Pastor Rufus Kayode Omotayo, a retired Director Food and Drug Services at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) also a retired minister of the First Baptist Church Garki, Abuja goes down memory lane with JULIET KUYET BULUS on his childhood, growing up, work
When and where were you born?
I was born on 12 August 1947 at Ifaki-Ekiti in Ekiti state and I recently marked my 71st birthday.
Was there a documentation of your birth?
My father was highly literate, he was a drug dispenser. He told me and I believe him.
Which institutions and or schools did you attend?
For my primary education, I attended several schools since I lived with my elder sister who was a teacher and eventually I finished my primary school education at Methodist Primary School, Itapa Ekiti. I proceeded to Ifaki Grammar School where I finished up in 1965 and had a brief working experience after my secondary school as a laboratory technician at Federal Department of Agricultural Research now National Horticultural Research Institute, Ibadan. I stayed at work about a year and half before going to the University of Ife, Ibadan branch where we had Pharmacy, now Obafemi Awolowo University. I finished up in 1972 with a Bachelor in Pharmacy. After school, I started work at the Federal Ministry of Health.
How was growing up like?
First of all, l was born into a polygamous family although it appeared that my father had only one wife with him. I lived with my mum until 1955, when I started to live with my elder sister. My dad loved children and I enjoyed his company. I would say we were nominal Christians; one thing I recall about my dad is that he normally led us in prayers before we went to bed. He was a strict disciplinarian and I remember being spanked for refusing to be in school in 1954 at Igbara Odo in Ekiti division. So, I had to go to school. And since I started living with my elder sister from the age of eight at Primary 3 till I finished primary school and went to secondary school. My elder sister never spanked me but she could nag you to death (Laughter) and that alone would make one want to sit up. She impacted my life a lot especially in the educational area because I didn’t think I would have turned out to be what I am today if not for her influence. By the time she got married her husband also happened to be a teacher. That was the environment I grew up in.
When did you start work?
I finished from the University of Ife in June 1972 and started work at the Federal Ministry of Health on July 1972. I was about 25 years old.
Why did you choose the profession you practised?
It was not accidental. During my time when one got to Form 4 they started focusing on what career they wanted to go into and the choice of subjects. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field and it was either Medicine or Pharmacy. Maybe if I had gotten admission to the University of Ibadan I would have studied Medicine because at the time Ife had not started Medicine but Pharmacy was very popular and Ife was the pioneer in Pharmacy at degree level. Though it was my choice and career, maybe my dad’s profession as a drug dispenser influenced me. Back then the doctors came once in a month. My father was always dispensing drugs and he became more like a medical doctor. There were also one or two books I read about career. In fact, I believe all the while God’s unseen hand guided my choice even when I did not really know him in a personal way.
When did you get married?
I got married on 31 July 1976; about 42 years ago. We had three children, two boys and a girl who passed on about 16 years ago. She was a first year Pharmacy student at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State. She died in a motor accident. She was part of a group going for retreat and the commercial vehicle she was in, had an accident. I am consoled, as she died a child of God. I have two surviving sons now, with one married and I am hopeful the other will settle down soon.
How did you meet your spouse?
It was through a friend. She was a very close friend of a friend’s girlfriend who later became his wife anyway because they were in a serious relationship. My wife was this friend’s wife who was a teacher in a school in Iperu, Ijebu side presently Ogun State. I think a Scripture Union activity brought my wife in contact with my friend’s wife while I was visiting him. God led us and the rest is history.
What endeared you to her?
The attraction was her Christian virtues, which was one of the strong factors. She was a very smart lady and still is. Dresses well even though not flamboyantly but modestly. Marriage to my wife, for over 42 years has been a partnership, companionship, love, devotion to me and the children. She has been extremely influential in contributing towards what I have been singled out to become today. My wife is the more strategic partner in a relationship, she is a very meticulous planner, a better manager of our family resources and without her love and devotion I would not have achieved so much. I owe a lot to her. I do not think I would have gotten a better gift of a partner than my wife as she has been a gem and great blessing to me and the children.
Peak of your career
My participation at the Senior Executive Course number 23 at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies Kuru in 2001. It was a defining moment in my public service career as NIPSS Kuru is the highest training institution in Nigeria both for public and private executives. My participation from February to November exposed me and other course participants (44 in number) to addressing some national issues. We looked into power, use of environment in particular. We had a tour of local strategic institutions and some states. We travelled to Cross River and Kaduna states, Mauritius and Portugal. We tried to look at how those nations handle their national problems in regards to power generation, environment as well as other matters of national development. We proffered solutions for some of the changes that had come up in the power sector. We looked into the need to disbundle the National Electric Power Authority into strategic sectors like the transmission and retail among others.
