our great pleasure to have you as our “Senior Citizen of the Month”. Please tell us about yourself, especially your education and early childhood experiences.
I was born at Oke-Opin in Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State on 23, September 1942. I had my primary education at four different schools, three of which were in Eko-Ende, Ilesha and Ikirun, all in Osun State; while the fourth place was at Central School, Oke-Opin, in Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State.
I completed my Secondary School Education at Titcombe College, Egbe, Kogi State, in 1962 before proceeding for my sixth form at Gindiri Boys Secondary School in Plateau State. Thereafter, I obtained my pharmacy degree through the Northern Nigerian Government Scholarship in 1970 at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
I had my one-year Internship at the State Hospital, Abeokuta, Ogun State from 1970 to 1971, after which I joined Messrs Nicholas Laboratories Nigeria Limited., Ilupeju, Lagos State, for 18 years. In 1978 I was sent to the company’s establishment in Mombay, India, for a four-week marketing course.
In addition, I visited the company’s establishments in Nairobi (Kenya), Glasgow (Scotland) and the International Headquarters in Slough, United Kingdom. I finally left as the pharmaceutical marketing manager and signatory to the company’s accounts in 1989 to start my own business, Living Hope Pharmaceutical and Stores Limited located at 19, Herbert Macaulay Street, Ebute-Metta, Lagos State.
What factors or personalities would you say helped to influence your choice of career and values in life?
As a young teenager I was fond of renting bicycles for pleasure and exercise within the expansive Anglican Mission Compound, where my father was working as a catechist at Eko-Ende, in Osun State. On one fateful day, I fell off the bicycle and got two of my front teeth damaged. In my first year at Titcombe College in 1958, I was advised to see a dentist at the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) Hospital, Egbe, Kogi State.
On entering the white man’s office, I saw a very neat and good-looking dentist, Dr Tracey, in his sparkling and very attractive apartment. He politely attended to me and had my teeth replaced at an opportune time. There and then, I got attracted to Dentistry and made up my mind that I would study Dentistry.
This love for Dentistry was with me until early 1966. On another fateful day, I had a train journey with one of my very good friends, Elijah Aina. While discussing, he beautifully sold the profession of Pharmacy to me. This later encounter swayed me to apply in 1966 for both Dentistry and Pharmacy at The University of Lagos (UNILAG) and University of Ife (UNIFE) respectively.
Fortunately, I got admitted to the two institutions. I was finally persuaded to cling to Pharmacy by my respected senior cousin, Chief J. O. Aje, who was a permanent secretary in Ilorin, Kwara State. I give thanks to the Lord God for his leading ever since. It could therefore be seen that if I had not gone in for Pharmacy, Dentistry would have been my profession.
You have held a number of positions in PSN and, in fact, at some point you became the chairman of the Board of Fellows. Tell us more about these positions and which of them you consider most challenging.
I was national treasurer of the PSN from 1977 to 1984. This makes me one of the longest serving PSN national treasurers. After the presentation of the Treasurer’s/Auditors Report, I was given standing ovation by the entire Benin national conference in November 1984. I felt very happy and grateful to God.
I was also chairman of Lagos PSN from 1988 to 1991. When I assumed office in January 1988, I set a target of relocating our grossly inadequate secretariat from 52A Ikorodu Road, Lagos. By the second month, we had secured a much more spacious office at Olatunji House, 299, Ikorodu Road, Idi-Iroko. Within a short time, our secretariat was air-conditioned for the very first time. The place was utilised for several years, until a purpose built secretariat was provided at Ogudu.
We also worked hard towards the integration of hospital pharmacists into the PSN. In the early years of my tenure, I had observed that hospital and administrative pharmacists in the state had a very low professional outlook and there was a clear disconnect between them and the PSN. I reacted by appointing my vice chairman, Pharm. Paul Enebeli, FPSN, as the sole administrator to help reverse the ugly situation. He did a very good job to stimulate a great interest. A few years later the hospital pharmacists had got so integrated into the PSN body that they were assuming leadership positions.
Later, I had audience with the then Commissioner for Health, Dr Adekunle Desalu. I sought his permission to visit the pharmacy department of the state hospital for on-the-spot assessment. He granted us the permission. We randomly selected the hospitals and later produced a report. We itemised our observations and suggestions for improvements. He was happy with the outcome and implemented many improvements
Again, we initiated the first Merit Awards in Lagos State. For the first time, ten merit awardees were inducted in 1988. There were some initial oppositions to this scheme but these fizzled out within a short time. This scheme has now become popular in very many states.
