The 2015 edition of the national conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) was concluded on a joyous note with a dinner on the night of Friday, 13 November, 2015. The dinner was the end of a process which began much earlier with the setting up of a Conference Planning Committee (CPC). The CPC team gave a good account of themselves in organising a befitting conference despite some initial hitches experienced.
I had, in the second part of this article, made allusion to the strategic importance of the national conference and emphasised the need to rebrand it. If there is an important juncture where a solid and thinking leadership is needed now, it is partly in the organisation of this important conference. The crowd was overwhelming and their commitment unassailable. They keep faith every year attending the conference even when, sometimes, it is economically inconvenient to do so. They deserve to be treated like kings (and queens), to a variety of events and activities that will remain indelible in their memory and also provide the salivating anticipation of the next edition.
I trust that the new president, Pharm. Ahmed Yakassai, FPSN, will do something along this line. The feeding and refreshment options need to be better managed. The sponsors are willing to pay what they pay annually because of the conference participants. It is only fair and trustworthy for us to spend a little part of this money to give them decent refreshment.
The 2015 conference was unique for producing a new president for the society. It was not an entirely smooth sailing transition as there were elements of protests from some quarters who were dissatisfied with the handling of the pre-election issues. It started like some murmurs or rumours of disqualification of some candidates which snowballed into an open confrontation with verbal missiles flying around from opposing sides particularly on the social media.
There were interventions at different levels involving individuals and groups, notably the Board of Fellows (BOF). The BOF, in a written submission, took a pacifist option of allowing all candidates to contest, affirming that delayed payment of annual due had not stripped any member of the fellowship status.
I was involved in discussions with many notable pharmacists on this subject and only a very few supported the disqualification of candidates based on the ‘annual due’ status of their referees. I held a constructive meeting with the then president, holding the aggregated opinion that the reason for disqualification was marginal and not substantial enough to deprive pharmacists of the rights to freely choose their leaders. The meeting was high on justification of positions and at the end of the day the president stood firmly on his convictions.
It is now history that the recommendations of the screening committee were upheld and the new president was elected unopposed. There were skirmishes during the AGM but God took control and good reason prevailed. What is important is for us to take the right lessons and use the experience to make our Society better. There are some key leadership issues that the conference and the elections have thrown up. We will take up some of these issues in this article and others later.
Level playing field
This is the third time in recent history that, consecutively, the president of the Society will be elected unopposed. To me, this is not a development that is worthy of celebration. We do not have, as yet, a system of succession where one person takes over from the other in a systematic manner without rancour. In some associations, the next president is known two or three years before the tenure begins. This system is clearly enshrined in their constitution. This is not the case in the PSN. Our constitution anticipates and makes provisions for a healthy competition for the exalted position and we should make it to remain so.
Alhaji Ahmed Yakasai is eminently qualified to be president and we will have no cause to regret his ascension to the ‘throne’. However, it would have been more colourful (and more authoritative) if he had won in a free and fair election. We must redefine the eligibility criteria. What we are looking for are vibrant, creative, honest and distinguished individuals who could lead Pharmacy to El Dorado, and not accidental or co-opted members of NEC. The super exclusive criteria must be expunged to make the platform more attractive to progress-minded people.
Power of conviction and moderation
The immediate past president, Olumide Akintayo, is a man of strong convictions. He stood solidly on his point of argument. He was well prepared and he deployed every arsenal in his possession to prove his case. He was standing on a high ground on legal points and the spirit of the screening guidelines and the constitution.
He had anticipated the questions of his opponents (and friends alike) and he had prepared 105 answers to every 100 questions that might come his way. He maneuvered his way through the trenches and ensured that his will prevailed at the end of the day. He was articulate and presidential, the stuff that great leaders are made of.
You can pontificate on his intentions but you cannot fault his arguments. However, he took a risk, too much of a risk which flipside could have negatively impacted everything he stands for. He was the only star in the contest and this is where moderation comes in. Our recent history is full of unpleasant consequences of power and privileges that were not exercised in moderation. You cannot win a war against your own community.
Preparation and opportunity
It was quite clear that most of the people negatively affected by the eligibility criteria were not prepared for the opportunity that comes once in 3 years. It happened in 2012 that some people were disqualified based on certain fault points in the screening guidelines. There were noises and threats, which fizzled out because of their feeble foundation.
I wonder how the disqualified contestants failed to acquaint themselves properly with the rules of the game. If the guidelines were not made available as claimed, then you should have shouted to high heavens much earlier. Great leaders prepare well in advance of actions or contests and this was why it was so difficult to fault those who insisted that the results of the screening must be upheld.
Again, some of the arguments are not articulate enough. You cannot win this kind of battle based on emotional postulations. You must have the facts at your fingertips and marshal your points to tilt the case in your favour. I did not see any of that at the Town Hall meeting on Thursday or at the AGM on Friday.
I must, however, commend the decorum of the disqualified candidates. I interacted deeply with the close ones and our discussion centered mainly on the need to preserve the Society for the generations coming after us. I doff my hat for them, particularly for believing that tomorrow is another day.
Some people approached me on Friday screaming that this is the last time they would tolerate no-contest presidency. I was amused as much as I was excited. Amusement because they must have thought that I held so much influence to decree things into existence; and excitement because I truly believe we need to reform our processes in the PSN.
I have argued before that there is too much emphasis on the position and person of the president. We need to shift this emphasis into building systems. The council and the AGM must be strengthened to be truly independent of the person of the president. We need to return the PSN to her owners: the pharmacists. This cannot be done if the majority of the people sit in their comfort zones and leave only a few people to run around. We all need to show interest in what is happening around us and must not surrender our sovereignty to any individual or group of individuals.
A new vista in the annals of the society has been opened. The president needs to move quickly to calm the frayed nerves. We have a lot of work to do.
We stand to achieve a lot more when we are standing together and that is why we say: As Men (and Women) of Honour, we join hands.
God bless Pharmacy.
Dr. Lolu Ojo BPharm, MBA, PharmD, FPCPharm, FPSN, FNAPharm, DF-PEFON