By Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis
A Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN), Pharm. Omezue Anthony Ekoh is not your regular pharmacist. He was chairman of Ebonyi chapter of the PSN in the 70s shortly after the end of the civil war and chairman of Anambra State chapter of Association of General Pharmacists of Nigeria (AGPN) in the 80s. In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, the 74-year-old pharmacist explains some of the challenges they faced in his time and the struggle to uphold the profession.
Tell us a bit about yourself, especially your early days
I was born at Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in 1939. I attended Government Primary School, Afikpo in 1945 and proceeded to Government Secondary School (also in Afikpo) in 1953. I was equally admitted into Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu in 1958 and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology Ibadan (later University of Ife, Ibadan campus) in 1960 from where I qualified as a Pharmaceutical Chemist in 1963.
What is your work experience like?
I cut my teeth with Boots Company Nigeria Limited, Lagos in 1963 as Medical Representative. I also worked with Alpha Chemist and Rainbow Chemists (both in Port Harcourt) in 1965 before relocating to East Central State in 1970 at the end of the civil war. After the war, I had a brief stint with East Central State Ministry of Health before I decided to start my own pharmacy, Eastern Drug Company in 1970 at Abakaliki. The company was later incorporated in 1976 with the name Ekoh Drug Company Limited with its head office at Abakaliki. By God’s Grace, I remain the managing director/superintendent pharmacist of this company to date.
Looking back, can you confidently say studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Unless I want to deceive you, studying Pharmacy was a good decision for me and I made my son study Pharmacy. To date, I am still engaged in community pharmacy.
What was the profession like in your day compared to today’s practice?
Pharmacy profession in my days was very challenging. It was not well known then. We had to fight many battles to survive.
Are there some disturbing issues that tend to evoke memories of the past?
In our days, there were many colonial medical doctors and other professionals. There was hardly anything like pharmacist in government and other conventional hospitals. Back then, colonial doctors had to make do with dispensers and other lower health care providers. The nearest to what you may call a pharmacist in those days were dispensers trained in Yaba. Their situation was not good enough especially for those of them who worked in government’s health care centres. Besides, the rivalry between pharmacists and doctors who regarded them as inferiors made the plight of pharmacist more pathetic. However, I am glad to say it boldly that pharmacists can hold their heads high anywhere in Nigeria today. The fight continues anyway.
What are the challenges facing pharmacy practice in Nigeria and how can they be surmounted?
From the look of things, I can conveniently say that the greatest challenge facing the pharmacy profession today is drug distribution and the inability or lack of political will by relevant authorities to enforce pharmacy laws. It is also sad to know that pharmacy practice in all ramifications has become an all comers’ affair. It is no secret though that many investors who fail in other businesses often resort to drug selling. I must concede that there is an appreciable improvement today though. However, I am also of the opinion that with the expected commencement of mega drug distribution centres throughout the country, hopefully there will be sanity in drug distribution and control very soon
How best do you think the issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicine can be curbed?
I don’t see this as a problem. The issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines can drastically be reduced by enforcing existing laws and enacting additional laws on the control of drugs and ensuring that only qualified and registered personnel are allowed to deal in drugs. Drugs should only be distributed and dispensed from duly registered and inspectable premises. Secondly, open market, street and moving vehicular sale of drugs by unqualified hands should be prohibited by clear and adequate legislation and defaulters adequately and instantly punished.
Over the years, you must have seen many PSN chairmen come and go. Was there one who really left a lasting impression on you?
The way I see it, some of the PSN Chairmen did their best for Pharmacy but could not achieve the projected result because of many challenges and the Nigerian attitude of indiscipline and selfishness. For instance, I know Pharm. Azubike Okwor did his best during his tenure and from what I have seen so far, the current president (Olumide Akintayo) is doing his best.
What is your impression about the incumbent PSN president?
I cannot specifically say much on that. But I know Pharm. Olumide Akintayo is doing his best and I believe that before the end of his tenure, his effort will yield positive results.
Tell us more about your activities in the profession?
I am presently a fellow of PSN and have been involved in several aspect of pharmacy practice especially at the regional level. At various points in time, I was chairman of Ebonyi chapter of the PSN in the 1970s, chairman of Anambra State chapter of Association of General Pharmacists of Nigeria (AGPN) in the 1980s as well as vice president of Anambra State Cooperative Pharmacists among others.
Are there some major awards given to you in recognition of your selfless service?
Well…none is as important to me as the honour of Fellow bestowed on me by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN).
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
Medicine has always been on my mind long before I opted for Pharmacy as a study. However due to certain turnout of events, I chose the latter. But Medicine is another profession I have serious admiration for.
Is there a particular age you think an active pharmacist should retire?
A lot has been deliberated on this. But if you ask me, I think 85 years is enough for anybody to consider as retirement period given the fact that our body is no longer what it used to be.