It was Bob Proctor, the CEO of the Proctor Gallagher Institute, who once said that “a mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” This perhaps was what Pharm. (Mrs) Abiola Aina Okeowo, first deputy president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and managing director, Coby Pharmacy Limited, Kwara State, had in mind during this exclusive interview with Pharmanews. Okeowo, a Fellow of PSN, who has served the pharmacy profession in many capacities, reveals the crucial steps for success in community pharmacy, despite the many challenges facing the practice in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Briefly give us a glimpse into your pharmacy journey.
First, my education was done between Nigeria and overseas countries. All my father wanted me to be was a medical doctor because of my prowess in the sciences; but my first love has always been Pharmacy. To cut the long story short, Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi and his wife, Lady Joan Atueyi, played a crucial role in my life and in my being a pharmacist today.
Time would not permit me to go into the details, but coming in contact with the beautiful Atueyi family and watching the way he and his wife, a great nurse par excellence practised, made me want to practise like them when I grew up.
During the holidays, I spent hours daily watching Sir Atueyi as he practised with all diligence and always in the pharmaceutical premises to attend to each and every patient with prescriptions.
It was Fellow Atueyi that persuaded my father to allow me go back to the United States where I started schooling to study Pharmacy. To be candid, my father never liked the idea, but was eventually happy with the outcome.
After my academic sojourn in America, I returned home after acquiring enough knowledge to come and set up my own business of community pharmacy. I would say I owe everything I have become today in Pharmacy to God and the Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi family.
Tell us about your outfit, Coby Pharmacy – the philosophy behind the enterprise and the challenges encountered at the initial stage.
Coby Pharmacy Limited was set up 30 years ago to offer services to members of my community in Kwara State. The first 10 years were a struggle for funding and clients. The next 10 years yielded a lot of profits, due to a good economy and increased awareness of the services of pharmacists by members of the public.
Nowadays, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages in funds and sourcing of drugs, leading to a poor business environment for the community pharmacist.
What are your long and short term plans for Coby Pharmacy? Is there a plan to go into pharma marketing or launch a new product?
Coby Pharmacy might look into products marketing in the future, for providing many surgical appliances and other medications needed at the grassroots level.
What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in Nigeria – especially the challenges facing practitioners and how can these challenges be surmounted?
Community pharmacy practice in Nigeria, putting it succinctly, has a hurdle as high as a mountain to surmount. The first thing I noticed when I returned to Nigeria was the practice of “wholesale pharmacy” and I said it then that it was never taught within the four walls of learning and must never be allowed in our practice. I said it must be expunged so as not to lead to faking of drugs and drug abuse.
I said it then that there was nowhere in the world where such practices existed, but I was told, “Welcome to Nigeria where such practices had been before you were born.” Now, look at where the community practice has found itself – in the hands of illiterates and quacks. The so-called wholesalers now employ us to work for them for pitiable wages as salaries.
For us to have a sanitised practice environment and get rid of the wholesalers, all drugs must be sourced directly from the manufacturers, using barcodes and PCN registration number to order and deliver to the hospitals, pharmacies, research institutes and others, as it is done in advanced countries. This will cut off the middlemen, medicine vendors and fakers.
There are frequent reports of community pharmacies closing down or being put up for sale by owners. What could be causing this, and how can community pharmacy business be made more profitable and sustainable in the country?
Candidly, many pharmacists believe community practice is for those who are tired and retired from active service. Yet, the practice itself, if I may suggest, should be studied as a course on its own merit. To succeed at it, you need a mentor and must be disciplined. You must watch overspending because many things will distract you and make you want to spend from suppliers’ money. Also, not being available for the daily running of the business, being a socialite, shortages over a period by thefts, expirations and breakages could lead to losses and the business will collapse.
Many businesses do not prosper within a short period. This saying is especially true for community practice
At what point did you decide to go for the PSN deputy president’s position and what prompted the decision?
The post was actually prayed for from childhood! I just believed that I had a lot to offer my profession, and I thank God and some important people, including Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi, who I consult for all my professional ventures. He agreed with my aspirations and dreams, and also nominated and campaigned for me for all the posts I have held in Pharmacy so far because he knows that whatever posts I am going for is always to contribute positively in all ramifications.
Over the years, you must have seen some PSN presidents come and go. Was there one who really left a lasting impression on you?
Definitely, it was Pharm. Anthony Akhimien, a Fellow of PSN. I call him “my Pope”. Why? Because, with him, work is work; no distractions. He wanted the best for the pharmacy profession. He was a warrior and armed with someone like me and blessed with the kind of executive members he had during his tenure, the likes of the current PCN Registrar, Pharm. NAE Mohammed, as secretary and others who took several great decisions for the profession.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
I would have ended up a nun. You better believe it. Those that are close to me know why (laughs).
Pharmanews has just clocked 42 years, having started in May 1979. What can you say about the journal and the person of Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi?
I am proud to be associated with a “winner”. Who wouldn’t be? I was not in Nigeria for a long time, but, on seeing what Pharm. Atueyi had produced, it didn’t surprise me anyway, as he had always been a trendsetter, loving family man, great scholar, God-fearing man, and a great mentor and philanthropist. He is very humble yet stern. He is more of a father to me, and it may interest you to know that on my wedding day, he and his wife were parents-of-the-day.
He is very much my mentor and father in the profession till today, and upon the death of my father, he never ceased being a member of our extended family. So I celebrate the Pharmanews family for this milestone.S