Why the decision to be a pastor?
I believe God led me into that; I had made an attempt to enter the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary Ogbomosho in 1966 while I was still working in NAFDAC. I had collected the form to be at the sandwich programme which was part-time but it would have demanded having to take at least six weeks off. For some reason I did not fill the form. By the time I was near retirement God used a family friend of ours, Reverend Olufemi Okunola, who was in the First Baptist Church Garki as an Associate Pastor for a brief period to get me the form in 2006. He sent it to me and I filled it. Although, he left the Church before my going to the seminary. I retired in August 2007 as Director Food and Drugs Services. I had intended to go for the sandwich programme but my intention was it would be after retirement from public service because I knew the schedule of job I was doing in NAFDAC would never have allowed me six weeks off at the time. But then when I got the opportunity, I sat for the examination in February 2007 and got invited for the interview and subsequently I was admitted. I had planned for the sandwich programme, during the interview God made things change. I did not receive a letter inviting me for the interview but got a phone call and when I got there, I received the letter of invitation. The interview was for the regular programme, I was given Master of Divinity (R) and when I asked what it meant they said it meant a full-time and it was to be for three years and I further asked of the duration for the sandwich programme and was told six contact sessions (6years) so I discussed with my wife and I changed for the regular. I believe God must have arranged it because I discovered that, if I had gone for the sandwich programme I would not have had the opportunity of doing those courses that were helpful and still helpful in my ministry in the area of children and teenagers because the sandwich programme did not accommodate religious education which was what I needed for my area of special interest.
Why the Children ministry?
I chose it because God had exposed me to the ministry of children even before I became a pastor from Ikoyi Baptist Church where I started to fellowship in 1991 and by 1993 the Church had organised a training for children minister by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CF) and the training opened my eyes to the ministry. It became natural that if I go into full-time ministry that would be my area of focus. My being called into the ministry has been one of my greatest blessings and my family is fortunate to establish a closely-knit relationship with its leadership under Rev.Israel Adelani Akanji and his amiable wife who have been motivating and affectionate.
What was your family’s reaction?
My wife also had been a part of the children ministry in the church and she offered full support for me. Even at the interview I went with my wife, we consulted together for the change from part-time to full-time.
How is life as a retired public servant and pastor?
I retired first from public service and I think for me I really did not have a break because I went to the seminary the day after my retirement. I had a thanksgiving service for my retirement from public service and by Monday 13 August, 2007 I was on my way to the seminary. For the second retirement it is too soon to know as I am about two months in retirement. But not retired totally from being a Pastor but retiring from Pastoral duties of the Church. One thing I think I now have is freedom, I do not have to wake up very early to be in church by 7am for the first service. Whenever I am around I still try to attend to some programmes. I also have more time now to settle down and read my Bible, pray and visit people because as a Pastor there is usually a normal routine you go through. God has been good to me.
How would you compare life during your time with what obtains now?
Not growing up in a big city like Ibadan or Lagos but in Ekiti where my parents were, I think until I went to secondary school we did not have the luxury of electric power supply. For the school, we had to operate on generator which my principal bought in Lagos. We used it from 6-10pm for preps, dinner and so on. Although to think of where Nigeria is now, I do not want to say they have made so much progress because it runs more on generators in the 21st century. First time I saw people using telephone was after my secondary school when I went to Ibadan to get a job, I had to visit my dad’s cousin who was trying to help me. My brother in-law was a transporter so I had a free ride and it was my first ride to Ibadan. I also remember in 1959 when I had to travel to Ekiti to buy Christmas shoe but today technology has brought the world to our phones. In terms of social life, we were more of a community then because as grown-ups you see your children doing things together and children did not belong to a particular family unlike today which is not the case. There must be crime but it has become a greater concern. I remember we slept with our doors open while growing up but now even with barricades we are not sure they will not break in. Society has made greater progress technologically, moral ethics have become much worse than before.
Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?
I was in Nigeria, my home town Ifaki Ekiti in Ekiti State and we had no means of knowing what was happening as there was no television. I am not sure I even had access to reading newspapers back then. Those who knew of it heard on the radio. But by the time I got into school, they occasionally bought newspapers.
Have your hopes at independence been met?
