Eminent pharmacist, publisher, administrator and doyen of pharmaceutical journalism in Nigeria, Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, marked his 84th birthday on 1 October, this year. In this exclusive interview with Moses Dike, the illustrious octogenarian reminisces on life at 84 and the journey so far. He recounts memorable moments of his life to the service of pharmacy profession and how he has been able to sustain the vision of Pharmanews to achieve the enviable record of 44 years of uninterrupted monthly publication. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your 84th birthday, marked 1 October. What makes your birthday significant to you?
On the national level, 1 October became significant from 1960, when Nigeria celebrated her Independence Day. It was the greatest celebration that affected all Nigerians – students, workers, young, old, Christians, Muslims, government and private sector etc. That year, I was completing my HSC course at the Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha. From that year, 1 October became the most celebrated public holiday in Nigeria, apart from Christmas and New Year.
As I said, I was completing my HSC course that year. The following year, I was given admission for Pharmacy at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ibadan Branch. We had just celebrated 1 October, and I left for Ibadan mid-October, 1961. When I was completing my registration form, I mistakenly filled 1 October as my birthday, instead of 3 September, my actual birthday, because of its popularity. October 1 was the day I was baptised.
I realised this mistake later but did not go back to change it. Instead, I have adopted it as my birthday because of its significance. The implication is that I lost one month in my age, technically.
How do you normally celebrate your birthday?
I don’t remember ever inviting people for my birthday celebration. It has been strictly a family affair and routine thanksgiving during church service. However, in September 2019, at the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists (NAPPSA) conference, held in Atlanta, Georgia, my relation there hinted that I was planning to celebrate my 80th birthday in Nigeria, on 1 October. Then she mobilised her friends and provided cake and drinks for the impromptu event, which was celebrated during the welcome party that night. The celebration was remarkable because I was the oldest, a foundation member and Fellow of the association.
I have publicly organised only two birthdays but those were in collaboration with Pharmanews. The first was in 2009 when I was 70 years and Pharmanews was 30 years. Another was in 2019 when I was 80 years and Pharmanews was 40 years. Celebrating my birthday was mainly an opportunity to promote Pharmanews. Actually, if not for Pharmanews, I might not have gone into such elaborate celebrations.
I seized the opportunity of the 80th birthday to launch my autobiography titled “My Life and Pharmanews.” I chose that title because the story of Ifeanyi Atueyi cannot be complete without Pharmanews; neither can the story of Pharmanews be complete without Ifeanyi Atueyi.
From your philosophy of birthday celebrations, when will you celebrate another birthday?
I am still enjoying the good memories of my 70th and 80th birthday celebrations. I believe that 90 years can never be as exciting as 70 and 80. God has given me the grace to enjoy them in good health and in active service. Only He knows how my life will be in 2029. I imagine that, at that time, the celebrant and his age mates, schoolmates and colleagues would be guided to the venue in their walking sticks and would be so few that the celebration would be enjoyed mainly by the young ones who actually organised it. Anyway, I would be trespassing into God’s territory if I talk of what my life would be in six years’ time.
You are today one of the oldest pharmacists in Nigeria. Please tell us briefly the important professional services you have rendered.
One thing about me is that I never push myself forward or lobby for any position. I have held several positions but never campaigned for any. My colleagues just consider me a suitable candidate.
My service started in 1972, as assistant secretary of the Lagos PSN, when O.T. Osasami was the chairman. In 1974, I was “drafted” by Prince Juli Adelusi-Adeluyi to serve the national body as the editor-in-chief of the PSN journal. I believe that during my tenure of 1974 to 1978, God tested me for my ability and suitability to manage Pharmanews in future.
I served as the publicity secretary for Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP, now ACPN) and later the treasurer. From there, I became the national secretary of the PSN, with Chief Bayo Ogunyemi as the president. When the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists (NAIP) was formed in 1977, with Pharm. Odusina as the national chairman, Pharm. Akobundu was made the secretary but I took over from him in 1978, when he resigned.
I served the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (Nigeria Chapter) as the first secretary for 13 years. I was in the PSN Council for 17 years. My attitude to positions is that wherever people considered me fit to serve, I tried to do my best.
Which of these positions did you find most interesting and why is this so?
Obviously, serving as the editor-in-chief of PSN was the most divinely planned intervention in my life. As I said above, God used Prince Juli Adelusi-Adeluyi as the instrument. God used that service to order my calling. Through that service, He opened many doors of blessing for me. Of all the generations of editors-in-chief before and after me, God placed me in a special position. So far, I am the only person publishing a pharmaceutical journal.
As editor of Pharmanews, I enjoyed the WHO training for health editors in Copenhagen in 1984. That training exposed me to the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) and I started attending their annual conferences and seminars in European countries. I also joined the International Federation of Science Editors Association (IFSEA).
In 1992, I had another WHO training in Geneva, Switzerland, and was thereafter appointed a temporary consultant in 1993. There is no paid job that impacted my life as the voluntary service of editor-in-chief. This justifies what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 11:6, “Sow your seed in the morning and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”
Are you in any way still serving today?
Yes. I am the current vice-president of the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (NAPharm), which is the ultimate in the profession of Pharmacy. As I said before, I don’t vie for any position. When NAPharm was starting in 2014, the foundation president, Prince Juli Adelusi-Adeluyi, invited me to his office for a chat. He requested me to help him, using my knowledge of many of our colleagues, to identify one suitable person to be the vice president. I named several of the big and renowned pharmacists. Juli thought over the names and eventually said to me, “Atus tell me honestly, do you think that any of the names you have mentioned is more suitable than you?” I kept quiet. He said, “You are the vice president” and the dialogue ended. Today, I am still serving as the vice president.
At your present age of 84 years, do you still attend your professional meetings?
Concerning professional meetings, PSN has technical groups like Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP), Nigerian Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Nigerian Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA) and Clinical Pharmacists Association of Nigeria (CPAN). From my peculiar career of pharmaceutical journalism, I don’t fit into any of those groups. I just provide my services to all of them but do not belong to any of them.
However, I am active in attending the annual conferences of PSN. As a matter of fact, I have attended the annual conferences without interruption from 1973 to 2022 – that is, 49 years. By the grace of God, I will attend the 2023 conference, holding in Gombe this November, and that will be my 50th. This is a record.
I used to attend FIP conferences but have stopped. The conference I now attend is the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas (NAPPSA), held annually in different cities of USA. I started attending it from its inception in 2007 in Houston, Texas. I use that opportunity to travel out and enjoy my holiday.
As you celebrate the 44th anniversary of uninterrupted publication of Pharmanews this year, can you tell us one major reason for the success of the publication?
The main reason is the God-factor. Anything in the will, plan and purpose of God prospers. God gave me a clear vision of Pharmanews towards the end of 1978. Fortunately, I wrote the vision down clearly for anyone interested to see.
I believe that the success of Pharmanews rests squarely on following that vision diligently. I have remained focused and committed to the vision of Pharmanews. I thank God also for the staff that are equally committed to the vision.
I avoid anything whatsoever that tends to take me away from this vision. I believe that Pharmanews is God’s business and we must serve Him faithfully in order to give a good account of our stewardship. I take the business of Pharmanews as my ministry and give it priority among all my other activities.