– Says ACPN 2020 conference will be spectacular
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the national chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), bares his mind on issues affecting community pharmacy practice in the country, as well as the controversy surrounding the ACPN donation towards the reelection of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. Excerpts:
How has it been running an association like the ACPN within the past two years? What challenges have you faced, and what strategies have you deployed in surmounting them?
The last two years have been quite challenging for me, although I never expected less when coming on board. Regarding challenges, we had series of them, including the practice environment, government policies, as well the challenges confronting the pharmacy practice itself.
We all know that the practice has not significantly developed in the country, as it is in other climes – not in terms of professionalism, but in terms of how the practice has been integrated into the healthcare delivery system of Nigeria. So, the major challenge has been that of the environment because there are other healthcare professions that are well developed in this same country, despite the fact that we serve in the same sector.
Another serious challenge is the problem of awareness. It is quite pathetic that so many, even in the media, do not know the difference between community pharmacists and drug vendors. It is that bad. But we are happy that due to our efforts, especially our agitation during the push to get the Pharmacy Bill signed, we have been able to create awareness about who we are and what we do.
We have also been able to register our name in the mind of the government, as we have been participating actively in organised healthcare providers meetings and activities, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown period. On behalf of the association, I have attended several public hearings, even at the level of the National Assembly and through this, we have been able to register our association’s name in their minds.
So, we have been able to significantly impress the identity of the ACPN in the minds of many who did not even know that we existed before, and through our persistency and advocacy, especially when we went on strike nationwide last year to further press that the Pharmacy Bill was signed, the whole nation was able to feel the heat and we were able to attract the attentions of those who did not know us before. Although, we are not yet where we are supposed to be, we will continue to push until we get there.
However, one major significant challenge that we encountered and are still encountering is the challenge with ourselves as professionals. The in-house challenge is not strange to us, actually. Because we are dealing with the professionals, we do not expect them to accept every of our policies and decisions without argument. But it’s worrisome when it is becoming a sort of constant opposition, even towards some well thought-out plans.
A good example was the strong opposition and condemnation, even from our parent body, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), towards our last year agitation to get the Pharmacy Bill signed by the president. It was after I had informed the PSN NEC that I presented the issue to my own NEC, and it was immediately ratified and approved; so we had no option than to go ahead at that time, which was the most appropriate time. But certain persons within the system thought the best they could do was to pitch the ACPN against the PSN, and that was why we couldn’t achieve much from the effort.
In all of these, what would you say has kept you going?
According to the Scripture, “The righteous is as bold as a lion.” I must tell you that persistency has been my tonic. There is nothing that I do or have done on this seat of ACPN leadership that is personal interest driven.
Whatever it is that I do, I try as much as possible to be persistent and understand the interest of others. Although the implementation might be faulty at times, that does not mean I will not stand by my decision whenever I take it. Persistency and readiness to face challenges and the consequences have been part of what keeps me going and helping me to surmount the challenges as they come.
Still on the challenges, there are allegations that you supported the reelection of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, with the sum of 1 million naira. Can you confirm or refute this.
I initially didn’t want to talk about this, but since it’s now in the public space, let me say something about it. I must admit that I am very grateful to my executives and the NEC who always stand by me because I always carry them along.
The truth is, we supported the ambition of Governor Akeredolu with a million naira, and it was done with a good intention, not for political gain. The executives were all aware and they approved it, and it came from a budgeted plan.
When I came on board, as it is being done in the PSN, I also started budgeting process, and I presented this budget to the NEC at the beginning of the year. It was scrutinised and approved; so it was from this budget that we spent the money. Unknown to many, what brought about the donation was that Governor Akeredolu has proven himself as pharmacy lover. We have had opportunity to visit him twice officially, and at both meetings, he donated handsomely to the association, in fact it was his first donation that assisted us at the beginning of this administration.
I recall that the first money I signed as the chairman of this association was a loan from PSN because, at that time, the purse was empty, as the association had just purchased a building. It was the donation made to us as appreciation for visiting him that we used to start this administration. So I don’t think the donation to support his ambition was political; rather it was like an appreciation or a payback.
We also had a retreat for the executives and the NEC sometime this year in Akure, Ondo State, and we used the opportunity to broker meeting with the Ondo State executives. At that meeting, Governor Akeredolu, apart from hosting us, really surprised us with another very handsome donation, even when we never solicited for it, and all states that attended that meeting were happy and benefited from the benevolence of that donation.
