At age 14, he was already a professional tailor, exhibiting dexterity by sewing ‘Dandogo’ attire in a record time of 4 days; A costume that takes the best of tailors two weeks to complete. By the age of 19, he chose to go to secondary school instead of getting married. Today, he’s the Chief Executive Officer of BIORAJ Pharmaceutical Industry, a drug manufacturing company with 61 registered drugs on its stables. The rest, they say is history.
Pharmacist (Chief) Bioku Rahmon, a fellow of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, a 1987 graduate of University of Ibadan, Born 62 years ago in Kisi, Irepo Local Govt of Oyo State to the family of Late Jimoh Bioku and Rabiat Bioku is not just a pharmacist, but also a drug manufacturer with passionate interest about Nigeria’s health sector.
In an exclusive interview with Citizen Comfort, the Tailor turned Pharmacist Bioku Rahmon bares his mind on a whole lot of challenges bedeviling the Nigeria’s health sector.
But before we go into that, let’s share with you the inspiring story of a Nigeria’s pharmaceutical business icon, who learnt tailoring early in life under his late father’s flourishing tailoring business in Kisi, went to Arabic school for five years in Kisi, became a professional tailor at the age of 14 in Kisi, who was never in anyone’s widest imagination that he can ever go beyond primary school; but providence and destiny saw him climbing the educational ladder, not only to become a pharmacist but also an entrepreneur in the tough terrain of Nigeria’s pharmaceutical health sector. The story of Bioku Rahmon is that of the proverbial giant, who came, saw and conquered.
Though, as a young primary school pupil, Rahmon was brilliant enough to teach other pupils in the class. His brilliance saw him becoming a professional tailor at the age of 14 and already on business line at that young age. He was almost contented in his tailoring business until he started seeing his primary school mates graduating from secondary school, coming back to town in some sorts of shirts and ties and speaking English. That, according to him was the motivation that prompted him, at the age of 19, to change his mind from getting married to getting enrolled in the Kisi Community Grammar School in 1977. “When I saw that the people, I was taking lesson in primary school had gone to secondary school, I became determined that if they can do it, I can also do it. My Daddy thought I was joking because at age 19, what was on the agenda was for me was to get married. My secondary school was adult education sort of.”
The Road to Pharmacy
Again, Rahmon’s academic brilliance helped him to blaze through secondary, advanced level and tertiary education in record time. By 1982, four years after he enrolled for secondary school, he got admission to study mechanical engineering at the University of Ilorin. He withdrew from University of Ilorin and sought admission to read pharmacy at the University of Ibadan.
Pham. Bioku’s way to pharmacy was laid through a divine process. It was an uncle of his, Chief NIRAN BIOKU, who just came back from abroad who told him to change from engineering to medicine. And because he hates the sight of blood, he knew he had to select one of pharmacy, physiology and anatomy. According to him, he did something unusual before selecting pharmacy. “I wrote the 3 courses, pharmacy, physiology and anatomy on three pieces of papers wrapped them up and randomly selected pharmacy for three consecutive times that I did the selection. That was how I knew pharmacy is a divine course for me”. Adding that he was also encouraged to prepare very well for the JAMB exams to prove to people that school of medicine, and indeed pharmacy, is not exclusive for the children of the highly placed individual.
“The people around me tried to discourage me from choosing pharmacy. They said it’s for the children of highly placed individuals in the society. But I asked them what if I passed the jamb, they told me I had to pass very well, so i studied very well for the exams such that when the result came out I was one of the best on the list for College of Medicine, University of Ibadan in 1983”.
Ruminating on how he became an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical sector, Chief Rahmon Bioku went down memory lane. “As a successful professional tailor, the instinct to do business had always been in me. Also, the orientation from my dad who was a successful business man, inclined me towards business. A fascinating experience I had at Glaxo Kline, during an excursion in 1984, also emboldened my resolve that, by the grace of God, I shall establish a manufacturing factory.
The young Pharmacist Bioku got government job offer after graduation but refused to take. According to him, government job is not for him. “When I finished college, they wanted me to come back to the faculty because of my academic pedigree in the college, but I didn’t because I didn’t want government job because of the experience that I had during my internship.
