When Dr. Dere Awosika, mni (nee Okotie Eboh) phoned me on Saturday, 27th October, 2018 In the night just as my driver was driving us into the main gate to the Main Campus, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Samaru, Zaria and was collecting the car tag, I was never expecting what was to follow. She said: ‘Mora, you didn’t hear what happened to us?’
For me and Dr Awosika, the ‘us’ could mean many things, as we were school mates in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ABU, Zaria in the mid 70s; she was in the final year of the then three year B. Sc (Pharmacy) degree programme, while I was a first year student. The obvious other person for the ‘us’ could be no other than Brig. Gen Salmanu Bala Jikamshi, a pharmacist and one year Dere’s junior and one year my senior in the Faculty. That was the ‘us’. We were a triumvirate of a sort, and effectively so, ever since Dere contested for the post of the Secretary General of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in 1988 in the then Nicon-Noga Hilton Hotel, Abuja, when we vigorously campaigned for her and she won decisively.
She proceeded to say that; Bala (as she’d always called him) had suddenly died’. I immediately offered the mandatory prayers: Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un ‘. I said where and when, and, amid obvious betrayal of emotions, she said in Abuja on Friday, That he was rushed to the hospital and some hours later died.
I could not discuss with her anymore and simply said I would get back to her. To this moment, I haven’t, I couldn’t, not now, as Dere and Bala were like brother and sister. I must get to Abuja I said to myself, to be with the family – the first son, Lt. Salim (Nigerian Army), Pharmacist Nabil, the first daughter, who was our student in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ABU, Zaria, and the other three of their siblings, and of course, Hajiya Halima, the amiable wife of Gen Bala (as I call him). With the curfew relaxed, I was able to make the trip to Abuja by road, something I have not done for over a year since the commencement of the services of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) of the provision through the train shuttle services from Rigasa Station in Kaduna to Kubwa and Idu Stations in Abuja, one could safely commute between the nation’s capital and Kaduna. Unfortunately the train services too were suspended, obviously the curfew imposed on Kaduna was a major reason. On Sunday therefore, I embarked on the trip to Abuja by road as the the curfew imposed in Kaduna had been relaxed.
Dere, Gen Bala and myself were members of the defunct Pharmacists Board of Nigeria (PBN) by virtue of our various positions as Secretary General of the PSN, Director of Pharmaceutical Services in the Nigerian Army Medical Corps (NAMC) and as the Director of Pharmaceutical Services in the Kaduna State Ministry of Health (MoH), and that was how we were virtually running the PBN as members of the Board during quarterly meetings between 1989 to 1990 and to 1991. Dere’s work was in the Pharmacy Department of the Nigerian Army Hospital in Yaya, and Gen Bala, a pharmacist, and member of the Nigerian Armed Forces before becoming the DPS,of the Nigerian Army Medical Corps (NAMC).
The three of us had really come a long way and we’ve always deferred to Dere, our senior, to lead the three of us. Dere would later in her career rise to be the CEO of the now defunct National Programme of Immunization (NPI), in Abuja and over some years eventually, a Federal Permanent Secretary, before she eventually retired. Gen Bala and I, independent of one another, initiated and built pharmaceutical manufacturing companies for the Nigerian Army; in the case of Gen Bala, the Nigerian Army Small Drugs Manufacturing Uniit (NASDMU), Bonny Camp, Lagos, and I, the Kaduna State-wholly owned facility of Zaria Pharmaceutical Company (ZPC) Ltd (manufacturers of the ZARINJECT disposable syringes) and the biggest facility with the largest capacity in the West African region to produce different types of disposable syringes. I also proceeded to head the facility as the Managing Director and CEO as did Gen Bala in NASDMU, Bonny Camp, Lagos too.
At a point in time, I was producing disposable syringes in ZPC and which were consumed ordered by the NPI for the National Immunization Days (NID) for routine and National immunization programme, while Gen Bala was producing pharmaceutical products for the use by the Nigerian Army in their hospitals throughout the country – secondary and tertiary healthcare facility provider centres.