I am not sure I really understood national issues at that time but perhaps neither here nor there I cannot really say this was what I expected to happen. I know in 1959 there was a general election and I was in Primary 6 in Ado-Ekiti. My brother had a radio so we were following the election result then of the three main political parties National People’s Congress, the NCNC and the Action Group of (Chief Obafemi)Awolowo and there were the minority group. And I was following on radio. Population of young people has risen between now and then. I am not sure Nigeria’s population around that period was up to 60 million. But now, even though it is not empirically proven I will say we are about 180million and if the percentage of youths is more than the population then, you can imagine what it was at that time and now.
What challenges did you face while growing up, in your work life and now at retirement?
By 1955 Awolowo who was the first premier of the Western Region had declared free education at primary level and I think that lessened the burden of many parents. For my secondary education I know my dad struggled because the school fees was moderately high as I attended a community secondary school which was run more like a mission school. Occasionally I had to be driven out for school fees but I was able to get through. At the university level finances were still a bit of a struggle. During my second year, however, God graciously made me secure a Federal Government scholarship for the last two years of my studies.
My first coming into public service was after secondary school and my second coming was after graduation as a pharmacist. I started with experience at manufacturing of drugs in the Ministry of Health as we had a drug and manufacturing laboratory which was also where I did my one year internship before getting fully registered as a pharmacist. I got inducted into hard work and discipline there because we had a woman as head. One of the first few graduate pharmacists in Nigeria, she really drilled us as a hard working woman. We dared not go to work late and the discipline laid a foundation for me through out my 35 years of service and thereafter.
At that initial stage whatever problems there were, we relayed to our bosses. Then after my tutelage and transfer to other units and the pharmacy divisions where I was, was part of the directorate in the ministry. I got posted to other units of that division, and at the inspectorate we inspected drugs and we had a bit of challenge as I used my personal vehicle though I did not see it as a challenge then. I was not paid for using my car, I just saw it as part of my job. Later on vehicles were provided and I later headed the inspectorate as Chief Pharmacist. That was when I appreciated the challenges we were facing in the health sector.
On the job, we had people importing drugs illegally into the country, we went to the port and did our job and we later noticed those importers had a way of getting around it. I think what compounded the problem for us was when government introduced import license into importation of almost everything in the country at about 1984 or so before now people who had no business in drugs were given import license. As head of the inspectorate then, it was one of the government policies that had and has continued to compound the problem of illicit drugs that we are having now. By the time I became a top management staff which was before the reform, we fought to become a directorate where we would have greater opportunities as professionals and for career purpose. That was also a challenge we faced as we had contending issues within the ministry of health then but eventually we were able to get a directorate for pharmacy and started operation in 1980 and it was the last thing Obasanjo did before handing over to Shagari in 1979. It gave us an opportunity for career progression. The other challenges in the health sector have always been the issue of budgeting for health services, man power issues not just in pharmacy but health cadres
I cannot think of any but I will say the moment I finished university, the private sector was more attractive than the public sector. I probably would have gone to the private sector if not that I had the opportunity to go abroad but then having gotten to the public service for 35years I believe I feel more fulfilled as a public service career pharmacist than if I had gone to the private sector.
I believe God has helped me to contribute more to national development in pharmacy and the health sector in general. I really have nothing to regret but to thank God as it was an opportunity to work with dynamic, progressive, strategic bosses. I worked with the first director of pharmaceutical services when the pharmacy division was upgraded to directorate and he was one of my best career mentors till date. He gave me and others the opportunity to express ourselves by showing what we could do. In one exercise I had been sponsored to go to Sweden for a study tour of the World Health Organisation collaborating centre on drugs and I came back and wrote a report. Those days there were no computers and I wrote it by hand. The report got me noticed by him and I think from that time he noticed I had a flare for writing so he began to expose me to writing a draft of the minister’s speech. Sometimes whenever the minister was reading the speech I got interested to know if the part of what I wrote had formed part of his speech and that helped in writing. Up till today I am still in cordial relationship with him. He left at the end of 1988.
I had the privilege of working with five ministers and Professor Eyitayo Lambo is one of them. The WHO guru who came in during Obasanjo’s first term was hardworking, meticulous in planning and an admiration.
What presently occupies your day?
I have my devotion, take some rest though I have some things I want to do. I am interested in writing, I have some ideas I want God to clearly define. I am still active in the children ministry not as a pastor in any church but seeing how I could also help in adding value to churches.
Advice to the younger generation?
I do really appreciate the challenges younger people face. There was fair opportunity for me than for them. I recall after school certificate I was able to get a job. Now even graduates find it difficult to secure one. Impatience is something I find with youths and maybe technology has made them turn out this way. They crave for the ‘get rich quick syndrome’ which may make them fall prey to those who preach prosperity without hard work. I advise they hold on to God, hard work and discipline.
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