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Improving quality of life through manufacturing of safe medicines

By Nnamdi Nwokolo and John Sylvester
10 February 2017   |   3:22 am
Drugfield Pharmaceuticals Limited, a wholly indigenous drug manufacturing outfit started operations in Nigeria after approval and due recognition by relevant agencies and bodies.

Pharm Ekundayo

Drugfield Pharmaceuticals Limited, a wholly indigenous drug manufacturing outfit started operations in Nigeria after approval and due recognition by relevant agencies and bodies. Pharm. Olakunle Ekundayo, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the firm is an unassuming professional. A Fellow of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy, spoke on the Focus of a CEO in this interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo and John Sylvester.

What informed your choice of career?
My choice of career was a combination of providence and accident as I actually wanted to be a Medical Doctor. When I went for the entrance examinations at the University of Lagos, I had issues that morning, with my tummy which put me under much pressure of seeking for a toilet to empty my bowel. On my return to the examination hall I had just about thirty (30) minutes left which made me miss a substantial part of the examinations. When I lost the admission to the University of Lagos, I got admitted to study Science Laboratory Technology at Yaba College of Technology and towards the end of the course, I asked myself, what was I doing here, because I know I wanted to be a medical doctor. I shared my aspirations with a close friend’s father who assisted me and gave me a note to his friends at Unilag and another at University of Ife. It was when I got to Ife that I realized that my elder sister was married to the Faculty officer in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Ife. It was my brother-in-Law that counselled me that pharmacy was as good as medicine and because I was desperate I gave it a thought and enrolled for Prelim pharmacy at Ife. At the end of the one year programme, my performance earned me a federal government scholarship.

Why the interest in manufacturing?
While in the University, I used to visit an uncle who was the Production Manager of Welcome Pharmaceuticals Company, and each time I came around, I loved his job as well as the respect he commanded. I said to myself, when I graduate, I’m going to work in production. Before, I graduated; I already knew the career path I wanted to toe. Upon graduation, I was employed by Glaxo in the production department. I worked for a while at Glaxo before I switched over to Pfizer. I was enjoying my career at Pfizer and the career path was very promising when Prince Adedoyin asked me to consult and help him in setting up Doyin Pharmaceuticals. It was a hard decision to make but eventually I agreed to work for him and we successfully built the factory. Before the end of the agreed period of three years, I was already fed up with the arrangement and therefore left by the end of 1992. So, I set up Drugfield Pharmaceuticals in a small facility in 1993 with a vision to become the Leading Pharmaceutical multi-dosage form manufacturer in Nigeria as well as a mission to improve quality of life through manufacturing, distribution and sales of quality, safe and effective medicines.

What has been the biggest challenge of running a manufacturing firm?
If we have to talk about Nigeria of today, there are many challenges that manufacturers face. The traditional challenges of infrastructure are there including electricity, water etc which we have to practically provide for ourselves. Our investment in generators is huge and we run on this 90% of the time. Leaving that aside, Nigeria is a country that opens her borders to all manners of imports including pharmaceuticals. Most of the drugs that come into the country especially from Asia cannot be vouched for, and they sell cheap. Unfair competition with these importers is also a huge problem. The porous nature of our borders has directly encouraged importation of what I’ll call substandard products into the country. For example, some of our products that are encouragingly successful are being faked in China. Another area of challenge is that governments at all levels are supposed to be the biggest and best buyers, but unfortunately, they are the worst. We supplied drugs worth over N90Million to the federal government in 2013 under the flood emergency programme, as I talk to you now, we are yet to be paid. When you put all of these together including the high cost of funds, you’ll have an idea of what we pass through. As a manufacturer, if you are not disciplined sufficiently to control your exposure to borrowed funds, it is a very quick way to kill the business. We don’t get any incentive from the government, as we speak, what government is owing members of our group is in excess of N2Billion.

What can government do differently to help the industry?
Government can do a whole lot. To make matters worse, let me tell you what policy government implemented recently that will make you wonder if there’s any patriotism left in governance. Through ECOWAS arrangement, they came to a conclusion that to enable free flow of goods and make goods readily available between member countries, import of finished goods into member countries will attract zero import duty. Surprisingly, Nigeria signed into that agreement and has started implementation when other countries are still studying it. You begin to wonder what benefits it would bring to manufacturers in the country to justify the rush to start implementation. The implementation of that agreement is a deliberate attempt to kill existing industries in Nigeria. However several representations were made by PMG-MAN to the present administration and recently in this year’s fiscal policy, government agreed to impose an import adjustment tax of 20% on certain categories of pharmaceutical products that Nigerian companies have more than enough capacity to manufacture. But can you believe that some unpatriotic Nigerian beneficiaries of the zero import duty on finish imported products are already mounting pressure on government to reverse it for personal gains? There’s a lot our government can do, in Ghana for example, if you are a manufacturer, all your inputs, raw and packaging materials etc attract zero import duty whereas if you are importing finished goods, you pay import duty of 10%. This is to encourage local manufacturing. At this point, government ought to increase restriction to imports of drugs that can be made here in Nigeria, so that capacity utilization can go up and all our inputs should attract zero import duty. A country that relies too much on imports is highly prone to mass killing of her people by the enemy without firing a shot across her borders.

Like every human being will like to grow move forward from one point to the other, so also every viable organisation will like to grow in terms of volume, profitability and service delivery from time to time. We also hope that in no distant future, we will start producing some of the ingredients we import. We had hoped that the petrochemical industries in Nigeria will develop so that the molecules for making the active ingredients can be sourced locally but because of the way we do things, the petrochemical industries are yet to take off after several decades. Until we get our acts together, we cannot achieve anything. We should by now not be importing things like petroleum jelly for Christ sake. India for example, closed her borders to Pharmaceutical imports and they were able to develop their local capacity. Today, India has the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world exporting to countries all over the world.

Critical factors for business success:
I think the number one thing is that you need a lot of discipline especially if you are at the helm of affairs. You need a lot of discipline. From my experience, if you are not disciplined, there’s a tendency that you will expose the organisation to a lot of danger. Even from borrowing funds from the banks, you have to be sure of what you want to use the money for. A lot of discipline, patriotism and a whole lot of focus and prayers are critical to business success.

Unique selling point of Drugfield pharmaceuticals:
That is a very good question. Our strategy is to go into areas where not too many companies are into. We went into ointments and creams at the time and that gave us a lot of push. We look for gaps in the supply chain and bridge the gap and that is our competitive advantage. The completion of our modern current Good Manufacturing  Practices (cGMP) compliant manufacturing facility for the production of injections, intravenous infusion products (large volume parenterals), creams and gels as well as sterile Eye and Ear Drops has enhanced our competence to respond to expanded dosage form demands and acceptance. Also our recognition by Regulatory Agencies and International Certification as evidenced by the NIS:  ISO 9001:2008 award are clear indications of our progress as a company. With a strong, virile, committed, competent and dedicated professionals and staffs, our activities are felt all over Nigeria and in sub-regional markets.

Driving force:
With what we have invested in the country which is huge, some of us see what we are doing as a divine calling and that come what may, this is where the future of Nigeria and any country lies. Some of our members also try to sustain themselves by doing a bit of importation of finished drugs while they still manufacture but we don’t do that. We are hopeful that the future should hold good for manufacturing and that is why we are hanging on and keeping business afloat amidst the mounting debilitating challenges.