Pharmacists were in high demand, made lots of money in the 80s –Chrisland University VC, Prof Chinedum-Babalola – TrendyNewsReporters
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Pharmacists were in high demand, made lots of money in the 80s –Chrisland University VC, Prof Chinedum-Babalola

The Vice-Chancellor, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Prof Peace Chinedum-Babalola, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about her career as a pharmacist

You were born in Umuahia to teacher parents. What kind of upbringing did you have?

I was born in the current Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia. It used to be Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Umuahia. I am from Ehime-Mbano, Imo State. We were an average family. My parents were teachers. Being the first child out of five children, I had a lot of responsibilities placed on me. I had to be a good example to my younger siblings. My mom was a disciplinarian to the core. So, growing up, my mom would cane us very well, because she was quite strict. She was doing the work of a man and a woman at the same time since my dad was away. My dad was away initially. I had to take responsibility for what my younger ones did. I started cooking at age 10, even if we had help. My mom was also a coach and teacher. Her goal was to ensure we could do our maths and be among the best in school. We had most of the things that we required. I remember when I was in secondary school; my mother would go as far as buying me a carton of milk to go to school with. She was a headmistress at the time.

Since my mom made it clear that she didn’t like failure, it was a real deal for me to be the best in school. I recollect that when I was in Primary Four, I had a weak pass, even though I was number four on the list. She beat failure out of me that day. That was a remarkable experience. That is why, till today, whenever I am in any place, I would struggle hard to be the best, to really make a mark. My mom was very good at mathematics, so she coached me in mathematics. I went to one of the best schools, the Federal Government College, Enugu. After coaching me, she would tell me, “If you know you are going to pass this exam, go to the other room and pick the money for common entrance. You must not fail that exam!”

That was a huge responsibility for me at that age. When the result came out, it was made public in the dailies. She took the papers and scanned through them and did not find my name. Oh my! I trembled like a leaf because she had warned me earlier. She asked for my exam number and I got her the slip she searched through the list and then, she saw my exam number that was written against another person’s name. She sent it to my dad who was working in another city, so he went to the Federal Ministry of Education, Lagos to lodge a complaint with the evidence and they saw that I actually passed the exam. It was corrected and I was admitted into the Federal Government College, Enugu. I ended up getting two admissions – FGGC, Owerri, and FGC, Enugu. I am glad I chose Enugu. They were the best.

What influence would you say that your childhood has had on your adult life?

I learned discipline from my mom. She had zero tolerance for laziness. She had a low tolerance for failure. It made me pursue excellence in whatever I was doing. It gave me boldness, courage, and discipline in my adulthood.

I remember my mother had a policy that focused a lot on mathematics. Her belief was that if you could do well in mathematics, you could do well in any subject. I dared not play outside when I had exams. I would finish one notebook full of mathematics every day. She put a lot of price on education. She taught me to sacrifice for my children. I also do some homework for my children, even though, in my case, I had lesson teachers who help out. I teach excellence to my students as well. I make them realise that there is no tolerance for failure and there is a need to take one’s work seriously.

When my first son was schooling at Covenant University, Ota, his CGPA was on a 2.1 grade. All of a sudden, he started sliding downwards. I called him one day and told him that we could not pay that much for education and watch him graduate with a 2.2 grade. I went to the university unannounced one day to see what was going on. I spoke to him that day and somehow, by the following semester, he went back to 2.1. The last one didn’t really like to study; his learning span was short. But somehow, we were able to manage him. He has graduated now from university. So, I am glad to say that all the members of my immediate family are graduates.

Whose idea was it for you to study pharmacy?

My parents did not really force any career on anyone. They gave us a free hand to choose what we wanted. I did so much maths at my primary school level that I was already thinking about university then. I told myself that I would study mathematics when I get to university. I had fallen in love with mathematics. However, while in secondary school, I got better exposure and I said I would study Technical Drawing. I filled in Architecture in my JAMB form. I made a mistake by choosing the wrong university for the course I wanted. When that happened, I said I would not do architecture anymore. I then began to look out for courses that mattered. If I wasn’t going to do architecture; what next? Everybody told me to read medicine since I was qualified to do so. I really don’t like medicine for no particular reason. I asked someone who mentioned pharmacy as the closest sibling to medicine.

What was the first impression in pharmacy school?

I attended the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife). You know when you come in, you do the sciences first. It was then my dad woke up to say, “Why don’t you read medicine instead of pharmacy?” People had frightened him that pharmacy was really tough and only a few schools offered it. I remember him pleading with me for a while, but I said no. I told myself that I needed something different. I did well in my first year. I remember the first time they published the physics result and I scored 100/100. Everyone was looking at me like I was a robot or something. That was how people got interested in me. I remember maths was tough at the time, but I had someone who taught me. All I needed were the principles and I am good to go. I started scoring A in maths. (The University of) Ife was tough. On the night the results were released, it would be like a graveyard. A lot of people would drop out. I am grateful to God that I did well. I had this belief that if there were three best students in class, my name would be there. I made the best out of pharmacy school. It was more like doing well than what the profession was going to offer me.

After bagging your first degree, did you have a clear-cut career path?