So, we had a meeting, and a decision was taken that this man that had assisted us this much, let us also pay him back. We thought that even if he didn’t win, it would be an appreciation to him and it was approved. So the intention was not to become his campaign team, but to appreciate him with our token, when compared to what he had done for us.
Apart from the donations that he gave to us, there were several requests about pharmacy practice in Ondo state that he granted us. So, the support was just to appreciate him, and I want those accusing us of being partisan that this is not the first time the association is supporting a politician. We supported about eleven different politicians financially in 2019;n ten were pharmacists and one was a non-pharmacist.
However, I think our people are right to an extent, because we shouldn’t have publicised it. I want to apologise to those concerned that it was not our intention to make the donation public; it was the governor himself who decided to make it known to the public.
How cordial is the relationship between the national ACPN and PSN?
The relationship is cordial, and as far as I am concerned, I have a very good relationship with my president, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa. My relationship with the president dates back to when I was still an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife, Osun State. He had being a patron of PANS, and I had been a very active PANSITE. I recall that, in 1997, he gave money to organise our conference in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and I cannot forget that gesture. So he is somebody I have always looked up to.
When it comes to dependability, I am one of the most dependable members of the PSN-NEC – even though I am the one who receives most attacks from the NEC because I usually stand my ground when it comes to decisions to be taken. Although many think that there is an issue between me and NEC, they are wrong, I am a committed member of the NEC, but I am not a “rubber stamp” member; even the president understands that and I am happy. We have had occasions in which we disagreed and we have had occasions in which we agreed, but that does not in any way mean I am not close to him or have a cordial relationship with him.
What are your regrets so far, if any?
Although I feel fulfilled that we have been able to achieve some of our goals and have given visibility to the ACPN, we should have done more than this, but for the lack of trust, unnecessary rivalry and in-fighting amidst us as professionals. And that’s my greatest regret.
How do you sit over a house that is not united? I must be sincere with you, I am highly worried about the pharmacy profession, especially on the issue of leadership. The house is disjointed and segregated along political, tribal and ethnic lines.
As far as I am concerned, PSN today is more divided along ethnic line and anybody that says otherwise is a liar. I recall that, in my first letter to our leader, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, I alluded to the fact that PSN today is more divided along tribal sentiment and that he must be ready to kill it. Even though some people challenged me for writing the letter, in my candid opinion, the Society needs to kill tribal division before it’s too late.
If the bug of tribalism is not killed, it will kill PSN. And I hope the president, who is a man I respect a lot, will do something urgently to nip it in the bud.
The theme of the 93rd Annual PSN National Conference is “Technological Revolution: Adaptation in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Pharmacy Practice and Regulation”. From your experience and interactions, how apt is this theme, considering the post lockdown economic challenges facing the country?
The conference is another opportunity for us to meet and learn. The stakeholders will be there and I have trust in the ability of the Conference Planning Committee chairman, Pharm. Abass Sambo and other members of the team. The theme is apt and I am hopeful that it will be a worthwhile event.
The next national conference of the ACPN is holding in Abuja at the end of November this year. What positive changes should community pharmacists in the country expect at the conference?
The 39th national conference of the ACPN, tagged “Unity 2020”, will be a conference one should not afford to miss. It has been agreed that it’s going to be physical, and the theme is “Optimising Primary Healthcare Delivery in Nigeria: Community Pharmacists’ Untapped Potentials”. It will be holding from 30 November to 4 December, 2020.
I have reiterated that the conference is not going to be in anyway less in standard than what we planned in July. In fact, it’s going to be bigger, in terms of the expenditure and impact. One of the big differences is that the keynote speaker will be the FIP President, Mr Dominique Jordan, who incidentally is a community pharmacist himself; and there will be other notable and seasoned teachers. The only reason the FIP president may not be able to be at the conference is if the COVID-19 protocol does not allow him. Apart from that, he will be in Abuja with us.
I want to hereby encourage community pharmacists in the country to troop out and attend. It is a conference to sell to the world and the nation what we do as community practitioners. I am hopeful that we won’t be disappointed. I have high expectations because I am the chief planner myself. So Abuja is calling; let us heed the call, as it will be a conference of the year. Companies are coming out big to support the conference and make it work.
What are you doing to ensure aggrieved members are pacified and that there is unity in ACPN?
Explanations. We will continue to explain to our people about our intentions because we owe them explanations. I believe that, as a leader, I must at all times ensure that my people are carried along and ensure we explain our intentions to people.
The issue of Governor Akeredolu’s donation almost divided us but at the level of NEC, we met and discussed and we arrived on the same page. Apologies were tendered, especially for publicising the donation and explanations were made that the publicity was not our own making, but the government’s.