Associate Professor Ignatius Onaga is a lecturer in the Faculty of Pharmacy, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with MOSES DIKE, the 76-old-year-old educationist recounts some of his childhood, academic and career experiences, especially the circumstances leading to his pharmacy career. He also examines key issues affecting pharmacy education in Nigeria, with suggestions for advancement. Excerpts:
Kindly tell us about yourself, especially your early childhood experiences, education and the events that have helped to shape your adult personality.
I was born 76 years ago, precisely on 19 September 1946, at Enugu General Hospital, Enugu State, to the Christian family of Mr and Mrs. Vincent Onaga, of blessed memory. I was brought up as a kid in police barracks because my dad was a police officer. In those days, discipline was high but life was joyful.
As I grew up, being the first Child of my parents I had to learn early in life to take care of my siblings and assist my mum in sundry domestic duties. My early childhood education, specifically my primary education started in Enugu, and my secondary school was at St Theresa’s College (STC) Nsukka.
Then, for post-secondary education, I attended Federal Science School, Onikan, Lagos. From there, I gained admission to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) from where I graduated with a Second Class (Hons) Upper Division, in 1972.
How did you come about Pharmacy as a career choice? Did you have role models or events that influenced your decision?
I did not know much about Pharmacy then but for my chanced encounter with Mr Fubara, who worked as a senior pharmacist at Owerri General Hospital. He made a good impression on my young and fertile mind about Pharmacy, with his contented lifestyle. I wanted to be like him.
Another pharmacist personality that shaped my career was a community pharmacist who treated me for malaria at Ikoyi, Lagos. He looked affluent and appeared quite successful. He also spent some time to talk to me about the pharmacy profession, which reinforced my earlier impression to the extent that when I recovered from the malaria fever, I returned to Federal Science School (Onikan) and changed my course from Chemical Engineering to Pharmacy. This was pre-civil war years.
After graduation in 1972, I did my internship programme at Enugu Specialist Hospital and Pharmacy Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where I served as a graduate teaching assistant. From this post, I won the Federal Government Postgraduate (Overseas) Fellowship for further studies in Pharmacy, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. I graduated with a Master of Science Degree from that institution in 1976.
Thereafter, I returned to my alma mater, University of Ife, as an assistant lecturer, to assist in new curriculum development, with the introduction of new and relevant courses in Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Administration.
Kindly tell us about some of the most memorable events of your career and their impacts on your life.
The year 1976 is memorable and significant in my life for several reasons. I got married in February 1976. I obtained MSc. (Pharmacy) degree from the University of Wisconsin in July 1976, and was blessed with an adorable daughter (first child) in October 1976.
Again, I was offered a teaching appointment at the University of Ife and joined the Pharmacy Department. I left the state to establish a new pharmacy programme in the University of Ibadan. Later, I travelled to the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, to study for my PhD degree in Pharmaceutical Technology.
Yes, I had mentors and inspirers, in the persons of the founder and CEO of Pharmanews (Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi), who shaped and encouraged me early in my formative years at UNIFE. I also acknowledge the impact of Dr Evans Chidomere, who obtained for me the Federal Government Postgraduate form, with which I got an award for postgraduate studies overseas, which greatly facilitated my further training.
As an educationist with several years of experience in tertiary education, how would you describe the current state of pharmacy education in Nigeria? What areas do you think require urgent intervention by stakeholders to improve the standards?
The trend in modern pharmacy education is more infusion and orientation in Clinical Pharmacy and Nigerian pharmacy schools are on the right track, with focus on Clinical Pharmacy. More emphasis should be placed on traditional medicine and local drug manufacture.
I recommend that our schools of pharmacy should lead in single line manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. NAFDAC should give approval to a few schools for essential drug production, in line with the simple technology of table water and pure water production. They can also render consultancy services for communities near such schools, which can be later become upgraded to national levels, as more confidence is gained with practice.
Tell us a little about your family. Did any of your children take after you to study Pharmacy or other health-related professions?
God blessed me with four brilliant and adorable children, who are the joy of my life. I tried to persuade them to follow me in the pharmacy profession, but they chose to study Medicine, Engineering, Education and Law respectively and each of them is doing quite well in their chosen professions.