What was the experience? “A professor of medicine recommended a wrong drug for a diabetes patient and I felt the drug was wrong, so I wrote an advisory on the folder and sent to the professor. So, when the professor saw it, he came to the pharmacy dept to challenge me for having the affront to correct him. They asked me to come and face the board and I refused. I told them to reject me so that I will go and do my internship elsewhere. It was the Chief Pharmacist, Late Pharmacist Jayesimi who went to the board to apologize. I felt very bad about it and I wept for my profession pharmacy. And, of course from that date I kept wondering: is this the way government work is? Sub-servitude to someone whether the person is right or wrong. From that day, I knew government job is not for me. In fact, Late Debo, a commissioner in Oyo state government from Kisi, got a government job for me at level 12 an offer I refused to take.
Instead, the young pharmacist went to private company to work. As part of post graduate works experience, Bioku successfully turned around the fortunes of Top- Care Pharmacy shop, a retail pharmacy outfit at Ode-Olo ibadan and Aromokeye Pharmacy, a wholesale outfit in Ilorin. After these successes, Bioku ventured into his own pharmacy business under the registration name of Bioraj in Yauri, Kebbi State in 1994. Bioraj and its products have since become dominant brand in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.
“When I resigned from Aromokeye, I started my business with virtually nothing. I only had money to rent a shop in Yauri. I was supposed to start Nov.1993, but unfortunately, I didn’t have money. All the people that promised money disappointed, that was the reason the business actually started 4months behind schedule on Februay 14,1994”.
The Outbreak to Brake Out
The outbreak of meningitis in Yauri 1994, was the beginning of the turning around of Bioraj in Yauri. “During this outbreak, people in the same business with us came to me to say that this was the time to make money. That we should increase the price of drugs for meningitis, that is crystalline, chloramphenicol injection and infusion. I said NO. I told them this was actually the time to reduce prices to help the people by making the drugs affordable. They thought I was joking. So, I started selling the meningitis drugs at cheaper prices to the people. This act made us very popular not only in Yauri, but in other places like Sokoto, Tambuwal, Bini-Kebbi, Minna. People were coming to us to purchase the drugs. Many were even depositing money with us for drugs.
Reflecting on this incidence against the backdrop of the teething problems, including funding, that the company started with, when all the drugs in the shop were on loan; the honest appraisal of the meningitis outbreak was a blessing in disguise for Bioraj. According to the CEO, “within 6 months we were able to pay back all the money for the drugs on loan as well as stocking up the shop with our own money”.
The meningitis outbreak was indeed an image booster for Bioraj. “Though we were not making money, because I felt people were buying on compulsion because the disease can kill in 6 hours. But, the returns of the quick turn-over helped to fire up the dream to go into drug manufacturing. I started making plan for the factory here in Ilorin. In 1999 we secured a land for the factory, though we couldn’t do much then. In 2000, we started very well and doing very well until 2003 when devil struck”.
It was smooth sailing in Bioraj until 2003 when chain of calamities started occurring in quick succession. First, armed robbers attacked the company staff that went on business trip to Onitsha and collected over 5million naira of the company’s money. After counting the loss, Pharm. Bioku said the little money remaining was put together to forge on in the business. Then, another armed robbery attack happened again on the way to Ilorin at Jebba. Again, the company’s remaining operation capital was carted away.
Recalling the experience, Bioku said things went very down such that there was no more capital to continue the pharmaceutical business again. It was at this point according to him that he yielded to the advice to use, the only asset of the company, the truck, for commercial purposes. The first three trips of the trucks were successful. However, the 4th trip was calamitous. The truck got written off in an accident and the company still had to pay to the owner of the goods the monetary value of the spoilt goods.
“It was really a down and trying period for me. What did I do next? I gathered together the remnant of the money I was having and travelled to Saudi Arabia for 40 days. Leaving the boys to continue to run the shop on borrowed goods. The boys started buying drugs on loan to sell and pay back after selling and collect another. By the time I came back from Saudi Arabia, I met 4,000,000.00 naira on ground.”