Dr. Olu Awosika, the husband of Dere,a medical doctor in his own right, would normally bring Dere to the airport for one of those meetings of the PBN in one State capital or the other. I would have flown into Lagos then from Kaduna either a day earlier and would have stayed for the night in General Bala’s house,or would have arrived earlier that day, gone to the Yaba Military Hispital,and, along with the General, proceed to the airport for the PBN meeting, along with Dere.I can recall vividly, it was either the Calabar, Owerri, or the Yola meetings of the PBN,requiring flights. In other times, Dere would arrive Gen. Bala ‘s house, and with myself having arrived earlier, would proceed by road to Ilorin, Ibadan, Benin City, by road. We has discussed pharmacy all the way. We discussed the regulatory, the practice and the academic research speciality of the profession.
Dere had earned a Ph.D in Bradford, UK, a long time ago. Gen Bala and myself were more on to manufacturing and formulating different pharmaceutical products in different formulations in the case of NASDMU, and for ZPC, in medical devices for the administration of parenteral and other sterile preparations for patients.
Now for the big question?
Who would tell our ‘father’? Professor Gabriel Ediale Osuide,, the founder and foundation Dean of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ABU, Zaria. Prof, Baba, or Osuide, as the students severally referred and still refer to him. He will be devastated. The ‘us’-Dere, Bala and myself have been very close to him, as other former students of his as well . He took us all and referred to us as his special children. Just four days ago, Prof Osuide phoned me from London and as usual, asked how Bala was doing. I said we were all good, not knowing that in less than 48 hours from that question, Bala would be no more. I had earlier on that day spent more than twenty minutes on the phone with Mrs Clementia Osuide (Mama), before she passed the phone form me to talk with Baba.
In September, 1992, the three of us attended that year’s edition of the Scientific Conference of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) in Lyons, France. It was a most interesting conference. I recalled that at a session. Gen Bala wore one of his beautifully decorated and ceremonial Nigerian Army uniform and we accompanied him to the Commission of Military Pharmacy of the discussion group, just as I also, presented the findings of a research study I conducted in Nigeria at the session of the Commission of Administrative Pharmacy of the FIP, and Dere to a scientific symposium for international pharmaclogists. We had a day’s visit to Paris–the three of us, and it turned out to be a memorable one.
Later, while as a director in the Federal Civil Service, Dere was nominated as a participant of the Senior Executive Course (SEC) (28/2006 ) in the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, near Jos. In 2010, while serving as the Registrar and the CEO of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), a parastatal of the federal government under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), which is saddled with the responsibility of regulating and controlling pharmacy education and practices in all aspects and ramifications, among other functions, was also nominated as participant for the 32 /2010 edition of the Senior Executive Course (SEC) in NIPSS, Kuru.
Dere and I went to NIPSS at different times and were awarded the member, National Institute (mni) certificates. Gen Bala and I established two pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and and were referred to as MDs and CEOs while we were in charge of the facilities.
Gen Bala was a deeply religious person once it comes to relationship with our creator, Allah (SwT). He never played with his congregational prayers, and alas, that was his end, as the ‘ikama’ for the commencement of the Asr prayer was being said in his house, in Gwarinpa, in the midst of people, as has always been the hallmark of the Gen Bala in his house, always surrounded by people, he simply slumped and after few hours, passed on in a hospital.
May Allah (SwT) forgive his mistakes, grant him Al-Jannah Firdausi, Amin and may He, guide and protect the children and the wife he left behind, Amin.
Born sixty five years ago in Jikamshi, Katsina State, Gen Bala dedicated himself as a thoroughbred Nigerian, exposed and a personality who does not discriminate among people on the basis of ethnicity, says alot about his character especially in dealing with many friends and I was privileged to be among the many of such friends.
As the first pharmacist in the Nigerian Army to rise to the position of Brig Gen, but that never entered his head that he never behaved differently. I remember vividly, the day he became a full Colonel. We were at a meeting of the PBN in the then Durbar Hotel, Festac Village , Lagos, and on the second day he came late, which was unusual, but behold, he had the red colar on. What delayed his coming on time that day, was the pipping ceremony, and he came late, but Gen Bala was never late in his five daily prayers, and I can testify to that, and in the end, it paid off, he passed on when getting ready to pray –on time. The time had come. No one could stop it.
May Gen Salmanu Bala Jikamshi’s gentle soul rest in perfect peace, Amin.
–Prof Mora is the national president of ABU Alumni Association and chairman of Board of Trustees, ABU Pharmacy Alumni Association.
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