Pharm. Ade Popoola, managing director of Reals Pharmaceuticals, is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. A 1983 graduate of Pharmacy, he was formerly an area manager at Roche (Nigeria) Limited (1990-1992) before becoming sales and marketing manager at Jagal Pharma Limited (1992-1994) and then operations manager, also at Jagal Pharma (1994-1995), from where he resigned to set up Reals Pharmaceuticals.
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Popoola reckons that the Pharmacy Tower project remains one of the best efforts to have ever come from the pharmacy family in Nigeria, adding that it would benefit the industry in no small measure. He also speaks on sundry issues relating to the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria and advises young pharmacists to delay gratification while focusing on actualising their lofty dreams of excelling in their chosen paths. Excerpts:
What is the vision driving Reals Pharmaceuticals?
Our vision is to be a foremost pharmaceutical company with the most satisfied stakeholders, while not forgetting the fact that we want to make affordable products available to the populace.
Talking about the pharmacy industry in Nigeria, what would you say is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Number one is low barrier to entry. Anyone that has five million plus can say he wants to start a pharmaceutical business. It has now become a decimated industry; we are fragmented and this has made products not to be profitable. It has resulted in low profitability.
There are so many people doing the same thing, and so, we are all trying to come out from the same door. When so many people are trying to come out from the same door, what you will get is chaos, leading to crash in prices.
Once you have too many registered brands of the same chemical entity, they will only compete on price and not on quality. They will all claim to have NAFDAC number. And so, most times, the profit that comes to us becomes very low because the low barrier to entry has caused everybody to be a player to the point that everyone that has a shop is both a player and an importer.
The issue of our porous ports is another challenge, as anybody can bring in anything. Retailers are importers; wholesalers are importers; distributors are importers. So, the trend has made the market to be unduly crowded. In the prevailing circumstance, it is only those who can distinguish themselves through marketing that can be outstanding.
Many pharmacists have bemoaned the unstable exchange rate in Nigeria as one of the factors militating against the pharmaceutical industry. Do you share such sentiment?
I share their pain. In fact, I will start with the non-availability of forex. It has to be available before we can even talk of exchange rate. It is not even available. Instability means that everyone is buying at fluctuating rates. But in my own case, it is non-availability.
Government is trying to do something to make forex available to those in the production of essential commodities, just like those of us in the pharmaceutical industry. Instability is a major challenge but non-availability is worse by my own reckoning.
What would you say is the experience of Reals Pharmaceuticals regarding the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 has had a positive impact on the pharmaceutical industry because, without drugs, we are all dead on arrival. It gave us the opportunity to bring our products to the forefront.
During that period, most hospitals closed down and could not operate. But for the pharmaceutical industry which made drugs available, the situation could have been more catastrophic.
COVID-19 helped our business to scale up a bit. However, we need to up our game and thank God that the Federal Government is making funds available to the industry through the health intervention fund under the auspices of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
High cost of funding (loan) is another huge challenge at up to 25 per cent interest. We must be able to sort this out. Thank God, the federal government has given us a single digit interest rate that would enable us improve our operations and make drugs available to the populace.
Do you manufacture your products locally or import them?
We are running a hybrid company. About 35 per cent of our products are locally manufactured while 65 per cent are imported. We manufacture through a third party and we are doing very well in that regard.
To what extent do you think the Pharmacy Tower project will benefit the pharmacy family in Nigeria?
Number one, it would benefit the pharmacy family financially because it will generate enough funds to enable us do the things we are supposed to do. Number two, the image of pharmacy will be enhanced. That land has been there for close to 40 years. For the project to be brought up, it is just like removing a reproach from the pharmacy family in Nigeria. Simply put, it will benefit us commercially and image-wise.
If other professions can have their own houses, Pharmacy, the oldest profession in Nigeria, should have its own. The tenure of Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa will be continually applauded and remembered because the response of people to the project has been awesome and very encouraging. As a member of the fundraising committee, I am highly impressed.
What is your candid advice for young and upcoming pharmacists?
They must understand that everything in life has time. They should also apply the principle of deferred gratification in whatsoever they are doing. This means that, if they can be patient and work hard, they will surely get to whatever height they are willing to get to in life.
It also implies that there is no short-cut to success in life. It is only God that can open a door, which no man can shut. When it is your time, God will open that door. You don’t need to struggle.
You must have heard about the story of the two Nigerian young men who created Paystack. Their initiative has been bought to the tune of 200 million dollars. It is only God that can open such a door. As it stands now, they are financially bigger than three Nigerian banks. It can only be God.
When you do what you know how best consistently, continuously and without cutting corners, you will surely get there. How many pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria are worth 200 million dollars? Once you are close to God, all things are possible. Don’t allow peer pressure to push you into thing you should not do. And remember not to compare yourself with others.