In this exciting interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Pharm. (Chief) Matthias Chukwudi Anohu, who is often called the “Iroko of Anambra Pharmacy”, spoke on a number of issues related to the practice of Pharmacy in Nigeria and, in particular, how he thinks the practice can be improved. Excerpts:
Tell us a bit about yourself, especially your early days
I was born on 24 April 1940, in Okija, Ihiala Local Government area of Anambra State of Nigeria. My education started at St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School at Okija, from where I proceeded to Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, for my secondary education. I had my Advanced Level studies at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu and subsequently, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile-Ife, where I studied Pharmacy from 1959-1962.
Looking back, would you say studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Indeed! It is a profession I enjoyed so much. It is a practice like no other. Pharmacy practice is quite versatile, business-oriented. With all pleasure, I will say studying pharmacy was a good decision for me.
Can you recall some major controversies, intrigues and peculiar events concerning the practice during your time?
In our days, the profession was fraught with lots of problems especially on the issue of professional status and inter-disciplinary disputes among the various professionals in the health sector. Back then, the common position meant for pharmacists was in the capacity of technical officer because our salary fell under ‘Grade C’. ‘Grade A’ salary was exclusively reserved for other health professionals. It was indeed a serious battle. At first, they tried to intimidate us but we stood our ground. We fought gallantly until the controversial salary grades were reviewed.
What are the challenges facing pharmacy practice in Nigeria and how can they be surmounted?
The major problem facing the pharmacy practice in Nigeria includes the issue of fake drugs and amorphous distribution of drugs in the country. Some of these problems may be solved by strengthening NAFDAC and getting officers of the Late Prof. Dora Akunyili’s status to man the agency. On the part of distribution, I believe proper distribution networks should be set up.
Speaking of Prof. Dora Akunyili, how would you describe the late NAFDAC boss?
A brilliant woman she was! Dora was someone we cherished and have come to acknowledge as worthy achiever. I must say I was privileged to have a wonderful encounter and close rapport with her. That is why I mentioned earlier that only people of Akunyili’s calibre should be deployed in all departments of NAFDAC.
How best can the issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicine be curbed?
The issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines can be curbed by encouraging local drug manufacture and ensuring standards of drugs and medicines imported from other countries. That, to me, appears to be the only way out.
Over the years, you must have seen many PSN presidents come and go. Was there one who really left a lasting impression on you?
Yes, I think the period of Dr. Philip O. Emafo was positively eventful. The reason is not far-fetched. When he was at the federal ministry of health, he fought gallantly for recognition and importance of pharmacy practice. Even as PSN president, he carried on with his crusade. I would describe him as one of the few early fighters we had.
What were your involvements in pharmaceutical activities?
I have held many offices within the pharmacy profession. Perhaps my greatest achievement is being the first Nigerian pharmacist to be appointed as a permanent secretary in 1998 among other appointments. At a point, I was made a commissioner in the civil service commission (2002-2007).
Are there some major awards given to you in recognition of your selfless service?
Of course, I was given a special recognition by the State Health Management Board as the best pharmacist in the State. I cannot remember the date exactly but I know that it was whenChris Efobi was chairman of the management board.
How do you feel being recognised as the first pharmacist to be appointed as a permanent secretary?
It was a wonderful experience. Congratulatory messages poured in from different parts of the country. Prior to that time, I had worked in various ministries. I would say that it was quite an exciting moment for me as people applauded me when they discovered that I was actually the first pharmacist to assume such office. Many described it as a landmark in the history of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). If you were to visit the PSN secretariat today, you would still see it boldly written in the society’s landmark achievers column.
How did you manage running your work and giving attention to your family at the same time?
That wasn’t really a problem because I have a wonderful family. The good thing about it is that everybody is working. My wife taught at the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, before moving into the banking sector. She is presently a member at the ongoing national confab. My first son is an engineer; my second son is a member in the Anambra House of Assembly; my first daughter is the acting director general, National Pension Commission; I have another daughter who is an executive of Union Bank; my third daughter is also working as a banker and my last girl is presently in London studying International Law. So, you see why I said I never really had a problem managing the family.
How do you see the annual PSN national conferences?
The annual PSN conference is a still a worthwhile venture. It is where professional pharmacists exchange ideas and it is also a period for social interaction.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
None! I am quite satisfied with the pharmacy profession.
Is there any particular age when an active pharmacist should retire?
No, I think pharmacists should be allowed to practise for as long as they are able.
As an elder in the pharmacy profession, what is your advice to young pharmacists?
I would advise young pharmacists to be proud of their profession and work hard to improve their status. They should be involved in community development and politics.