Professor Oluwatoyin Odeku, is the Dean Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan. In this interview with Pharmatimes Correspondent – GABRIEL IFINNWA, she identified lack of adequate research grant as the reason for the low rating of Nigerian universities. She also provides nuggets for young aspiring pharmacists who want to excel in their chosen careers.
Can you give us a background about yourself?
I am Oluwatoyin Odeku. I am a Professor of Pharmaceutics and Industrial pharmacy. I am also the Dean Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan. I was born in Kaduna State. I attended St. Michael’s Primary school in Kaduna state. I had my secondary school education at Government Girls Secondary school, Kachia, Kaduna state. Thereafter my parents moved to Ilorin, Kwara State. That was how I ended up reading Pharmacy at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
Why did you decide to become a lecturer?
I graduated from my Bachelor of Pharmacy in 1988. I had my internship with the Kwara State Government, where I worked at the General Hospital. I had my youth service at the Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital, Kaduna. I worked as a locum in a community pharmacy and a private hospital. When I completed my service year I got a job to register a premises as a superintendent pharmacist. As time went on, I discovered that I was not fulfilled. I found the hospital pharmacy too routine. I had a brief stint at the industry and I discovered that there was nothing new. The Profession had not emerged as it is today especially the clinical aspect of it. I ended up reading and searching for new quest of knowledge. That was how I found myself in this profession.
How would you describe the whole experience of teaching for you?
Rewarding! Teaching is what I enjoy doing. I am very inquisitive – always trying to discover something new in research. I believe in imparting knowledge and adding meaning to people’s life. I am always overjoyed to meet former students and everyone I brought up in the profession. I truly find this (imparting on people’s life) highly rewarding compared to the financial gains that comes with the profession.
Research grant still remains a challenge for educational institutions in the country. How can this be solved?
The educational research grants are very inadequate. Thank God for the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) for the Nigerian education system. The intervention is timely, but still not enough. Nigeria needs to take a cue from international best practices. In advanced countries investments in education or research grants is not solely Government responsibility; it involves individuals as well. These individuals give for educational or specific research purposes. In Nigeria, we do not have so much of this happening. Philanthropists in Nigeria can also support educational institutions for research purposes. Because, the lack of funding has held back our universities from addressing developmental challenges. This is one of the reasons we don’t engage in cutting edge research especially in the sciences. When we receive external grants, some conditions are attached to it. In Nigeria we need research grants to develop what we have. There is nothing stopping us from getting drugs manufactured from our indigenous pharmaceutical companies. This is the way to go.
How can training of pharmacists be enhanced taking into consideration the challenge of infrastructural decay in tertiary institutions in the country?
The Infrastructural decay is one thing, the inadequacy of the infrastructure is another. Most of the schools of pharmacy in the country were established years ago. Take for instance, at the University of Ibadan the intake was based on capacity. These days, the intake is more. And most of the universities do not have adequate funding to accommodate this new capacity of students being admitted. The laboratories built 30 to 40 years ago when the intake was 20 are still the same used to train about 100 students today. Even though in the last few years we have witnessed some improvement in educational funding but this is still not enough. There are laboratories, lecture rooms and even hostel accommodation to be built in our institutions. The University of Ibadan has clocked 70 years, but most of the facilities, especially hostel accommodation need renovation.
The increasing rate of drug abuse among the youths is a topical issue in Nigeria. How can we find a solution to this menace?
The issue of drug abuse among the youth is of great concern to everybody. Years ago this was not a common problem. Nowadays many young adults are engaged in illicit drugs and other substances. For example, prescription drugs like tramadol, codeine among others are being abused. Some resort to substances like Indian hemp as well. Others go as far as sniffing gums or latrine pits to get high. The latest trend I have heard is: some make a mixture of Maggi with methylated spirit to get high! The question is, how did we get here? One of the major problems for all of these is that we have so many unemployed youths in the country. Most of these unemployed youths engage in illicit substances most times out of boredom. The world is now a global village, that some want to experiment what they watch on TV. Some are already exposed to drugs before they are admitted into school. What they do is to influence others through peer group pressure. Growing up, we had game periods, library readers club among other social activities in schools. Most of these activities are missing today. We need to engage our youths in social activities to keep them away from these vices. And one way to do that is through continuous education and sensitisation.
Do you think mentoring can improve pharmaceutical practice in Nigeria?
In fact, mentoring can help to reduce the vice of drug abuse among the youths. Young adults need role models to guide them. For instance, I had two of our graduates who worked with me. And they did very well. Infact they had their names in different publications as result of their dedication. When graduates are gainfully engaged with their mentors, it serves as a guide to them through their personal life and professional career. It will also go a long way to stop the untold hardship of young pharmacy graduates in search of spaces for internship.
What is your advice to young Nigerians who want to study pharmacy?
When you make the decision to study pharmacy, it is important to remain focussed. Pharmacy training is rigorous. I have heard students complain about the hours spent in class. There is a reason for all of this. The purpose is to ensure that they are fully equipped to handle the challenges of the profession. The profession is highly rewarding but it also involves a lot of hard work through rigorous training.