In this special edition of the Pharmanews’ “Senior Citizen of the Month” interview series, eminent scholar, author and emeritus professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Prof. Ajibola Olaniyi goes down memory lane to recount some key moments of his life. Coming from a humble background, Olaniyi, who epitomises the great feat an individual can attain when the grace of God is blended with dogged determination and hard work, also offers candid opinions on the coronavirus pandemic and other topical health issues. Excerpts:
Hearty congratulations, sir, on your recent 80th birthday anniversary. Kindly tell us about yourself, your education and your early childhood experiences.
The Lord has shown tender care for me over the course of my life. He has been present with me in easy and difficult seasons. Indeed, I am a trophy of God’s grace. I was born on 25 August, 1940 and educated at Government College, Ibadan; the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan; and the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU), Ibadan branch, where I graduated with Diploma in Pharmacy in 1964 and B. Pharm. Hons. In 1967. I also attended the School of Pharmacy, University of London, where I obtained my PhD in 1971.
I acquired professional experience in both hospital and general practice pharmacy before joining the University of Ife as assistant lecturer in 1967. I rose to senior lecturer position in 1976. I was appointed Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the University of Ibadan in October 1982, where I served till I retired in September 2005. I had the unique opportunity and privilege of being appointed Emeritus Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan in 2011.
How did you come about the choice of Pharmacy as a profession at such a time when there were very few pharmacists in the country? Did you have a role model?
It is indeed interesting how I came about the choice of Pharmacy as my professional career in those good old days. I went through Government College with much financial constraint, even though the school fees were low. Consequently, by the end of my final year, I made up my mind that I would not return for the Higher School Certificate course but go out to find a job and take entrance examination to the University of Ibadan to study Medicine.
Fortunately, I asked a colleague who also wanted to study Medicine, but was more affluent, how I could secure a government scholarship to fulfil my ambition. He informed me that scholarship for Medicine was very competitive but that if I chose a course like Pharmacy, which is closely related to Medicine, I could easily secure a government scholarship and would be alright financially.
That was the very first time I heard about the word, “Pharmacy”; so I sought more information there and then on what Pharmacy was about. I did not know about any pharmacist at this time.
The following year, after my school certificate result which was the best in my set, I missed taking the entrance examination to study Medicine in UI because of late submission of my form; but I was able to apply to and got admission to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan for a pre-Pharmacy course. At the end of the first term I performed very well in the class tests and examination and I was one of those recommended for the Western Region Government Scholarship for Pharmacy, which I obtained with ease.
So it boils down to the fact that it was the desire to avoid financial stress in my tertiary education that made me go for Pharmacy as my professional career and I am grateful to God that I have not regretted it. I will ever be grateful to my friend and colleague, Dapo Afonja, who went on to study Medicine, who God used to give me the first information on Pharmacy and opened my eyes of understanding to the profession of Pharmacy.
How do you feel joining the privileged league of octogenarians? What does this new age mean to you and how does it affect your perspective of life?
I am very thankful to God for sparing my life to attain this age from my very humble beginnings. Although I had enjoyed a healthy life all through, I did not expect to be here on earth at 80, as my target was 70 – the biblical age! I now believe that the Lord has destined me to reach 80 years to fulfil His purpose for my life.
God created each one of us for a specific purpose and gave us the exact amount of time to fulfil that purpose. God does everything with and for a purpose. He is the source of purpose and everything in life has a purpose. One’s fulfilment in life is dependent on his becoming and doing what he was born to be and do.
Purpose is the source of fulfilment. It is my fervent prayer that He will help me to fulfil His purpose for bringing me to the world and that having attained this age, the Lord will help me to know Him more, love, please, obey, trust, praise, worship and serve Him better than before and to give Him the highest place of honour in my life. I pray that I will remain ever in tune with Him for an unbroken relationship and that He will help me to live in a way that pleases and honours Him to the very end of my life, and finish my race on earth with joy.
You are an educationist of repute, being Nigeria’s first professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and foundation dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Ibadan. How would you describe the current state of pharmacy education in Nigeria?
Generally, in Nigeria, the standard of education is on the decline and Pharmacy is no exception. The establishment of many faculties of pharmacy in the last ten years, without due consideration for the funding, quality and quantity of staff, laboratory and research facilities, and so on, is a contributory factor to the fallen standard of pharmaceutical education.
Clinical Pharmacy continues to be the most important challenge in Nigeria’s faculties of pharmacy. There is no doubt that the clinical role of pharmacists will lead to more efficient utilisation of personnel, greater patients’ safety in drug therapy and development of a team effort for drug therapy involving the pharmacist, the physician and the nurse.
It is good to know that the educational system is about to make Pharm.D the basic degree to practise pharmacy in Nigeria. It is my prayer that the universities and the government will be well prepared for this innovation and make adequate provision for all it will take to have a meaningful and quality Pharm. D programme nationally.
I believe that the development of clinical pharmacy and pharmaceutical care will serve to enhance the professional status of Pharmacy and the pharmacists by focusing on important and complex problems of self-medication, pharmacokinetics, drug regimens and patient counselling.
Our desk research shows that one the features that distinguish you in the academic environment is the large number of books you have written. What exactly motivates your flair for writing and which of your publications do you consider your masterpiece?
