Pharm. (Chief) Albert Ezegbo is a foremost community pharmacy practitioner and founder of the popular Rex Chemists, Onitsha, which was a pioneer pharmacy outlet and a household name for quality pharmaceuticals in southeast Nigeria. At almost 92, the former national chairman of the defunct National Associational of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP) is still intellectually vibrant. In this exclusive interview, he reminisces on the journey of his life, while baring his mind of issues affecting pharmacy practice in the country. Excerpts:
Thank you for finding the time and energy to have this special interview with us, considering that you will be marking your 92nd birthday in March this year. Kindly tell us your background, especially early childhood experiences and education.
I was born on Sunday, 30 March, 1930. My parents were peasant farmers, living in raffia-palm, mat-house and I grew up in that environment. I had the typical rustic life in the village, climbing trees and hunting rats and birds. Any of them that ran into the hole in the ground or tree was smoked out and caught.
My parents did not send me to school, until my arm – placed on my head – could touch my ear on the other side of my head. That was how to determine the school age in those days. Eventually, I started school but payment of fees remained a huddle to the extent that, in my final year in primary school, I did not take entrance examination to any college because my parents feared that if I passed, how would they pay the fees?
What factors or personalities would you say helped to shape your values and principles in life?
By a wonderful interposition of providence, a distant family friend met my father, asked him about me and which secondary school I was attending and when he was told the pathetic story, he sent for me and made me to take entrance examination to Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) Onitsha. I passed very well and this man, Mr Eugene Nwabufo, started paying my fees. After five years at DMGS, I passed Senior Cambridge School Certificate with Grade 1.
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?
I was science-inclined and passed with credits in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, Mathematics, Latin etc. In 1955, by providence, still, I read an advert in the Nigerian Spokesman newspaper – then being published in Onitsha – that a pharmacy school had been established in Ibadan, and that qualified and admitted candidates would be offered federal scholarship to study Pharmacy. I had great passion for Pharmacy. So I applied and was admitted, and got the scholarship.
How do you feel joining the privileged league of nonagenarians? What does this new age mean to you and how does it affect your perspective of life?
As a nonagenarian, I feel very great. In fact, to me, it is a great favour from God. It carries with it tremendous dignity and respect wherever I go. In the church, in banks, in meetings, people will clear for me to speak and even to pass. In the village, I am like an oracle; people come to get their problems solved, as well as obtain historical, social and customary information.
You are a foremost community pharmacist of repute having successfully managed Rex Chemists in Onitsha, Anambra State. Kindly tell us about some of your most memorable experiences of as a community pharmacist?
Indeed, I am adjudged to be one of the very successful community pharmacists in Onitsha and indeed the eastern region of Nigeria. I can remember one period when there was an epidemic of hepatitis and there was scarcity of infusion of dextrose 5% per cent in water. I happen to have a large quantity of the infusion and so pharmacists and doctors came from far and near to buy the product and were surprised that I did not increase the price astronomically. What I did, however, was to sell limited quantity to each in order to make it go round and reach others.
As one of the elders of the pharmacy profession in Nigeria, which of the issues affecting pharmacy practice would you like the government and regulatory agencies to give utmost attention to?
The greatest problem in Pharmacy is the problem of drug distribution, as pharmacists are not enjoying the dividends of the practice of the profession. There is virtually no restriction in the sale of drugs and so government ought to take a firm and decisive action to regulate drugs distribution in the country.
If you were not a pharmacist, what other profession would you have loved to belong? What other things do you have passion for?
If I were not a pharmacist, I should have studied Mechanical Engineering, which is also my natural gift and inclination.
Tell us a little about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study pharmacy or any other health-related professions?
I married one wife, who is now late, and she left me with five children, comprising one girl and four boys. My daughter is an accountant, my first son is a pharmacist and his wife is also a pharmacist. My second son studied Business Management while the third and the fourth son studied Computer Engineering and Banking, respectively
I also now have eight grandchildren as follows – five grandsons and three grand-daughters
How do you relax? Tell us about some of the pastime activities you engage in to keep busy and fit in old age?
I have a large quantity of classical and church music records, which I enjoy at all times but particularly on Sundays, depending on my mood and circumstance.
Also, I belong to Ogidi Senior Citizens Resort, where retired judges, bank managers, retired doctors and engineers meet every day to chat, crack jokes, eat small chops and drink. The session lasts from 1.00pm to about 3:30pm to 4.00pm. Among us, members celebrate their birthdays etc there. During this COVID period, we meet only on Wednesdays to keep the Resort alive. Also for further relaxation, I enjoy my music, read my newspapers and magazines, etc.
Finally, what advice would you give to the younger generation of pharmacists, on how to make the best use of their calling as healthcare professionals to impact humanity positively?
To my young pharmacist colleagues, I wish you all God’s grace of long life and good health. Old age can be enjoyable but can also be a burden to you and to your children. I advise that you to start now to prepare for it so that you can age gracefully and not miserably. I prepared for me old age. Today at above 90, I still eat what I want, still have a good car to go about and can still afford a driver.