By the time I finished my degree, pharmacists were selling like hot cake. My God! People would kneel to ask you for your licence. There were already millionaire pharmacists at that time in the 80s. I had the opportunity to really go out there and make money. The jobs were waiting. My dad’s friend, who was a businessman, said he would set me up so I could be doing pharmacy business, traveling abroad, marketing drugs, and making money. I had to pray, having given my life to Jesus Christ. I had a leading under God on graduating to narrow down on academia and industry practice. Academia was paying the worst at that time. It was really poor. When this man who had promised to help told me of his plans, I said no. My dad became genuinely worried for me. I was just 21 years old when I left school. I finally settled for academia. My friends would call me, telling me of a job in Lagos and Abuja. I just needed some peace. I felt bad because it was a huge financial burden for my parents because at that time, I should be earning some good money to also help them out with some responsibility. I automatically got a position in the department to lecture at Ife. So, I worked an internship as a Graduate Assistant at the university. They allowed us to go for masters. Ife had the policy of picking and retaining the best. If they didn’t have that policy, I wouldn’t have been a professor today. I came back after NYSC to complete my master’s. I got a job as a Junior Graduate Fellow. I chose the sector where the wages were the poorest.

What were some of the challenges you went through lecturing at OAU?

Starting out at Ife, it was like I was crawling. Going through a master’s, Ph.D. took so long. My plan was that at 25 years old, I should have my Ph.D., and at 35, I would become a professor. I didn’t even have plans to study in Nigeria. I focused a lot on looking for scholarships abroad. I knew I was qualified for the scholarships, but at the end of the day, none of them worked out. So, I was forced to continue in Ife. The degrees took a long time to finish. It was in Ife that I got married. I thank God now that I stayed on. I took them as limitations on one’s path to success. For instance, my Ph.D. result was ready in 1997, but there was one long ASUU strike and it elongated. This was after I submitted it around 1994 – three years after – which would have been enough to get another PhD It was not as fast as I wanted. Whenever I picked up my CV then, it was a lot of struggle. We didn’t have facilities. We used our own money to buy lab rats. I also bought feeds with my money. I spent a lot of money and there was no funding. So, it was a tough ride; I was gradually climbing.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

It was after I moved to the University of Ibadan that I began to see significant growth. (The University of) Ife gave me a strong grasp. By the time I got to Ibadan, 90-95 percent of the lecturers were Ife-trained. That is one thing I would continue to praise Ife for. Ibadan was like a springboard. Before I left Ife, a senior family friend had told me to follow a particular professor of pharmacology at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Adeyinka Gladys Falusi, who immediately took me as her mentee. I began to follow her as I was advised. She opened my eyes to what it takes to be a good academic. I learned a lot from her. As an award-winning professor, I would help her while she was collating her things and we did some studies together. One Professor Olaniyi was also lecturing me in the pharmacy section, being a lecturer. This exposed me to better ways of teaching and researching. My profession rose after I went to Ibadan. I began to apply for grants and traveled for a post-doctorate in Canada. Some of the chemicals I handled in Nigeria when I got to the University of British Columbia, Canada, I found out, were toxic. They taught us how to use these chemicals, reagents, and other toxic materials. It was there I began to travel for research. Those were signs of being good academics. I also added pharmacogenetics to my studies based on what my findings were on the pharmacokinetics of quinine in Nigeria. Prof Falusi, on retiring at 76, handed over my lab to me; we still do research together. (The University of) Ibadan exposed me. I became a reader in 2003, a professor in 2006. I also became the first female Head of Department of PharmChem, the first female to give an inaugural lecture in Pharmacy, the first female to be Dean in Pharmacy, the ninth woman in Nigeria and first pharmacy Fellow of the Academy of Science, first Nigerian female to be inducted in the African Academy of Science. So, everything just became first of firsts. I am also the first female Nigerian Professor of pharmacokinetics. I became Director of General Studies in the whole UI. People began to wonder how someone from (the Department of) Pharmacy would become a General Studies Director. I didn’t compete for most of the things; most of what you see are all recommendations. What I mean is that when people recommend, you must be qualified. Everything began to move well for me. The one that shocked me was that when I became the Vice-Chancellor of the Chrisland University, Abeokuta, the Public Relations Officer in UI then said I was the first female professor in UI to become a Vice-Chancellor. I am also the first female professor of pharmacy to become a VC. I don’t think there has been any other.

As the first substantive VC of Chrisland University, how would you say you have fared so far?

This is my fifth year. I didn’t see it coming, to be honest. I have always loved research. I was overseeing a very big center, the Centre for Drug Discovery, Development, and Production. I led the team that won a MacArthur grant of almost a million dollars to set up that center. My passion was that when I was done being Dean of Pharmacy, I would focus on that center. People would always prophesy that one day I would be a VC, but I knew being a VC was very political, and I was not cut out for all that. It was never on my radar. Someone brought it to me that I applied. I didn’t even apply. By the time I was concluding the deanship, which was like two years after the first advert at Christland, I was told that Chrisland had advertised again for VC so it became a family decision. My husband was like, “You need to really take a break from UI after so many years. Maybe, you should apply.” I must say I applied not with so much zeal, and I was employed among 10 and 12 applicants. I was even in the US when I got the letter. Being a start-up university, I was the first duly processed VC in Chrisland University, and I am glad I led the school from about 57 students (who were already in 300 level) to about 800. One of the greatest problems we have is that we have outgrown the temporary site and should be planning a Plan B.

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