Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin.
This week, we excitedly bring you a feature on a young Nigerian pharmacist (he has chosen to remain anonymous) who is moving back to Nigeria to pursue his dreams in the health sector and beyond. Read on, to hear him talk about his career so far, his hopes and plans for his pharmaceutical practice and his take on the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria. We hope you enjoy reading his story.
Thanks for agreeing to speak to us. Could you kindly tell us who you are?
I’m a young Nigerian pharmacist, living and working in London, England and looking to move back to Nigeria in the next few months. My interests range from sports to music and everything in between.
When did you leave Nigeria and why?
I left Nigeria for the UK in 2001 for educational reasons.
Can you shed some light on these educational reasons?
Sure. I left Nigeria after secondary school to do my A Levels in the UK and subsequently attend university there as well. I studied pharmacy at Cardiff University and graduated with a Masters in Pharmacy.
Did you always know you wanted to be a pharmacist?
Not necessarily. Whilst I was proficient in science subjects, I was not always sure of what science I wanted to practice. My dad then decided on pharmacy and I’m happy to say it’s turned out to be a worthy decision.
That’s certainly fortunate. So how did your career in pharmacy begin?
Well, it’s a seemingly convoluted path so do bear with me as I narrate. In the UK, after studying pharmacy, there’s a 1 year mandatory ‘pre-registration’ program (similar to the housemanship in medicine) which involves 1 year of working, shadowing a pharmacist and a very challenging professional exam afterwards. I undertook mine at Tesco Pharmacy, thankfully passed the exams and then registered as a pharmacist in the UK. I then went back to Cardiff University for another Masters degree, this time in Strategic Marketing as I felt that my business skills were lacking and I needed to remedy that. This I did for long term reasons because, I knew I would one day be going back to Nigeria to set up a pharmacy and I wanted to have the entrepreneurial skills necessary to market my drugs. After this degree, I got a job at Superdrug which lasted only briefly as the visa rules got changed and so I had to prematurely leave the UK for Nigeria.
Although I was somewhat disillusioned at the prospect, I decided to use the opportunity to undertake the NYSC program. However, when I got home, I realised that I was misinformed about the NYSC procedure, particularly as it applies to graduates of medicine and pharmacy. You have to register as a pharmacist and then take a 6week course which is rotated nationwide and runs once annually, before being eligible for NYSC. I had unfortunately arrived months before the course and did not relish the prospect of waiting idly which led me to decide to come back to the UK for a third Masters degree, this time in Global Affairs at the University of Buckingham. I did this alongside a part-time pharmacist job in Boots and I stayed with them, even after the completion of my course while planning another move back to Nigeria; this time much more thought out and researched. After Boots, a better opportunity presented itself at Sainsbury’s Pharmacy and I took it and that’s where I currently work as the pharmacy manager.
You’ve mentioned a few times, your unwavering intent to return to Nigeria. Why this mindset?
Moving back to Nigeria should be a decision based on personal circumstances. After all is said and done and despite the very well documented infrastructural and societal challenges in Nigeria, there’s still nowhere like home. I have a very good job in the UK and live a comfortable life but I feel that going home now is the right thing to do, for me. I would like to be closer to my family, most of whom reside there and I would also like to set up my pharmacy practice in Nigeria, God willing. It is where I want to be and where I am happiest.
Whilst I’m there, the intent is to get some hands on work experience, register my company and prepare for NYSC. Another reason is that there is a huge influx of pharmacists into the UK and so the money is not even what it used to be. The sector here is also getting very saturated for instance, because of EU laws, pharmacists from eastern Europe can come to the UK, shadow a pharmacist for a month and then get their license irrespective of whatever sort of training (or not) they may received in their home countries.
That’s understandable. You have discussed setting up your Pharmacy in Nigeria, can you go into some detail and tell us what this would entail?
My background in pharmacy and business has prepared me for this and it is something I want to do for a myriad of reasons. Operating a small, retail pharmacy is a profitable venture, it is also one that by its very nature will meet a very basic human need as I plan to site it close to schools, hospitals and potentially also specialise in certain medication(s), be a distributor, supplying private and public establishments and much more. I’m very optimistic about moving back and while I am very aware that things don’t always turn out as planned, particularly in the uncertain Nigerian terrain, I’m just hoping for the best.
This naturally leads us to the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria and bodies like PCN & NAFDAC. What are your thoughts regarding these regulatory bodies?
The pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria is definitely progressing. However, I feel we need to start manufacturing more medicines in Nigeria. The obvious infrastructural challenges certainly pose obstacles to this but it’s an area that should be better explored. We need more companies like Emzor, Orange Drugs and so on as a lot of medicines are currently imported from India and China which is not the route I would personally take if given the opportunity. There is more that can be done to increase our production especially considering we have the raw materials in abundance and a good example of this is maize starch which is a major component of most medicines.
The regulatory agencies like NAFDAC (National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control) and PCN (Pharmacists Council of Nigeria) need to be empowered and constitutionalized so as to be more effective and also to eliminate the crippling bureaucracy. There are existing policies which go a long way towards curbing illegal practices. Many people are not aware of the existing industry rules and this is due to the fact that they are hardly enforced. One such rule is one in which if a businessman wants to set up a pharmacy, there must an in-house pharmacist who must own at least 40% of the business so as to ensure best practice. The PCN also needs to organise more public enlightenment campaigns for citizens to be aware of the laws and policies. For instance medication like Valium and Lexotan by law are prescription only in Nigeria but a lot of people flout these stipulations.
What unique opportunities exist in the industry for people who may also be considering a move back?
There are many opportunities that abound, just take the size of Nigeria into consideration. There are 36 states in Nigeria with each one presenting a unique opportunity to whoever is interested and with the wherewithal to power the interest. For instance, I know someone who lives in Delta State but chooses to travel to the neighbouring Edo State to purchase medication for her kids when the need arises. There might be pharmacies close to her but she chooses to go all the way and it may be a function of the origin of the drugs sold by the pharmacies. She may just prefer European brands such as GSK or Roche to the Asian brands which are what abound in Nigeria and so here exists an opportunity for a business venture. Also, the WHO states that the fake drugs market In Africa is worth millions of dollars and we have a lot of people coming in from neighbouring countries like Ghana and Cameroon to buy medicines in Nigeria and so this is another opportunity to come in and present an ethical and alternative change.
This is all very enlightening and you’re clearly very passionate about this cause. Where then, do you see yourself and potentially, your pharmacy in 3 to 5 years?
Hopefully in a stable and successful position. I intend to eventually expand and open more branches of my pharmacy as well as be a key player in the sector. I have already started the legwork and so with hard work and God’s blessings, the sky is just the foundation.
That’s certainly positive. On a final note and as you’re somewhat in the transition process, what would you say to people considering a similar move?
You need to know before you go. Do not just make hasty decisions. I see a lot of people you’ve interviewed on the MoveBackToNigeria.com website who’ve successfully made the move back home are either in the finance sector or the engineering sector and that’s understandable as those sectors are currently enjoying a boom. It is not the same for the health sector and anyone who does not do sufficient research will most likely encounter problems. Doctors are not doing so well back home except those who run their own clinics.
Another point to remember is that you need to be open-minded and not compare Nigerian systems to those in the west. It’s also important to be patient and hardworking and eventually, things should pay off.
Thank you very much for your time and best wishes moving forward.
Photo Credit: dreamstime.com
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