Pharm. Michael Oyebanji Paul is one of Nigeria’s foremost pharmaceutical industrialists and managing director of Mopson Pharmaceuticals Limited, based in Lagos. Fondly called, M.O. Paul by friends and associates, the Mopson boss, who marked his 74th birthday in April this year, spoke with MOSES DIKE, about his love for drug compounding, early childhood, education, career choice, pastimes and a host of other subjects. Excerpts:
It is our pleasure to have you in our Senior Citizen’s column. Kindly tell us about yourself, especially your early years, education and the events that have helped to shape your adult personality.
I was born on 4 April, 1948. Although I am from Ijebu, my early life was spent in Ile-Ife. My parents were trading in Ile-Ife, so my family was living there then. My life was tailored to the Ife people and I speak the dialect very well. In fact, many people may not know that I am Ijebu because I grew up outside my domain.
Ile-Ife, in those days, was a bubbling town. Although the university was not there during my early childhood days, its coming, after my secondary school, ushered in a sort of new life in the town. I am a Catholic and I attended Catholic schools. I had my primary education at SS Peter and Paul Primary School in Ile-Ife, and my secondary school was at St John’s Grammar School, Ile-Ife.
I started my primary school in 1953 and finished in 1959. We were the pioneer students of St. John’s Grammar School in 1962. It was a new catholic school then. While in the secondary school, I discovered myself to be very good in the science subjects. So, I knew my life was gearing towards a scientific career.
In school, I was one of the best science students. But when I left the school in 1966, I realised that my science subjects were not complete because it was a new school. So I went to Federal School of Science, Lagos. From there, I picked up the sciences – Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Later, I left the school and went to teach, while waiting for my results because, at that time, the results were not released on time.
I can tell you that one of the best things I enjoyed in my life was teaching. When you teach, you learn better. I went to the University of Ife, after my A-Level in Lagos. I studied Pharmacy at Ife. While in school, I enjoyed my courses very much. For us then, we wanted to pass our exams but we were more after knowledge than the certificates. We formed the habit of reading the subjects before going to any class so that by the time the lecturer was talking, we would be able to participate in the class, ask questions and get your knowledge better.
How did you come about your choice of Pharmacy as a course of study? Did you have any role models who guided you to make the choice? If you were not a pharmacist, what else would you have loved to become?
Yes, we had retailers, but there were also some manufacturers then like Toki Pharmacy and Paul & Paul Chemists. We knew Gbomoro Pharmacy, Alabukun etc. We knew these people. They were in the market. Also, there was a chemist in Ile-Ife that time and we used to buy drugs there. So my father would tell me, “Go and study Pharmacy, so that you can be dispensing, selling and he would assure me that I would make money from there.”
However, it was never a good thing to tell me that there was money in something; I would lose interest in that thing. But if you told there was knowledge, I would be interested. So, I wasn’t so much thinking about the money but my interest was to acquire the knowledge that would help me render useful service to people.
I had a family friend then, who was the principal of a school. He was the one who actually advised me to study Pharmacy because my interest then was in Biotechnology. The man called me and analysed to me that, by studying Pharmacy, I would be dealing with human beings and impacting positively on them by giving them drugs to make them better. He encouraged me to study Pharmacy and assured me that I would enjoy pharmacy practice.
Apart from him, somebody else in the neighbourhood wanted me to study Medicine but I never liked the idea because I can’t stand the sight of blood and lacerated surfaces or to see skeletons. So, I settled for Pharmacy because I knew it would afford me the opportunity of talking to people and profferring solution to their health needs. So my purpose of going for Pharmacy was to be able to help people. I thank the family of Chief Omowowora for making me to study Pharmacy.
How did you start Mopson Pharmaceutical Limited, one the pioneer indigenous pharmaceutical manufacturers?
The story of Mopson started this way. I did my National Youth Service in Port Harcourt and I love compounding. My assignment was mainly compounding. Many pharmacists then didn’t actually like compounding because you would be forced to wear an apron and your clothes got stained and you knew less people because you were always inside. But I loved it and I was always in the compounding room. It made me to know so many preparations that the doctors needed.
I was compounding most often and so I knew how to make many preparations by heart. I know what to take and the quantity needed to give me my desired outcome. So, from there I began to envisage that whenever I would leave, I would have to be making these preparations for doctors; so that doctors in practice would always approach me and I would love a situation where I would go to the compounding room and mix preparations for them.
There are some preparations which you can only make fresh for the doctors. They are called extemporaneous preparations and I excelled in that. So when I got back to Lagos, I got a shop at Ojuelegba and I was compounding there. The name on the shop was Mopson Pharmaceutical Compounding Chemist. There, I was making Mist Mag, Mist Kaolin and before you know, I got many customers whose demands I was struggling to meet.
At my shop then, I was dispensing to patients and attending to their prescriptions. So, you can say that the idea to set up Mopson actually started at the compounding room in Ojuelegba. So I always thank the Rivers State Government, especially Mrs Green. She was the foundation of my being a compounding pharmacist.
You settled for industrial pharmacy at a very early stage when the local pharmaceutical manufacturing was quite untested. What motivated you to delve into this and did you ever feel like giving it up at some point?
Fortunately, later in my life, I got a job with Vitabiotics. I had worked with some other companies like May & Baker, where I got the selling skills. I also worked with J.L. Morrison, SK & F and others. After these experiences, my old idea was still with me. I wanted to be compounding.
What motivated me at that early stage was that Vitabiotics started production. Even though, I didn’t want paid employment but because they were manufacturing, I wanted to get the experience. So, I got employed by Vitabiotics.