Yes, I thank the Lord for the grace given me to have co-authored or co-edited a number of pharmaceutical chemistry textbooks. It was around 1986 when I attended an FIP conference and the discussions were on Drug Quality Assurance processes and procedures.
Apart from the WHO guidelines write up and official compendia compilations, there were no available reference books on the subject. This motivated me to set up guidelines for a textbook on Pharmaceutical Analysis and Drug Quality Assurance with Professor E.O. Ogunlana, former dean, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ife. It was a fruitful venture, which was published by Shaneson C.I. Ltd, Ibadan, in 1988.
The success of that book was followed by the publication of Essential Medicinal Chemistry in 1989 with me as the sole author, and now in its 3rd edition. Other texts such as Experimental Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Essential Organic and Inorganic Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Principles of Drug Quality Assurance and Pharmaceutical Analysis followed.
Of these books I would consider Essential Medicinal Chemistry as my masterpiece, not only because it won the Concord Award for academic publishing in 1990, but also because of the usefulness of the book to pharmacy undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as students of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and other related disciplines.
By writing worthwhile books, one is certainly making useful contribution to the intellectual enrichment of present and future generations of students and practitioners alike.
What are your thoughts on COVID-19 and the various efforts aimed at finding a solution to the pandemic. What recommendations would you proffer to our local pharmaceutical industry and research institutions?
In the popular imagination, a coronavirus vaccine will bring the pandemic to a decisive end. Not really so. It will take more than vaccine to beat COVID-19. There is progress with vaccine development but they may not defeat the virus completely. Although the numerous vaccines being developed are promising, there is no guarantee that they will provide cure for all.
Unless you have a perfect vaccine, which very few are, you will always have people who end up getting sick. With or without a vaccine, we are going to need other treatments – the antiviral drugs, antibodies and immuno-modulators. Alone or in combination with a vaccine, they could turn the tide.
It is in the area of other treatments, especially the antiviral drugs, that our local pharmaceutical industry and research institutions have important roles to play – in the development, production and testing of the drugs.
It is my prayer that the Lord will stop this storm – COVID-19. In the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus stopped the storm with just one sentence – “Peace, be still”. And immediately, there was calmness (Mark 4:39). (Praying) Father, please, kindly do the same with this pandemic. Rebuke for us coronavirus and let there be peace worldwide. We take cover under the blood of Jesus and we look unto Him for solution. Let the COVID-19 return to the pit of hell where it came from.
If you were not teaching Pharmacy, what else would you have been doing as a career?
If I had not decide for a teaching career in Pharmacy, I would probably have been involved in drug quality assurance in the pharmaceutical industry. This is evident in the role I played at Ibadan (UI), where I helped to coordinate and organise a number of national workshops on “Towards Better Quality Assurance of Drugs and Foods”. These workshops were quite beneficial to students and practitioners in Pharmacy and related areas.
Beside academia, I have passion for the services of the Lord. As an ordained pastor in the CAC, I try to be involved in propagating the Gospel and ministering at church services. I have published “Some Vital Questions for the Christian” – Part I (in 2000), Part II (in 2010) and Part III (in 2020) under the general theme, “Successful Victorious Christian Living” – to direct the Christian to examine how he or she has been living his or her life and to see where corrections are needed in order not to backslide; and to effect a positive change to put him or her on the right track to a successful and victorious Christian life.
Tell us a little about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study Pharmacy or other health-related professions?
I am happily married to Deaconess Oyeronke Titilola Olaniyi (nee Oyesina) and we are blessed with two well-trained children (female and male) and grandchildren.
Our children wonderfully celebrated our Golden Jubilee wedding anniversary in April 2018. It was a day of great joy for our family. Yes, my daughter studied Pharmacy at OAU, Ile-Ife, and obtained Masters in Pharmaceutical Analysis at UI Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department.
She is now a clinical pharmacy specialist in the USA.
How do you relax? Tell us about some of the pastimes you engage in to keep busy and fit in old age.
During less busy times, I engage in some pastime activities, such as gardening (as my wife and I love flowers and growing vegetables), playing table tennis whenever I have someone to play with, and singing choruses and revival hymns, especially the ones compiled by my spouse and I. I also try to do some walking exercise as often as possible.
What advice would you give to the younger generation of pharmacists, some of whom were your students, on how to make the best use of their calling as healthcare professionals to impact humanity positively?
To the young generation of pharmacists, I would like them to heed the following advice. First, your character is more important that your reputation. Second, note and avoid the three sisters of evil (or fire-quenchers that decrease your zeal for God) – lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life. Don’t be drawn into worldly desires but have a firm resolve to serve God. Third, don’t be addicted to pleasure and flamboyant lifestyle. Stay away from youthful exuberance that leads to regrets later in life.
Fourth, simple obedience is the key to flourishing; abstain from all appearances of evil. Fifth, put on the garment of honesty everyday – model the truth, think the truth, face the truth, love the truth, pursue the truth, and walk in the truth (Colossians 3:19). Most importantly, stay connected to God by spending time in His presence – meditating on the Word of God, in prayer and being a doer and user of the Word of God.
In general, the young generation of pharmacists must be more innovative, more aggressive and more proactive than before. They must commit themselves to excellence – excellence in professional services, excellence in strengthening relationships with other health care professions, excellence in educating others towards greater awareness of pharmacists’ role in pharmaceutical research and innovation as well as excellence in better control of their profession and indeed, they must be competent practitioners.