In this exclusive interview, the immediate past National President of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), Christian Oluchukwu Ughagwu, delves into some burning issues affecting PANS activities and pharmacy education in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Would you say vying and serving as PANS national president was a good decision for you?
I strongly believe that it was a good decision; it gave me opportunities to perceive life from different perspectives. I must add, though, that it was not an easy task. PANS harbours over 20,000 students in Nigeria and it is not a simple task to lead an enormous number of persons while maintaining the balance between leadership and my educational pursuit.
The position of PANS national president assisted in developing my mindset and understanding that leadership is not about you; it is about the people. This position exposed me to numerous opportunities, and I term it a significant landmark in my life. It wholly changed my viewpoint about various issues and consequently assisted me in becoming a better person.
Amongst a plethora of things, it gave me an in-depth knowledge of the importance of leadership. It aided my overall growth and development. It was, indeed, an extraordinary and insightful decision.
Do you think PANS is living up to expectations as the nationwide umbrella body of pharmacy students?
The standard that PANS has set is completely remarkable; her activities and businesses are taken very seriously. She commands extraordinary relevance and is well respected by professional bodies within and outside the country, such as the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation and many more. During national events organised by PANS, a lot of pharmacy students put in their best. In these aspects, I acknowledge that we are doing excellently.
However, in consideration of the number of students that participate in the activities of PANS, I do not believe we are living up to expectations. This is because there is a wide range of restrictions from school authorities on the students; thus preventing them from participating in the activities of PANS.
In the aspect of student programme planning, authorities are often hesitant to give approvals. Sometimes I wonder if students in leadership positions are being considered. Ban on unionism is becoming the norm in universities. This ban precludes students from exercising their democratic rights or grooming their democratic orientation. Practising and participating in unionism are important factors that help to groom students into becoming better future leaders. Students should rather be encouraged to participate in activities, rather than be directly or indirectly discouraged.
What do you think led to your emergence as PANS national president in the last administration?
I strongly believe I was elected because the students saw the sincerity I portrayed; they saw someone with an unquantifiable drive for the growth of PANS.
My antecedent actions toward the growth of PANS also paved way for my election. When I was PANS-IUO (Igbinedion University, Okada) PRO, I worked so hard. I revamped the office and I surmise that this also tilled the soil for me in respect of being elected as PANS national president. I suppose that the students saw the immeasurable zeal in me, the unending hard work and the earnestness I possess.
They saw a person who would transform and carry the association along. They saw a person who would augment the standard of the association way above where it was and for these reasons, I was elected.
You had some objectives set for yourself when you were elected. How many were you able to achieve?
My first objective was to transform the Pharmacoposium. Previously, the Pharmacoposium was set to be a one-day event and various students travelled from far distances to make it to the event. Some students considered attendance to the programme cumbersome because it lasted for a day, and they deeply wanted a change in the modus operandi.
To address this issue, I mapped out strategies to extend it from a one-day event to a three-day event. With God’s aid and the outstanding efforts of my team, we were able to rebrand the event from “Pharmacoposium” to “Global Health Summit” and this, I must state, was a tedious task. The Global Health Summit consists of Pharmacopsium, PharmaFest, picnic and excursion, thus making it a three-day event.
Another objective I had was to relaunch the PANS national website which had been down for about five to seven years before my administration. This was the first project I finalised immediately after I assumed office. The PANS national website can be found at www.pansnational.org.
Thirdly, PANS owed the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation some debt since 2018. I set a goal and made it of vital importance to repay the debt, and this was accomplished. It is noteworthy to state that this would have been nearly impossible without the help of the PSN.
In addition, I had a very significant objective of adding more value to the office of the PANS president. To me, being the national president is not all about organising conventions; it is way beyond that. It entails using the office to improve the standard of the association.
I succeeded in accomplishing this, and in fulfilment of this objective, PANS has established relationships with two former state governors and a royal house. My team and I were able to reach out to these persons to inform them about PANS and create a relationship with them. This has, of course, given the association more relevance.
With the help of my teammates, we made created a platform where pharmacy students can learn a skill for themselves. This is the Pharma Masterclass Innovative. We have also been able to establish a relationship with the Edo State Ministry of Health. It was one of my objectives to collaborate with the government and I am delighted to mention that we achieved this.
Having completed your one year in office as national president, how would you describe your experience combining PANS activities with your studies?
I paid enormous attention to both my studies and PANS activities. It was an exceptionally arduous undertaking; although, there was a delicate balance. Finding this balance was challenging. Words fail to depict the profusion of time and energy I expended in making sure that I kept these aspects of my life afloat at all times. My gratitude totally goes to God; everything would have been impossible without Him.
What are those things you think the government could do to improve the standard of pharmacy education in Nigeria?
The government plays an enormous role in improving the quality of pharmacy education in Nigeria. The government can put a stop to the incessant strikes. The commencement and shutdown of educational institutions at the discretion of groups of persons give the impression that the government does not care enough about the decline of the standard of education in Nigeria.
Students deserve a smooth running of their university education. It is undeniable that strikes put students off-balance. Learning a trade is a brilliant choice but for how long should students who genuinely want to study be forced to stay out of school on different occasions? With chronic strikes, the chances of students losing their initial interest in their course of study heighten.
Putting an end to strikes is one factor but providing these institutions with equipment and facilities is another factor. Universities must be equipped with good facilities; conducive learning is paramount. A school with poor facilities could affect students’ engagements and dedication to put in maximum effort. Government should endeavour to provide amenities necessary for education in pharmacy and non-pharmacy schools
What is your advice to students willing to study Pharmacy?
Sincerely the whole process is not easy. Good things rarely come easy. As an aspiring pharmacy student, you have to be prepared to enjoy the process. Pharmacy is an amazing course that will definitely stress you, but in the end, it would be worth every sweat. Enjoy the process, the ups and downs, be focused and do the right thing at the right time.
What message do you have for the incoming PANS National President as you leave office?
The reality is that one year is not enough to do so much for PANS as an association. Time is of great essence and should be extensively utilised. Within this one year, he should do as many things as possible; though, what is more, important is that he does them well.