“From that day on, we never looked back. We started developing the factory, placed order for the factory equipment. By 2005 the factory was set, we register our products with NAFDAC, 8 at a go in 2006. Today, our registered products with NAFDAC are 61”
Bioraj as a Manufacturing Concern
Between 2006 and now, Bioraj has increased its products registration with NAFDAC from eight to 61. What are the factors for the geometrical progression? According to the CEO, “Am on top of things here now. Initially I was based in Kebbi, got some hands to run Ilorin office because it was Kebbi that was still financing Ilorin office. By 2010 we were able to break even in Ilorin. The factory was able to stand on its own. We were able to register more products and also able to establish a retail outlet in Ilorin”.
Adding that “the factor for our success is pure professionalism, lot of drugs we produce here came as a result of rigorous hard work and studies. The drugs here are products of my efforts with my competent staff and they give me joy and am contentment seeing the results of my brainwork. It’s not about money. Apart from the 61 products registered with NAFDAC, research and studies are still ongoing on many products that can be classified work in progress”.
In manufacturing, Bioraj CEO said “you have to be interested and you must have a passion for it, otherwise you crashed along the line”.
The vision of Bioraj, he said, is to be a world class WHO compliance factory. According to the CEO, this vision is in tandem with the current requirement of NAFDAC’s minimum benchmark for manufacturers in Nigeria. “We have started working towards it. Right now, our factory has Hvac, air handling units everywhere, to ensure that only purified air can get to the production areas.
Bioraj’s plans to have an injection plant is on the verge of coming to realization. The aim is to be able to manufacture many injections. “Though it’s capital intensive, we are very determined to get it over”, He asserted.
Bioraj Socio- economic Impacts
Recounting the socio-economic impacts that the company has had since its establishment in Yauri in 1994, the CEO said Bioraj has successfully sponsored indigenes and non-indigenes in Yauri on free scholarship on education. The company also Introduced so many innovations, including debates, inter-school competitions and prizes to improve quality and standard of Yauri schools. This, according to him, did not go unnoticed as the state government named one public school after the company, Bioraj Model School. The school is still flourishing in the state today.
As far as Professional impact is concerned, Pharmacist Bioku Rahmon said Bioraj continues to train and retrain people into the pharmacy profession as well as mentoring so many pharmacists.
Talking about the economic impact, Bioku said Bioraj in 1994 had about twenty staff, all being paid. Some of them, he said were married and were able to take care of their families. According to him, “as at today, we have about 200 staff, who have dependants for economic survival. In terms of GDP, our output is part of the figure being quoted as contribution of pharmaceutical companies to the nation’s GDP. We are also paying taxes to the State and Federal governments.
In response to questions on franchise and international affiliation, Bioku said Bioraj is a wholly Nigeria’s pharmaceutical company. However, he said the African Continent Free Trade Agreement, that is underway, will make Africa to become a single market where manufacturers from any African countries can set up distributorship in any part of the continent. By that, he said, the market is expanding. The problem inherent in this, according to Bioku, is that Nigeria’s manufacturers must produce products of high quality, that meet international standard, to compete favorably in the continent. Adding that “this is why NAFDAC is putting a minimum bench mark so that by the time the agreement takes effect fully, Nigerian companies can compete with other African countries”.
Now that we have shared with you the intriguing background to the fascinating story of Pharm. (Chief ) Bioku Rahmon, join us next week for a captivating insight into the challenges of Nigeria’s health sector as he dissects and proffers solutions to the problems
Source: Dare Agbeluyi, Chief Publisher.
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We thank God for the life of Fellow Rahaman Bioku FPSN That’s the product of hard work and being focused I pray that Bioraj continues to wax from strength to strength Amen
Very inspiring. May God continue to strengthen your company and make it one of the largest in the world very soon
PHARM RAHAMON BIOKU HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PLENIPOTENTIARY. HE’S AN INSPIRATION TO ALL INCLUDING HIS FAMILY MEMBERS. WE PRAY THAT BIORAJ PHARMACEUTICALS CONTINUES TO GROW FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH.
KEEP ON THE GOOD WORK, SIR.