We also helped to ward off the unwarranted opposition that greeted the appointment of Pharmacist AbdulKareem as commissioner for health in Kwara State. The appointment of this pharmacist was greeted with opposition by the state branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). The appointment was described as “a square peg in a round hole.”
I quickly called a press conference in Lagos and drew the attention of the whole nation to what obtains in other climes of the world, including UK and USA. The list of past commissioners of health in Nigerian history also pointed to the fact that other professionals other than medical doctors had successfully held the post. A similar reaction greeted the appointment of Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi as federal minister of health.
We also helped to make case for the need for graduate pharmacists. You would recall that a federal minister of health once said that Nigeria did not really need university-trained graduate pharmacists. I countered this retrogressive postulation, drawing his attention to the situation in other climes. In the European Union the minimum qualification to practise Pharmacy is a master’s degree, while very many states in the U.S require Pharm D. Thanks be to God that the ridiculous postulation by that minister did not see the light of the day.
Tell us a little about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study Pharmacy or other health-related courses?
I got married to my lovely wife Mrs Elizabeth Olufunmilayo Adeleke (Nee Ajayi) on 21 April 1973, at St. Jude’s Anglican Church, Ebute-Metta, Lagos. She is a Fellow of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria.
The marriage is blessed with four surviving children of three boys and a girl. Oluwaseun Adeleke and Oluwaropo Adeleke are medical doctors, while Oluwaseyi Adeleke has a master’s degree in Quantity Surveying from the University of Lagos. The baby girl, Oluwaremilekun, who initially showed love for Pharmacy, later graduated in Statistics at the University of Jos. She and her family have migrated to Canada.
What are your thoughts about COVID-19 and the various efforts aimed at finding a solution to the pandemic?
The insidious manner through which the coronavirus emerged late in 2019 in China and the rapidity with which it has spread to over 200 nations clearly show that the world has become not only a global village but that pathogenic species/strains of fungi, bacterial and viral organisms are ubiquitous and can strike at will.
On 27 February, 2020, Nigeria recorded its first case. In fact, since its emergence, virtually all countries of the world have, in varying degrees, suffered its devastating consequences.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians are yet to be fully convinced of the reality of this scourge. The disbelief is more serious in many inner states and villages, despite the concerted publicity of the print, social and electronic media. Pharmacists and other health personnel have a duty to inform and convince our people. I have personally witnessed, at a very close range, the reality of the disease
Tell us about your other engagements outside of Pharmacy and how they have affected your personality.
I am an active member of the Gideons’ International Ministry. Since 1974 when I joined the ministry, I have held various positions at the camp and national levels, culminating in my being elected as national president from 1997 to 2000. I have also attended and continue to attend state, national and international conventions in various cities within Nigeria and USA.
I have also been involved in a number of political activities. I have aligned myself with and held various positions and pursued various ambitions with various political parties emerging as a result of the zigzag exchanges of batons between the civilian and military interventions since the 70’s. I was a successful campaign chairman at the general elections in 2015 as well as that of the local government elections in 2017. All our candidates were successful.
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?
As at the time I graduated in Pharmacy in June 1970, there were only three schools of pharmacy in Nigeria – Ahmadu Bello University, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Therefore, very many job opportunities were chasing the attention of these young graduates. For example, I finished my final exams on a Friday and I started internship employment the following Monday, even before the exams results were released.
The situation is not quite the same any longer today where over 18 faculties of pharmacy are turning out young graduates who have to scout for places of internship before proceeding for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. I would advise these young colleagues not to waste their time insisting on particular popular institutions for their internship placement.
I do strongly advise the various governments to create and approve suitable internship outlets for these young professionals. There should also be proper remuneration and proper recognition for registered pharmacists to reduce massive exodus to better climes.
All graduates should also have copies of the new PSN Constitution which should be properly digested and adhered to. Our motto is “As men of honour we join hands” This means that there is fortunately no gender discrimination in our profession.
I also advise the young professionals to be seriously committed to the aims and objectives of the PSN because in unity lies our strength. Without the PSN, the practice of Pharmacy would have been worse off today. I say this with a sense of responsibility, having seen the achievements of the PSN over the years.