Also, Vitabiotics wanted an experienced pharmacist in Tagamet product and so they were attracted by my experience. So I thought, “Yes, I can still work with them and come back in the evening and do my stuff.” So Vitabiotics actually exposed me.
Also, I worked with Dr. Lalvani of Therapeutics Laboratories Limited, as a superintendent pharmacist. I wish to thank him for the exposure he gave me. So, I would say that the industrial aspect of me was carved at Vitabiotics.
What would you consider as the most memorable events of your career?
My most memorable experience was the fact that I was producing products whose spread, circulation and acceptance went beyond Lagos and Nigeria. My products went as far as Ghana. They went as far as the north and were accepted and used everywhere. In fact, they became so popular, because I was competing with Dr Lalvani and at some point I was also competing with Vitabiotics; and I enjoyed it because I travelled a lot to see my customers.
The selling skills I picked up at May & Baker and SK & F actually helped me a lot and that is what I applied in selling of my products. At a very early stage, I was already in business. I built the current structure housing Mopson Pharmaceutical Headquarters in Lagos at the age of 36.
What are your thoughts about the current state of pharmaceutical manufacturing in Nigeria and what areas do you think require urgent attention or intervention?
In our days, every shop must have a compounding room where you were doing extemporaneous preparation. It was an integral part of pharmacy practice but because of the registration that is forced on pharmacies before you can sell anything out, that aspect of pharmacy, involving extemporaneous preparation and dispensing, is really affected. So, many shops are only selling products.
I would like us to revive that rudimentary practice and categorise pharmaceutical products into three levels and register them accordingly. That is, giving separate registrations to extemporaneous preparations, and those so licenced should be able to sell their preparations in their locality.
Why should a pharmacist not be able to pack methylated spirit and sell it, without going through the hurdles of registration, which many of them find exorbitant? The fact that you have to register everything has killed the core idea of drugs compounding in Pharmacy. In those days, you did Mist Kaolin, Mist Aspirin and doctors were coming to buy them. Some of the extemporaneous preparations are very effective and drugs compounding underscores real pharmacy practice. There is nothing special in selling an already packed product.
In those days, we were going around hospitals to buy Winchester bottle until I introduced the 2-litre plastic bottles. I was the first to introduce this and it has helped many upcoming ones to dispense in 2-litre bottles. This has reduced the risk of contamination.
The second thing I want them to do is to encourage local production more vigorously. Pharmacists can produce simple things like chloroquine syrup in 2 litres, cough mixtures etc., and sell them within an approved locality. The requirements for this should not be too stringent or discouraging. The third level is exportation, which will require WHO GMP Certification and it’s very expensive.
In Nigeria, our local drug manufacturers are doing quite a lot, with little support from government and I know that most of our products can succeed anywhere in the world. For example, my product, Neofylin, has never been exported to Britain but I found it there. Same in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana and it was well accepted.
In essence, I will recommend that there should be three registration standards. One is registration of extemporaneous preparation in pharmacy shops, so that pharmacists can practise what they studied in school. That is simple pharmacy practice, with purified water. And this doesn’t require RO water or DL water or magnetic water, as it is in the British Pharmacopeia (BP). It is purified water.
There is need for refresher courses. Those days, they called it “recertification courses”. If they can start it again, it will be very good, so that pharmacists can get a fresher knowledge of these things. I think it was organised then by the Federal Ministry of Health. They started by classifying the registrations into various groups. We had industrial registration, retail registration, import registration etc., and they were given different certificates. It’s still there till today, and they should continue with that.
I will recommend that people in practice or in the industry should regularly come for the refresher courses. If they start it today, I would like to come.
How do you relax? Tell us about some of the pastime activities and lifestyle modifications you have adopted to stay fit and active.
I love table tennis and I play it. I have my clubs. Most of my activities are in the church. We do a lot of activities in the Catholic Church. We have different societies but I love playing table tennis. I love jogging. I love reading anything relating to pharmacy practice. I love watching nature. I love watching documentaries on animal planets or documentaries on nature. I love dancing and, going to parties, going for tourism. In fact, there is a lot to tour about in Nigeria. If you go to Mambila or Yankari games reserve Bauchi, you will not believe that you are in Nigeria. But people are afraid of going to tours in Nigeria now because of the current state of insecurity ravaging the land.
Tell us about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study Pharmacy or other health-related professions?
Well, these days, you cannot force anybody against his or her own interest. Many of the children these days love IT or technology. This is so serious that when you sit down at home these days with your family, you see the children all on their phones, Ipads and tablets and sometimes even your wife too. More of the children these days are into IT.
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?
I have seen pharmacists go into banking, I have seen some into building and construction and some into electronics and they are very proficient. If you want pharmacists in their profession, you should give them the opportunity to explore Pharmacy.
As I was telling you, why is it that a pharmacy graduate cannot produce Mist Mag, which only requires purified water, even if only for use in his location? The era of compounding preparations must be restored and given a special licence for pharmacist to be able to do local production.
Pharmacists can pack methylated spirits; they can pack liquid paraffin and a lot of others. In doing so, the community benefits and the pharmacist enjoys some level of professional satisfaction. You don’t have to be an industrialist to pack liquid paraffin. As pharmacists who know how to mix and pack these things in a condition of safety, they should be encouraged with some level of support at the level of compounding pharmaceutics. They should be allowed and encouraged because that was how we started.
LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) was very good at this in the past. At a point, LUTH was producing most of all the things they were using in those days. Then they were making Mist Aspirin, Mist Alba and host lot of others.
Pharmacy should not be over regulated. We should not regulate Pharmacy to the point that pharmacists are unable to do their core business, which is compounding and extemporaneous dispensing.